Despite a poor result Monday night away at Athletic club, Girona have been on the rise in La Liga. This small-town team is growing into a top half side and it’s easy to see why. Impressive away displays and a top marksman in their ranks who’s regularly becoming the match-winner, all whilst navigating a tough fixture list and losing the excellent Pablo Machin in the summer. It’s been an impressive climb by the Catalan minnows.
Humble beginnings to bright future
Girona have literally come from nowhere. A team who have never been in the top flight in Spain in their history before 2017 are now challenging the upper echelons of La Liga. They used to be so insignificant that Spanish sports newspaper AS had been using the wrong club badge in their articles for the last decade. However, all of this could be resigned to history with the chance to become a big player in the future. The foundations laid by Machin in the Segunda Division will be built upon by the Abu Dhabi group with exciting young talents sent to polish their skillsets in the technically savvy Spanish top flight and investment which they could previously have only dreamed of.
From Middlesbrough reject to master marksman
Surprisingly with all the exciting young talent at their disposal (Patrick Roberts, Douglas Luiz, Alex Garcia, Pedro Porro to name a few), it’s actually journeyman striker Cristhian Stuani who has become the club’s talisman. In the EPL he toiled to four goals in the 2016/17 season but has since blossomed in front of goal plundering over 30 goals since the start of the 17/18 season, and has already notched 11 this season in just 12 appearances.
A closer look at his stats shows that he is now being used solely as a centre-forward where previously he had been used more as a link up player out wide. This change has been a wise move by the club. Stuani has turned himself into a penalty box expert with all his goals being scored inside the penalty area and a massive 11 of them inside the six-yard box.
This season not only does he currently lead the goalscoring charts in Spain with only the sublime Lionel Messi matching him, but he also has impressive numbers behind the goals. His shots per 90 metrics have doubled since joining from the Premier League and is running at 2.36. Not amazing when you look at superstars like Messi as mentioned previously.
However, in a much less dominant team than the brilliant Blaugrana’s. He’s also excelling in expected goals where he’s 4.51 goals up on what is expected of him. Only Iago Aspas can match him in the whole league with him being slightly higher on 4.53. Currently, only superstars Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and the blistering form of Emiliano Sala can beat the goals haul of the Uruguayan in the whole of Europe.
What’s next for the Catalans?
The best way to progress for the Blanquivermell is easy, sort out their average home form. Away from the Montilivi Girona are compact, well organised and catch teams on the counter. This is shown by their excellent five goals against whilst on their travels. They have only been defeated once away from home even after visiting local rivals Espanyol and daunting trips to the Mestalla and Camp Nou.
Girona’s home form, however, paints a different picture. Only two wins against Celta and Rayo Vallecano also conceding 12 goals in eight games in the process is far from encouraging. A slight tweak in formation at home could be the key and manager Eusebio Sacristan isn’t opposed to changing things up largely using four different formations this season. The most common utilising the three centre-backs and three in central midfield.
Finding a balance where the inexperienced back line isn’t exposed can be tricky. However, I believe only utilising one holding midfielder at home, allowing more freedom in the centre of the park to players moving forward could be the key.
If they can get more players closer to the impressive Stuani this could lead to more goal-scoring opportunities. Currently, Borja Garcia is averaging just 1.1 shots per game and key passes whilst Cristian Portu even lower at one shot per game and 0.6 key passes. Roberts could be a good fit in home games instead of Garcia and Portu. Although injuries and a lack of minutes has hampered him, back in 2016/17 he scored an impressive nine goals on loan at Celtic. With his good dribbling and eye for goal, he could help unlock teams sitting deeper against the Catalans.
If Eusebio can hit on the right formula at home there is plenty more to come from this team. With Roberts and the very impressive Porro supplying the deadly Stuani a Europa League place could be closer than people think.