Granada are top of the league?
With more than a quarter of the season played, it’s scarcely believable that the top-flight newcomers, who have the third-lowest wage bill in the country, have worked their way to the summit of La Liga.
But make no mistake, they deserve it. Granada have been a model of consistency during their first ten games back in the top flight, collecting six wins, two draws and suffering just two defeats – against Sevilla and Real Madrid – which could have easily yielded at least a point with a little more fortune.
Even more impressive is the fact that they have done so with a very limited squad in terms of talent and experience. Manager Diego Martinez and roughly half his squad have never appeared in the top flight before this season, and neither is it the case that Martinez’s rather random collection of journeymen and homegrown talents contains any hidden gems.
None of Granada’s players are what you could really call world-class, and even their excellent start to the season hasn’t led to a series of speculation about potential big-money transfer moves for their key players.
That’s perhaps simply because they don’t really have any key players. Antonio Puertas and Angel Montoro, for example, have been widely lauded as two of their most important performers. Yet both of them were missing through injury for Sunday’s home meeting with Real Betis, but the team didn’t miss a beat as they continued doing what they’ve been doing all season, playing with togetherness and great organisation to grind their way to a 1-0 victory.
Of course, there have been some impressive individual contributions during the opening weeks of the campaign, starting at the back where the central defensive pairing of young Domingos Duarte and gnarly veteran German Sanchez have been backed up by relentlessly reliable goalkeeper Rui Silva.
Montoro and Nigeria international Ramon Azeez have kept the midfield ticking over, Puertas, Darwin Machis and Sunday’s matchwinner Alvaro Vadillo have provided threat from the wings, and old warhorse Roberto Soldado has made a nuisance of himself in attack.
But we’re not talking about any Lionel Messis or even Martin Odegaards here. This Granada squad, in terms of ability, is distinctly ordinary and has no right to be top of the table.
They are in that position, though, thanks to the good old-fashioned virtues of collective organisation and a commitment to hard work. They do all the basics well, play with discipline in defence and with purpose in attack, and Martinez’s outstanding tactical eye means they are very rarely outmanoeuvred or caught short in numbers.
The key word, perhaps, is balance. Granada attack well, and they defend well, and they do all those things together, as a team. Every player knows his place and his role, and opponents are always guaranteed a difficult game.
A more concrete example of Granada’s efficiency is set-pieces: they have scored 40 per cent of their goals from deadball situations and conceded none, having gone through last season’s promotion campaign by allowing just one goal from set-pieces all season.
This reflects extremely well on Martinez’s attention to detail and his players’ discipline and commitment. Set-pieces are a rare aspect of the game where individual brilliance doesn’t make that much difference. They are about organisation and co-ordination, and Martinez recognises them as an area where his team can gain an often-decisive edge.
So can these qualities carry them all the way through the season in their current lofty position? Inevitably, no. Injuries, suspensions, fatigue and loss of form will eventually catch up with Granada and leave their technical weaknesses exposed, and it would still be surprising to see them finish in the top half of the table.
But then again, isn’t that more or less exactly, four years ago, what we were all saying about Leicester?
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