- It’s Andy West
- Spanish football writer
Derby County fans… it’s time to celebrate.
In 2007-08 the Rams recorded the worst season in the history of Europe’s top clubs, struggling to be relegated from the Premier League with just 11 points.
But now that unwanted reputation is in serious danger.
La Liga champions Almeria have picked up just six points – and no wins – from their opening 23 games, making it the best of a bad season.
The hope of summer ends soon
Owned by ambitious Saudi businessman Turki Al-Sheikh, Almeria won promotion to La Liga in 2022 and avoided relegation last season thanks to a 3-3 draw on the final day at Espanyol.
Even the summer saw the sudden departure of coach Rubi, which was followed by a huge investment in new signings and there was no sign of a historic follow-up.
However, new manager Vicente Moreno clashed with club officials and was sacked in the first seven games after producing just two points.
Youth team coach Alberto Lasarte was appointed caretaker manager, and one of his games summed up the campaign.
At home to fellow strugglers Granada, Almeria raced into a 3-0 half-time lead as striker Luis Suarez grabbed a hat-trick in the fifth minute.
But a nervous defense could not withstand a slight sniff of Granada’s comeback and fell due to a 3-3 draw, aggravated by Suarez’s injury that kept him out for three months.
New coach Gaizka Garitano took control of the team’s defense but lost their first six league games. Not even getting a break from the Copa del Rey, Almeria were ignominiously knocked out by Barbastro in the fourth round.
This setback further undermined any confidence that was about to end, and the rest is a very bad record for the sport of football.
Why is Almeria so bad?
Actually, in many surprising ways they are not.
As surprising as it may sound for a team that hasn’t won all season, Almeria can sometimes look like the best team – especially against top opposition.
They dominated at Atletico Madrid for an hour but lost 2-1, came close to claiming a point at champions Barcelona but were drowned out by Sergi Roberto’s late winner, and led 2-0 at the Bernabeu before the second half. Real Madrid pulls off two VAR-assisted goals and scores the winner in the 99th minute.
According to ‘expected goals’, Almeria should not be in the La Liga region, not considering the worst team in history.
But therein lies the answer to their problems: they score fewer goals than they should because of poor finishing, and they allow more than they should by defending unfortunately.
Their last game, in Valencia, provided another example – midfielder Gonzalo Melero missed the first player, and two minutes later unknown opponent Hugo Duro opened the scoring.
They were 1-0 down instead of 1-0 up, in the end they lost 2-1, and the sad season was closed.
Lowest points scored in major European competitions (from 3 points to win)
Premier League: Derby County 2007-08 (11)
League: Sporting Gijon 1997-98 (13)
Bundesliga: Schalke 2020-21 (16)
Ligue 1: Lens 1988-89 (17)
League: Pescara 2016-17 (18)
This defeat in Valencia saw Almeria match one of the most unlikely records they will ever understand: the longest start without a win in a La Liga season – 23 games, tied by Sporting Gijon in 1997-98.
If Almeria do not win their next game at home against Athletic Bilbao on Monday night, they will have a good record.
It’s not the only important thing in the game. Another is La Liga’s longest unbeaten run, set at 27 games against Levante in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns. After failing to win their last three games of last season, Almeria can match that record with a draw or a loss on Monday.
At some point, Almeria should win one or two games. Their free-flowing football has been undermined by poor play within the two penalties, misfortune, injuries and questionable refereeing decisions.
If they can string together 90 minutes without any of those factors interfering, then they can take the three points.
Personally, there will be more incentives when players place themselves in the shop window. Former Real Madrid youngster Sergio Arribas, midfielder Lucas Robertone and the versatile Edgar Gonzalez are among those set to remain in the top flight for summer moves.
Manager Garitano, too, is hoping for a good finish to the season in order to keep his place for promotion next season.
But for now, Derby fans can cross their fingers and hope that Almeria’s next 15 games follow a similar pattern to their last 23.
When that happens, the ugly distinction of being the worst team in Europe’s top competition could change.