Starting from scratch – Paco’s new-look Granada

The concept of starting a new season in La Liga with a vastly different playing squad to the one that ended the last seems to be getting more and more common particularly at the bottom of the league. Rayo Vallecano did it for years and until last season managed to stay in the league so it was no surprise when Granada plumped for former Rayo boss Paco Jémez to oversee what was always going to be a highly transitional summer.

Higher up the league the likes of Villarreal and Sevilla frequently lose a host of their better players and are forced to re-build, often with great success. However over the past few months Granada seem to have taken things to a whole new level by changing virtually their entire squad.

A flurry of late transfer activity meant that of the 14 players that featured for Granada last weekend against Eibar, 13 of them weren’t at the club last season. Nigerian youngster Uche Agbo was the only exception and even he only started 3 times in La Liga for the Nazaríes last term.

Given that it wasn’t a great surprise to see them sink to a 2-1 defeat in the game even though their opponents were reduced to 10 men after just 32 minutes. Clearly building a new team from scratch in one of the strongest leagues in the world is no easy task and if Paco’s time at Rayo Vallecano is anything to go by, we can expect them to improve as the season goes on.

Initially there was real cause for alarm when the club cashed in on their lively attacking trio of Isaac Success, Rubén Rochina and Jhon Córdoba. Between them they scored 28 of Granada’s 46 goals last term in La Liga and with teenage forward Adalberto Peñaranda, who netted a further 5 returning to parent club Watford, their entire strike-force had been disintegrated.

Similar things happened across the team although to less cause for concern given it was their forwards that really kept them up last term and a re-jig was always likely to be needed in defence and midfield. Giampaolo Pozzo’s sale of the club to Chinese businessman Jiang Lizhang prompted much of the activity but for much of the summer, players were leaving at an alarming rate with very little coming in the other way.

However Lizhang started to get his chequebook out in August and with 15 players arriving in the space of a month, Granada have ultimately assembled a squad they hope will be able to compete in this league. Their 5-1 thrashing at Las Palmas on Sunday 28th August may prove to have been a real blessing in disguise as it seemed to spark the new owner into life with 5 players arriving on deadline day.

With Paco Jémez at the helm, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Granada are going to try and play attacking football and will most likely develop into a side that both scores and concedes plenty, which isn’t wildly different to what they were last season. However with so many new arrivals, trying to work out exactly who is going to make his first choice eleven when everything settles down is somewhat harder to figure out.

We got the first clues last weekend in that 2-1 home defeat against Eibar but with several players having only been at the club for a few days and many short on match fitness, the eleven that was sent out is by no means set in stone for the remainder of the season or even the next few weeks with changes expected ahead of this Friday’s trip to Real Betis.

In goal, experienced Mexican international Guillermo Ochoa is in on a season-long loan from Andalusian rivals Malaga and judging by the opening few weeks, he is likely to be a very busy man this term. Despite an error in the Eibar game, Ochoa looks a pretty smart acquisition and could be one of their most important figures both on the pitch and in what is an otherwise very young dressing room.

Jémez has gone with a flat back four in the three games so far and he does now have plenty of options. He has already utilised 5 different full-backs in his short time in charge so places seem to be up for grabs. Franck Tabanou, on loan from Swansea and Gabriel Silva, who lasted just 32 minutes on his debut at Las Palmas look set to battle it out for the left-back berth while new club captain Tito, signed from Jémez’s old club Rayo looks to have the right-back position sewn up although could also be utilised as a centre-back.

In the heart of the defence again there have already been a few different combinations tested and Jémez has options although it’s debatable as to whether any of them are that convincing. Right now he seems to be placing his faith in two 22 year olds in the shape of Rúben Vezo and Gaston Silva, both of whom completed loan moves in the latter days of the window. However David Lombán and Matthieu Saunier will provide competition for those places.

Stepping into midfield and Granada seem to have 5 players competing for the two holding roles. The most exciting of which is Sergi Samper, who is one of the best of their many loan signings and the 21 year old will be keen to impress having only made a handful of appearances for Barcelona previously and if he is to stand a chance of making the grade at his home-town club, he will need to have a good season at Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes. Uche Agbo, himself just 20 was utilised alongside him last time out but the likes of Javi Márquez, Rene Krhin and another youngster Victorien Angban are also in contention for the central midfield roles.

19 year old Jeremie Boga is one of the few Granada players to have played every minute so far this season and had looked the man most likely to fill the number 10 role. He failed to really impress in Ligue 1 with Rennes last season but was on the scoresheet in Granada’s 5-1 defeat at Las Palmas and will be hoping to have something of a breakthrough season on-loan from Chelsea. 21 year old Jon Toral and 20 year old Andreas Pereira can also occupy the role but may well now be utilised primarily as wingers following the signing of Alberto Bueno on loan from Porto on deadline day.

He wasn’t judged fit enough to start against Eibar but the man who scored 17 goals in La Liga for Paco’s Rayo two seasons ago looks a fantastic capture for Granada and he will almost certainly be utilised just behind promising teenage striker Ezequiel Ponce, who is on loan from Roma. Granada had hoped Ecuadorian forward José Angulo would be competing with Ponce for that role but the €4million summer signing was suspended by the club after just 15 days for failing a drug test.

In terms of actual money spent on transfer fees, Granada poured almost half their summer budget into capturing him so clearly that was a major setback. Most of the other half went on Benfica winger Mehdi Carcela-González and he will be fighting it out with the likes of Boga and Pereira for the wide berths.

If nothing else, Granada games should be a good watch this season and with some of the signings they have made, there is cause for cautious optimism. Perhaps their best capture was that of Paco Jémez, who was being linked with plenty of bigger jobs until Rayo’s relegation last season. He worked miracles keeping the Madrid club in the top flight for so long and he may need to do something similar at Granada if the Andalusians are to stand a fighting chance.

The first few months are most likely going to be very challenging as all the new arrivals get to know each other and start to play as a team rather than a large group of individuals, which is essentially what they are right now. Picking up that first win will do wonders for team morale and if Granada are still in touch at Christmas, there is no reason why they can’t extend their top flight stay into a 6th season.

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