Sporting Gijón must search for inner strength once again

Make do with what you have is the underlying motto of many Spanish teams this season, and few encompass such a feeling like Sporting Gijón. The Asturian side are in the midst of their worst start to a season since being promoted 3 years ago, and the restraints placed upon them in both financial and sporting aspects are threatening to derail them from their wonderful journey. To start with Sporting, you start Asturias. This, just as you would with Real Oviedo or David Villa, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla. You look back, because the roots of the players and clubs are what defines and separates them from everything else around them. Hard work, strength, loyalty and humility are the foundations upon which the beautiful Asturias is built on.

That brings us to Sporting, and the present day. After an incredible 2010/2011 campaign which saw the club equal an historical unbeaten record and a draw with Barcelona in El Molinón, before the culmination of it all with a deserved victory in the Bernabéu things it seemed were taken to another level. Most fulfilling of all, as the way at Sporting has been over the years, graduates from their academy rose to prominence too with the likes of Alberto Lora, José Angel and Nacho Cases all having superb seasons. This current season though has been one of mediocrity, one of disappointment and one it seems that will finally catch up with them.

The board at the club made little in the way of efforts to progress the squad, and acknowledge its blatant deficiencies. The Asturian side have seen both Diego Castro and José Ángel depart, pivotal last season in an enterprising left sided attack. Whereas Sporting remained rigid in central areas, looking to smother opponents through sheer doggedness and willpower in the wide areas of the field they professed some technically proficient talent. José Ángel needed no excuse to provide assistance in the final third teaming up with Castro, whose technique and creativity dragged the team away from being one dimensional. Those are just the players who departed however and that is not even the issue here – it’s the perceived lack of intent to replace them which is irking the passionate fan base.

Bereft of goals last season, a total of 32 was the second worst in the league, little if anything at all has been done to address such an issue. David Barral still stumbles and struggles to provide a focal point in attack despite having the physicality of a lone front man, and his efforts to hold up the ball and link with the midfield are weak, while his efforts in front of the goal are abysmal. That drive and swivel to turn Gerard Piqué inside out last season was heroic, but he’s not that revered that he can live off of that moment alone. As is the case with every transfer window rumours persisted of possible incomings; Real Valladolid’s lethal Javi Guerra was one suggestion while Birmingham City’s Nikola Zigic was another, the latter still thought of fondly for his efforts at Racing Santander and a particularly important goal (though not much else) while at Valencia. However, the transfer window came and went with no change on the striker issue with the case being Sporting’s hierachy were unwilling to go that extra yard to tempt players into Gijón – it emerged later Luis Garcia was offered to the club but sneered at, while  overtures towards Adrián Colunga never bore success.

Óscar Trejo did arrive though, offering both physique and finesse but for all his worth he was another attacking midfielder albeit one who could operate in the wide positions. While with Rayo Vallecano last season Trejo regualrly featured behind a lone striker, providing support for the attack to link play together with the advancing midfielders. The Argentinean could prove to be an astute signing in many regards, but he doesn’t add the imagination between the lines Diego Castro harnessed which happens to be another issue not addressed.

Manuel Preciado has a preference to stick not twist, and that if Sporting look comfortable he’s unwilling to endanger that and instead remains to look compact. Preciado’s done some outstanding work at the club, that’s solid fact, and he is in himself as a person not only a coach inspiring but that can only take you so far. His frustration on the sidelines against Racing was evident as he barked orders across the field, and he felt every single moment of a lacklustre, inept display that those in the stands do.

Sporting’s play has been slow, flat and predictable. Clipped, aimless balls in advanced areas look desperate while the urge to just find De Las Cuevas and hope for the best is all too often engaged – even the hero of the Bernabéu has been guilty of wastefulness in the final third often, if they get that far. Games have been riddled with a lack of quality and the sole aspiration seems to be avoiding losing the ball and hoping a gap will appear. Now and then those gaps do appear, only Diego Castro isn’t there  to exploit them anymore. Tension has crept in early amongst the players, passes become misplaced and so inevitably does the focus. Nacho Cases was promoted last season from the ‘B’ team to great success, but injury has kept him out of the first few games and he’s been sorely missed – subsuquently the partnership he developed to frution with Portuguese loanee André Castro has also been missed. With those few he does have at his disposal Preciado has placed an emphasis on being resolute, it’s now not only smothering opponents but also his own team as fear grips each and every player – Sporting are not a team who should play with fear, after all the Ultra Boys in the south end of the stadium tell you so every game. Continuing to harbour that fear and be englufed by negativity could hasten Sporting’s exit from a level they strived to get to, and consolidated so admirably.

There is a majority who follow Sporting though, that can’t help but feel the seeds of this season were already sown in the summer.

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