After Granada CF reached Europe for the first time ever, here are five explanations for their fantastic season.
For most neutral fans, the feel-good story of the 2019/20 Spanish football season is Granada CF’s qualification for the Europa League, the first time in their history that they’ll play in UEFA competition. Making this achievement all the more praiseworthy is the fact that they secured this as a newly promoted side, having only just returned to LaLiga Santander last summer.
So, how did they do it? What are the keys to Granada CF’s success? Here comes a look at five explanations for their brilliant seventh placed finish, in a season where the Andalusian club also reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.
Granada coach Diego Martínez is the youngest in Spain’s top division and the leading pick as coach of the season. Although he is only 39, he has already been coaching for close to two decades and he stared out in the Granada region where he held various roles at local sides Arenas and Motril. Next came a move to Sevilla FC, where he worked as an assistant and in the academy, securing promotion into LaLiga SmartBank for the B team and then leading them to a 13th place finish in Spain’s second tier.
Following one year at CA Osasuna, Martínez then arrived at Granada CF in the summer of 2018, leading them to a second place finish in LaLiga SmartBank to secure a return to the top flight for the Nazaríes. For him, this was his first experience as a head coach in the top division, but it didn’t seem to faze him as he oversaw such a successful season. While his favoured formation for most of the season has been a trusty 4-2-3-1, he has also shown a willingness to mix it up and to try out a back three or a two centre-forward double punch. Granada CF really do have a great coach at the helm.
The interesting thing about Granada CF’s run to seventh place is that it didn’t come as the result of one purple patch or one brief flurry of good form. They started well, with three consecutive wins in matchdays three, four and five, including a 2-0 victory over FC Barcelona. But, after that, Granada CF never again won more than two LaLiga matches in a row all season. The key was that they didn’t ever go on a losing run either.
When Granada CF were relegated from LaLiga Santander in the 2016/17 season, they had 18 players on loan that campaign. At the end of that season, a campaign in which they collected just 20 points, there was a realisation that this was too many. Having talented loan players can always help, but when the vast majority of the squad knows they won’t be there for the following season then that isn’t healthy. This year, Granada CF had just seven players on loan, a much more reasonable number. This meant that most of the players in the squad were on permanent contracts and knew that there was a stronger link between their own fate and the club’s fate.
Granada CF’s excellent defence has been key to their success this season and they even achieved this with a brand new centre-back pairing. The veteran Germán Sánchez had had a great season in LaLiga Smartbank in 2018/19 and was kept at the heart of defence, while Domingos Duarte was brought in from Sporting CP. Together they were excellent, with Sánchez comfortable in the step up to LaLiga Santander and with Duarte so good that he was even called up to the Portugal squad for the first time in his career. And behind them, Rui Silva, one of the best goalkeepers of the category this season.
The emergence of Carlos Fernández
This was 24-year-old striker Carlos Fernández’s first full season in LaLiga Santander and he proved just how good he can be with 11 LaLiga goals, making him the team’s top scorer. He’d previously worked with Diego Martínez in the Sevilla B team and the coach knew what this rising star could bring to the team, signing him on loan for 2019/20 from Sevilla FC. Making Fernández’s goal tally even more commendable is the fact that he often had to play out of position because the veteran Roberto Soldado was there to lead the line. Yet they formed a dangerous striking duo and now Granada CF will hope they can keep him for next season’s European campaign.