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Season Preview: Eibar

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The first in a series where we get some insight into one of our La Liga challengers through the eyes of a supporter

Omar in the Camp Nou, cheering on Eibar!
Omar Avendaño

As you know, we have sister blogs on SB Nation devoted to Barca, Real Madrid and Atleti, and they provide lots of coverage of their respective teams. But what about some of La Liga’s other sides?
I reached out to Omar Avendaño of Eibar USA for some help on the little Basque team that defeated us twice last year and finished not that far off the European places.

I asked Omar to start by introducing himself:

I'm a SD Eibar shareholder and EibarUSA member of the Board of Directors based out of Santa Barbara, Ca. Aside from SD Eibar, I'm a supporter of Club Leon (Ligamx) and the Mexican National Team (So yes, I've watched many Villarreal games to root for Gio Dos Santos, Jonathan Dos Santos & Guillermo Franco!)

How the team is looking: Transfers out and injuries (Starting GK Yoel & 2nd leading scorer Pedro Leon) have made the preseason one of tinkering with lineups as an attempt to find replacements for important players. That being said, the team base is still intact so players like Dani Garcia, Sergi Enrich, Kike, Inui, and Ander Capa were able to focus on fitness & incorporating some of the new signings to the squad. The results this preseason were better than last summer’s results, but more importantly the summer has uncovered some players which could have an impact on the Armeros season so most Eibar fans are excited about the upcoming season.

Key ins/outs: The biggest departure for Eibar has been center back Florian Lejeune who was transferred to Newcastle United for an Eibar record €10 million. The revenue generated by the sale is great for a team like Eibar, but it left a gaping hole in the middle of the Eibar defense, one which as of mid- August has not been completely filled. The only other meaningful loss was left back Antonio Luna who started 24 games last season. Other departures included Mauro Dos Santos and Adrian Gonzalez, but they did not feature much for the Armeros.

It’s worth mentioning Eibar lost Yoel, who started most of the season at GK, to an injury due to a torn ACL suffered in the summer and he’ll likely be out at least half of the season.

Eibar has been busy acquiring players this summer, but the focus has been to find replacements for Lejeune & Luna while also improving team depth. They've succeeded in 2 out of the three goals as they signed Paulo Oliveira from Sporting Lisbon for an EIbar record €3.5 million and secured the services of Ivan Alejo, Marko Dmitrovic (both from Segunda team Alcorcon) and Joan Jordan ($1 million from Espanyol) as well as a couple of experienced players like Jose Angel from Porto and Charles from Malaga. Aside from not signing a legitimate center back which is a big concern, Eibar has had a very good summer transfer season.

Players that have impressed or will be important next year: Sergi Enrich and Pedro Leon both need to have a great year if this team aspires to earn a European spot. Each of those players scored at least 10 goals last season, in fact Pedro Leon scored in each of the Eibar wins against Villarreal, so they need to have a similar season in 2017-18 in order for the team to be successful. One other player who could move the needle for Eibar is Kike Garcia since he became an important player for the team in the second half of last season.

impressions of preseason friendlies/players to watch: Ivan Alejo has had an amazing summer, one in which he’s positioned himself to earn playing time, no small feat considering he played at Alcorcon in La Segunda last season. In pre-season games he’s looked well and at times has been the only spark for the Eibar offense. (Some of you may remember him as a fine player for Villarreal’s B team). I’m excited to see Ivan play in La Liga and to see his development throughout the season. Eibar has had a recent history of finding and developing Segunda players into legitimate La Liga talent (Keko who ended up being transferred to Malaga in 2016 for a reported €5 Million and Lejeune who was just transferred to Newcastle for €10 Million) and I believe Ivan Alejo could be the next diamond in the rough for Eibar.

How will this year’s Eibar will compare to last year’s? Up front, the team added offensive firepower which should help them score more than the 56 goals they scored last season but the biggest question marks are in the back. The defense, which will be missing the center back Lejeune, and an unsettled GK spot, which will either be filled by an older GK in Riesgo or a new La Liga keeper in Dmitrovic, will make or break this team's 2017-18 season. In my mind the biggest difference in this years team will the defense & goalkeeper.

Anything else that happened during the summer we might find interesting? Last summer EIbar bought Alexander “Nano” Mesa for what was then a team record €3.25 Million from Tenerife. Although there was a heavy investment in Nano, he didn’t end up getting much playing time and there have been rumblings he wants to go back to Tenerife. This summer has been a decent one for Nano, but reports are it’s not been enough for Jose Luis Mendilibar, the Eibar coach, so it’s likely the €3.25 Million investment will not be paying off this season and some may even argue he’s been a bust.

Prediction for next season: Realistically Eibar needs to first focus on permanence in La Liga, so my prediction is a cautious one with the Armeros ending in the 10th to 12th spot in the table. As Mendilibar has stated this summer, Eibar is a couple of injuries or bad bounces away from being in the relegation battle, so staying outside of the relegation zone should always be the first priority.

The dream for Eibar fans is for our team to earn a European place, so in essence we dream of achieving what Villarreal has done! Good luck to El Submarino Amarillo, except when they play Eibar! Ha.

You can follow Omar on twitter at @NACOnomist, and EibarUSA are also on twitter at @EibarUSA (logical enough!!). EibarUSA are setting up a blog, as well, so you can find out more about that via their twitter account.

Thanks, Omar, for your insight, and we wish you luck in all but two games of your season as well :)

Allen adds an interesting tidbit: Villarreal have never defeated Eibar’s first-choice goalkeeper Yoel: 2 draws, 3 losses (all but the last loss when he was at Celta).