x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Real Zaragoza are masters of the late show in Spain

The art of scoring late has boosted the chances of Manolo Jimenez's side beating the drop in the Primera Liga.

Real Zaragoza's coach Manolo Jimenez has inspired an upturn in results for the Primera Liga side.
Real Zaragoza's coach Manolo Jimenez has inspired an upturn in results for the Primera Liga side.

Real Zaragoza appeared doomed at the turn of the year. With just two wins from 16 league games, they were adrift at the bottom of the league with fans protesting against their president and players telling their agents to move them as soon as they could.

Expectations were much higher for the only team from Spain's fifth biggest city, a team who could easily average 30,000 if they were not losing every week. And even when they did, 23,000 would still turn up.

Zaragoza appointed yet another new coach on New Year's Eve, Manolo Jimenez, the former Seville coach and latterly of AEK Athens.

The Andalusian is a tough operator noted for his motivation techniques, but nothing much changed, with two points won from four January games.

Zaragoza were dire, with just 14 goals in 20 league games and everyone expected the yo-yo club who had already suffered two relegations in the last decade to make it a third.

Their football was direct, physical and unattractive, their players lacked the technical ability of even their relegation rivals and the club was a disaster off the field thanks to the hated president Agapito Iglesias.

Then Zaragoza beat Uefa Champions League-chasing Espanyol away in February with a 90th minute winner.

They then got two goals in the last five minutes to come from behind to defeat Villarreal at the start of March. A pattern was being set. Zaragoza have won their last three games and picked up 13 points from the last 18 possible.

Every one of those games has been decided in the final minutes, an 86th-minute equaliser against Osasuna, a 90th-minute penalty winner against Atletico Madrid.

Their latest victory at Sporting Gijon at the weekend was again achieved with a last-minute winner.

Their players are starting to think that they are either very lucky or invincible. Who can blame they after they came from behind to beat Valencia away with nine men?

Zaragoza have now risen to 18th, just four points from safety.

Jimenez is the main reason. He has completely changed their training, their psychology and mentality too.

There are far better teams in Spain, but nobody quite as motivated as Zaragoza at present. That will be put to the test this week. They entertain Barcelona.

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