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European Team of the Week: SD Eibar (Spain)
Position: 8th in La Liga, 27 points
Tiny Eibar are enjoying their first ever season of top flight in Spain quite a bit. Located in the Basque Country in Northern Spain, a team who play in a stadium that holds 5,910 people — the smallest in Europe’s Big Four leagues — are sitting comfortably in the top half of the La Liga table, 11 points from the relegation zone and eight away from an improbable European qualifying spot.
Eibar’s odyssey through the lower levels of Spanish football is an interesting one that paints a tale of frustration. Founded in 1940 by the formation of two local clubs, Sociedad Deportiva Eibar were promoted to the fourth tier a decade later, jumping up into the Segunda Division in 1953. They bounced between those three levels, spending most of their time in the Tercera Division, for the next 38 years before earning promotion to the second tier again, where they remained for almost all of the past three decades
Wait, what? You read that right. Just two seasons ago, Eibar finished second in the third division, then followed that up with another runner-up season in the second tier. Now, they’re eighth in La Liga at the halfway point. Talk about a rapid rise.
It was almost halted prematurely though. After becoming just the seventh team to earn back-to-back promotions, the club had to raise over 1.5 million Euros to pay the fees necessary to play in the top flight.
Fundraising efforts worked, Eibar were not undeservedly relegated, and those who helped them stay up have been treated with some truly glorious moments. The town of Eibar, with just 27,000-or-so inhabitants, has a team playing well in the top level, and with all of the problems that the club have gone through recently, it’s easy to wonder how.
Throughout their rampaging first half of the season, Eibar relied on scoring from multiple threats and ragged defending in close games to earn points. They have a minus-1 goal differential, but that is a result of a 9-1 aggregate scoreline in games against the top three of the Madrid teams and Barcelona. The reality is that against teams more within their sights, Eibar have been pretty good.
Unlike many other teams who are unexpectedly high in tables around the world, Eibar don’t rely on one scorer, instead getting contributions from multiple sources. Six players have multiple goals, with attacking midfielder Mikel Arruabarrena leading the way with five. This is a positive and a negative, as the squad aren’t necessarily doomed for destruction if any injury strikes, but they also don’t have any to rely on when a goal is needed.
Since the turn of the calendar to 2015, Eibar have been in terrific form, winning their first two matches of the New Year before drawing against Cordoba last weekend. Now, exactly halfway through the season, it’s looking more and more likely that Eibar will get to play a second season in La Liga.
That hinges on some important matches coming up though. Realistically, Eibar should coast to a mid-table finish assuming they get a few wins over the second half. But any team can go into a tailspin, and Eibar need at least a point from their next two matches — an away matchup with local rivals Real Sociedad and a home fixture against Atletico Madrid — to start the second half on a positive note. They face three top-half teams in a row to close the season, so the end will be difficult. Eibar should be safe by then, though, which would mean the biggest Cinderella story in major European football gets to continue for another year.