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Depor look to Valerón

Published: Sunday 29 December 2002, 10.00CET delivers its mid-term report on Spanish side RC Deportivo La Coruña. features

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Published: Sunday 29 December 2002, 10.00CET

Depor look to Valerón delivers its mid-term report on Spanish side RC Deportivo La Coruña.
With the UEFA Champions League on its winter break, will publish mid-term reports on the 16 remaining sides in the competition every day until 31 December. Today we look at one of the most exciting teams in the tournament, RC Deportivo La Coruña.

The story so far
This could be Deportivo's best chance yet to leave their mark on the Champions League. Yes, the Galician club find themselves five points off the lead in the so-called group of death. But this is a team who, on their day at least, will be undaunted by the challenge of Group D rivals, Manchester United FC, Juventus FC and FC Basel. Already, they have passed through a section including AC Milan, RC Lens and FC Bayern München to reach the last 16. After beating the German side home and away, they secured their place with a 2-1 victory at the San Siro. That was achieved thanks to strikes from Diego Tristán and Roy Makaay, the competition's second top scorer with nine goals. With Albert Luque, a summer signing from RCD Mallorca, also settling in at this level, Deportivo have the attacking strength to add to their customary experience and solidity. Deportivo are at their best going forward, and when they go at visiting sides on a European night at the Riazor stadium, it can be quite a spectacle. However, they have also shown signs of defensive frailty. An inability to hold on to a two-goal lead against Juventus FC cost them three points on Matchday 7, the game ending in a draw. Then a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United FC left them playing catch-up in the group. Nonetheless, the Champions League is a competition they enjoy. And with two quarter-final appearances in the last two seasons, Deportivo will be aiming for at least the last eight.

Another ex-Atlético player, Juan Valerón, is the perfect midfield complement to Tristán and Makaay. The vision he brings to Deportivo's play, and his sheer mastery of the ball, leave him with few peers on the European scene. Spanish observers compare the 27-year-old to a canary - he can sometimes appear indolent - but when he is on his game he is unstoppable. If Valeron finds his form, the best could be yet to come.

Valerón again. Irureta found there was no substitute when injury deprived the coach of his playmaker for six games between Matchday 2 and Matchday 7. Only the left-sided veteran Fran González came close with his superior ball skills and eye for a pass. How they could have done with the Brazilian Djalminha, discarded in the summer having been deemed surplus to requirements.

Key player - Roy Makaay
The Dutch international has been the star man, scoring in six of Deportivo's eight Champions League games to date. Not only did he hit a hat-trick at fortress Bayern, he also struck the winning goals in the victories over Bayern at the Riazor, and Milan at the San Siro.

Best moment so far
The undoubted highlight of the campaign has been the 3-2 Matchday 1 defeat of Bayern - the German club's first home reverse in the competition in five seasons and a first-ever Spanish success at the Olimpiastadion. This set Deportivo on their way to qualifying at Bayern's expense, second in Group G behind Milan. What they could do with a few more nights like that.

Last updated: 31/12/02 13.13CET

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