RC Celta de Vigo are hoping victory over Club Brugge KV could be the restorative they need.
By Graham Hunter in Vigo
The statistics tell their own stark story about RC Celta de Vigo's battle to adapt to playing UEFA Champions League football. Neatly poised in Group H to edge towards the knockout stages if they can defeat Club Brugge KV tonight, Miguel Angel Lotina's team are much less comfortable in the Primera División.
From having earned a 'Fortress Balaídos' reputation at their own stadium in 2002/2003, they are now the side with the worst home record in the Spanish top flight this season. And having sat in fourth place with 21 points at this stage of last year's championship, they now languish in 17th position with eleven points after last weekend's defeat by Athletic Club Bilbao.
Every club has to go through the learning process and this, of course, is Celta's first experience of Europe's leading club competition. Its impact - on form, injuries and their scrupulous habit of not giving goals away easily - has been noticeable. But Lotina has players of real steel and durability, some of whom believe that this is the rallying point of their season and that by Matchday 6 the team will reach AC Milan's Giuseppe Meazza stadium with the possibility of staying in the tournament and with a distinctly healthier position in the Spanish championship.
Spanish international defender Juanfran can see light at the end of the tunnel. "Against Brugge we have a hugely important match," he said. "Our motivation is, of course, to stay in this competition. But victory over the Belgians could not only help us get the taste of defeat out of our mouths, it could get our confidence back up to the level it should be at."
No matter the distractions which have hindered the Galician club, such as a heated team meeting and threatened strike before their first home Champions League match against Milan or the fact that playmaker Aleksandr Mostovoi failed to report back for club duty as requested after Russia eliminated Wales in the UEFA EURO 2004™ play-offs, it is the goals-against column which is most damaging to Celta. In 16 league and Champions League games they have conceded 21 times.
'Need to tighten up'
Midfield player Jesuli observed: "We are preoccupied by the fact that our rivals don't seem to have to do too much in order to score against us. By contrast we are having to work overtime to get goals and grind out any victory. From this point on we have to treat every game like a final." Juanfran added: "The goals we are conceding are leaving the team nervous. We need to close things up and then start trying to play pretty football."
Back to basics
Starting with the visit of Brugge, Argentinian defender Eduardo Berizzo, is calling for a 'back to basics' campaign. Lotina's side finished fourth in Spain last season thanks to a close-knit style of defending and a high-tempo pressing philosophy. Berizzo believes a return to those values cannot come quickly enough. "We have to be the team we were, the team which made it really uncomfortable for others to play against. We have to work harder, sweat harder and show the courage which can take us onwards in Europe and upwards in the championship."