Las Palmas, as their fans like to remind their neighbours from Tenerife, have spent 32 years in the Primera Liga and are 20th in the all-time Spanish league table ahead of teams such as Villarreal, and, crucially, Tenerife.
Las Palmas may have been playing in the third division when Tenerife were playing in Europe in the mid-1990s, but with talents such as locally born Juan Carlos Valeron, they rose and reached the top flight in 2000.
Despite the efforts of the former Tottenham Hotspur and Everton midfielder Vinnie Samways, who achieved such cult status that one supporters’ club was named after him (Samways also picked up more red cards than any other player in the history of Spanish football at the time), Las Palmas were relegated after two seasons.
Still showing ambition, a new 32,500-seater stadium was built, but it was often two thirds empty as the club were relegated to the third division in 2004. They then became second division mainstays for a decade until this season when they were promoted back to the top flight.
The squeaky clean, squeaky voiced Valeron is back too, age 40 and still playing, through his contributions usually come from the bench. A local boy, he moved away from Las Palmas at 22 and returned at 38, with 13 of his seasons at Deportivo la Coruna, where he became one of the best players in Spain and represented his country 46 times.
Las Palmas signed the former Manchester City left-back Javier Garrido in preparation for this season, but they struggled. They were 19th after eight games when they lost 4-0 against Getafe, leading to the dismissal of coach Paco Herrera, the man who had taken them up. His team had played well in only losing 1-0 at Atletico Madrid and 2-1 at Barcelona. They had beaten Sevilla, too, but life at Las Palmas is tough. Every away game means a long flight to the Spanish mainland: Las Palmas to Barcelona is the same distance as Edinburgh to Naples.
“Each away game is a three-day trip,” recalled Samways of his time at the club. “It’s tiring and a disadvantage to us.” At least he played in an era when there was one short away game at Tenerife.
Herrera was replaced by Quique Setien, the no nonsense Cantabrian who has played for Atletico, Racing Santander and also managed at Racing and Equatorial Guinea. The 57-year-old Spaniard was used to travel and he would need to do a lot of that as he attempted to keep Las Palmas in the top-flight.
Everyone wanted the team to stay in La Liga, including the local government who contributed to a stadium reconstruction. They know how having a team in the top flight does no harm to raising the profile of the island which relies on tourism. Though only constructed in 2000, the Estadio Canaria had an unpopular running track. They only averaged gates of 15,000 last season in a stadium built to hold twice as many. Fans pined for a return to their quirky, more loved Insular home.
Instead, they had to be content with improvements last year which saw the pitch lowered and seats added to bring fans closer to the pitch, with a boosted capacity of 33,000. Gates are up to a 20,000 average, but results were still a struggle. Las Palmas were bottom after 14 games and were still in the relegation zone a month ago after another 2-1 defeat to Barcelona when they were praised for attacking and troubling the Catalans.
Las Palmas have won all three games since, winning at Eibar, one of the toughest, tightest grounds in Spain. It was no one off. They got revenge for October’s 4-0 Getafe defeat which had seen their coach Herrera depart by beating Getafe 4-0 last week.
On Saturday, they enjoyed their best win of the season, a 1-0 triumph at fourth-placed Villarreal, who had only lost once at home and were unbeaten in 14.
After winning back-to-back away games in La Liga for the first since 1986/87, Las Palmas rose to 14th, four points clear of relegation. Three of their players made Marca's team of the week: goalscoring right-back David Garcia, a local boy in his 13th season at the club; Momo, the left winger and another Canarian, plus Uruguayan central defender Mauricio Lemos. David Araujo, another South America who was last season's 25-goal top scorer, has been frustrated at being only a substitute during the recent rise.
Can it continue? Las Palmas's next game is at home to Real Madrid on Sunday.
Barcelona may be loose at the top, but it’s tight at the bottom of La Liga
While Barcelona run away with La Liga, matters are much more interesting at the bottom of the table. Six points separate Las Palmas, in 14th, with Sporting Gijon in 19th, on 24 points. Levante, with 21, are bottom and face neighbours Valencia at home this Sunday.
Levante bought well in January, and there have been signs of improvement, though games against Barca and Real Madrid at home, plus Sevilla and Villarreal away made it almost impossible for them. Still, don’t put it beyond them to surprise and stay up if Giuseppe Rossi can add to his two goals since joining in January.
Another problem for Levante is that teams tend to up their pace down the home straight and start accumulating more points. Las Palmas have won three on the bounce, Espanyol have won three of their last four and attendances have surged at Cornella as the team have found a renewed spirit, rising to 15th after the nadir of conceding 11 against the Reals of Madrid and Sociedad five weeks ago. Espanyol beat Rayo Vallecano on Monday night, with Hernan Perez’s 77th-minute winner.
Rayo are 17th and in danger themselves, despite the promise and goals of former Manchester United strikers Bebe and Manucho. Rayo, who have conceded more than any other team in La Liga, went seven unbeaten before losing their last two to both Barcelona clubs.
Sporting Gijon and Getafe are the most out of form teams. Getafe, the worst-supported club in the league, were 10th at the end of January. A run of seven straight defeats was only arrested by an 85th-minute equaliser in Saturday’s draw at home to Sevilla, who still haven’t won away in the league this season. Getafe are 16th.
A Granada side good enough to beat Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla, and who have won two of their last three matches, are 18th. They had better pick up points soon for their last two matches are against Sevilla away and at home to Barcelona, though the Catalans would have long won the league by then.
Sporting, in 19th, are another team who have slumped. Promoted last term, they started this season well with a 0-0 draw against Real Madrid. Twelfth after 10 games, Abelardo’s well-supported side have slipped further down the table and were unable to beat any of the four other relegation candidates they met in the last five matches.
Not every team will be able to match Malaga’s ten-place rise between December and February, but every team is good – or bad – enough to stay up. None are in the position of Aston Villa in England, Troyes in France or Dundee United in Scotland. And that is a positive in a competitive La Liga.
Player of the week
Cristiano Ronaldo scored four in 26 minutes in Real Madrid's 7-1 home win against Celta Vigo. He was booed before his first goal, too. Madrid are the league's top scorers and Ronaldo moved past Luis Suarez at the top of the Pichichi chart. He is now the second top scorer in Spanish league history and took 62 games less than Lionel Messi to reach that stage.
Game of the week
Las Palmas v Real Madrid intrigues because it’s in the Canaries and Madrid are weak on their travels, as does the Valencian derby between Levante and Valencia. Both need a win, as do relegation-threatened Granada and Espanyol. There is a lot of scrapping to be done at the bottom of the table.
Barcelona continue to play continue to win. They performed very well at Eibar, where they showed more intensity and concentration than in recent games. Neymar was in Brazil, but the depleted Barca strike force scored their 100th goal of the season without him.
Barcelona have won 81 of their last 100 games. It’s the most wins over 100 matches in the history of the club.
As the front page on Monday's Marca stated: "Never give up". That was accompanied by picture of Fernando Torres, whose goal put Atletico Madrid back in front at Mestalla. It was only their second win in 13 visits to Valencia's ground. Atletico continue to impress. The two defeats to Barcelona will likely cost them the title but they are still a very good side who are hard to beat, with Antoine Griezmann and Saul Niguez excellent in recent matches.
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