Awaziem & Omeruo are central to Aguirre’s return to prominence at Leganes
The Mexican coach was unceremoniously fired by Egypt in July, and is slowly rebuilding his reputation with the Cucumber Growers
Last Saturday, Real Murcia were the latest side to feel the wrath of a resurgent Leganes, who extended their unbeaten run in all competitions since December to six.
Javier Aguirre’s troops thumped the Segunda Division B side 4-0 at Estadio Nueva Condomina to advance to the third round of the Copa del Rey.
It’s an encouraging turn of events for them after an appalling start that saw the Cucumber Growers rooted to the foot of the table after nine games, leading to Mauricio Pellegrino’s dismissal on October 21 with the Butarque outfit on a paltry two points.
Luis Cembranos took charge on an interim basis, and helped the side to a 1-0 win over Mallorca, five days after Pellegrino’s departure, but Lega’s joy was short-lived with a 5-0 hammering by Real Madrid preceding a 2-1 loss at the hands of Eibar in the next two games.
Aguirre took charge with the team five points from safety, but a turnaround in December has seen them move within a point of 17th-placed Celta Vigo.
In truth, opting for the former Espanyol boss was a bit of a gamble too, given how things panned out with Egypt last year.
Javier Aguirre at Afcon 2019
Having promised so much to the North African nation before the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, the 61-year-old failed to deliver on his promise as the Pharaohs exited the competition at the round of 16 following a 1-0 defeat by South Africa.
What particularly rankled wasn’t just the team’s elimination, but their poor performances, which didn’t come to bite them in the nether regions until their exit.
Aguirre was instantly fired on the night of Egypt’s exit and had been out of a job since…until Leganes came calling to, so far, positive results.
The recent upturn, which has come about by players at both ends of the pitch finally pulling their weight, has also been influenced by Nigerian pair Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem.
Both centre-backs have been instrumental in the team’s rearguard, with Aguirre now showing a preference for the Super Eagles duo in recent weeks.
In seven games since the Mexican boss has been at the helm, at least one of the West African centre-backs has featured in the starting line-up in that time.
While Omeruo was favoured in the first few fixtures of Aguirre’s reign, Awaziem has come to the fore in the last few gameweeks, to become one of the central figures to the recent resurgence in Butarque.
The first time they played together was in the 1-1 draw at Alaves, the Mexican’s fifth league game in charge, a match Lega probably deserved to win even though they had only three attempts all match.
Interestingly, though, in the very next game, the former Egypt boss opted to have both Awaziem and Omeruo from the start too, and Leganes won 2-0 against current bottom side Espanyol in December. It was their first clean sheet since the victory over Mallorca in October, and both centre-halves were beyond instrumental in the shut out.
The pair of defenders were probably the best players on the pitch for the home side, and their performance ensured the Cucumber Growers left their long-standing position at the bottom of the standings.
Remarkably, they had near identical stats in the encounter, too, with same number of interceptions (four), clearances and successful tackles (three apiece), and one blocked shot.
Omeruo won five of his six duels, however, while Awaziem won five of his seven, the only difference in their numbers in the team’s final match of 2019.
It came as no surprise that Aguirre stuck with the pair in the team’s opening game of the year away at Real Valladolid as they came away with a creditable 2-2 draw, a match they probably deserved to win on the balance of play.
While the former Atletico Madrid trainer has only been in charge for seven league games, the fact that he has now stuck with the trio of Awaziem, Omeruo and Jonathan Silva as his three centre-backs in Leganes’ last three outings tells its own story.
From the outside looking in, it paints a picture of a manager that’s now settled on his preferred picks at the heart of his defence, with the Nigerian pair getting the nod after Aguirre initially chopped and changed.
What’s particularly noteworthy about Leganes’ results since the start of December is the fact that positive outcomes have come against teams in the bottom-half of the log, a basic building block for any side trying to beat the drop.
Games against the bigger sides are somewhat written off, so picking up wins against direct competitors for survival not only puts points on board, it, importantly, gives the victors the mental edge in the race, too.
Aguirre’s side host main rivals Getafe on Friday night, seeking their first win against one of the top-half sides in the division this season.
It was a 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture in October that cost Pellegrino his job, but one that could really open up new possibilities for Aguirre and his side.
Jose Bordalas’ troops have lost three on the bounce in all competitions, and while it is often said that form goes out the window in games like this, there’d be no better time for Leganes to play their rivals.
Aguirre failed to cope with the enormous pressure of winning Egypt an eighth African crown, but with the pressure considerably lower with Leganes, the bruised Mexican manager can continue rebuilding his reputation, and his Nigerian centre-backs will be vital in how their season pans out from here.