Eibar Season Preview: Can La Liga's smallest club keep punching above their weight?
Takashi Inui is back with Eibar (Getty Images/Juan Manuel Serrano Arce)

From a tiny village in Gipuzkoa in the Basque region in the North of Spain, SD Eibar hit the headlines when, in 2014, they were promoted to La Liga for the first time in their history. As one of, if not the smallest club in history to reach Spain’s top flight, the club was tipped to be heading straight back down to the second tier at the first time of asking. They would have been, following their 18th placed finish, were it not for Elche’s financial troubles, sending them down and keeping Eibar up against all the odds.

Now, they’re preparing for their sixth consecutive season in La Liga having gained many fans along the way for their unique stadium and never say die attitude in the league. Will they continue that into the 2019/20 season and beyond?

Transfer Business Overview

Eibar may have fought well above their means with their top three record transfers all just exceeding the three million euro mark but this season could be one of their toughest to fight at that level again with the departures of some key players. Joan Jordan has been one of the Basque outfit’s key players in recent seasons but they’ll have to do without him following his €14 million move to Sevilla.

At right-back, they have also been weakened with Rubén Peña departing the club, joining Villarreal for an undisclosed fee. Moves have been made to replace those players, Edu Exposito has joined from Deportivo La Coruna in midfield while at right-back, Rober Correa comes in from Cadiz and Alvaro Tejero from Real Madrid Castilla.

The return of former fans favourite Takashi Inui after uninspiring spells at Real Betis and Alaves could be an important one while striker Quique has also swapped Deportivo for Eibar and Pedro Bigas has made his move from Las Palmas a permanent one.

Following a successful loan spell at the Ipurua last season, Marc Cucurella’s loan move from Barcelona was made permanent, then the Catalans exercised the €4 million buy-back clause to take him back to the Camp Nou, before sending him out on loan to Getafe just two days later leaving Jose Angel as the club’s main left-back for the season.

Manager: Jose Luis Mendilibar

Following Gaizka Garitano’s resignation at the end of Eibar’s first season in La Liga, Jose Luis Mendilibar was appointed and has enjoyed an impressive four years at the helm. Having ridden their luck in staying up the previous year, Mendilibar certainly knew that he had a job on his hands to keep Los Armeros in La Liga, but he did, comfortably, with the side finishing in 14th place.

The boss improved on that the following year, guiding the Basques to a top ten finish as well as a place in the quarter-finals of the Copa Del Rey. In the 2017/18 season, Eibar finished in ninth, their highest ever finish in Spanish football. Despite dropping further down the table last year, Mendilibar’s side still finished in a respectable 12th place and you wouldn’t bet against them doing that again this year.

Player to Watch: Takashi Inui

Back at the club for a second spell, Takashi Inui could be the main attacking spark for Eibar this season.  After impressing in his home country Japan, the winger was snapped up by VFL Bochum in Germany before joining Eintracht Frankfurt where he again starred and eventually Eibar in 2015.

He quickly fitted in with Eibar’s fresh style of play and with his direct running at defenders and technical ability, Inui soon made his mark on La Liga. His 11 goals and 12 assists in almost 100 appearances for the side earned him a move to Real Betis where, unfortunately for him, it didn’t work out. His loan spell at Alaves also failed to have the desired effect and as such, Inui has looked a shadow of his former self.

However, Eibar is a club he knows well, Ipurua is a place where he feels right at home and that could be just what he needs to get back to the player he was before and if that can be done, both the player and Eibar could be in for a fruitful season.

One for the Future: Alvaro Tejero

With an average of almost 29, Eibar isn’t exactly a side full of youth and at 23, Alvaro Tejero is one of the youngest players in the squad. The right-back has spent the majority of his career at Real Madrid but after just two minutes of La Liga action in that time and a loan spell at Albacete, he took the decision to join Eibar when the Basques came calling.

Whether he will be a regular starter or a bit-part player remains to be seen, but Tejero certainly has the potential to star for Eibar for many years and his five-year contract with the club gives him the chance to do just that.

Predicted Finish

The loss of key players Jordan and Peña has hit Eibar hard but the moves they have made to replace them could well turn out to be useful. It will be hard for them to continue their impressive run in La Liga but in manager Mendilibar they have the right man at the helm to keep it going.

They should have more than the newly promoted sides as well as the likes of Real Valladolid to stay up but reaching the top half of the table once more may be easier said than done. Given their past exploits, safety may not be Eibar’s primary aim, but it would be a realistic one and a top half of the bottom half finish is probably what to expect.