Derby County fans… it’s time to get excited.
In 2007-08 the Rams recorded the worst season in the history of Europe’s big five leagues, suffering relegation from the Premier League with just 11 points.
Now, though, that unwanted record is under serious threat.
La Liga stragglers Almeria have collected just seven points – and no wins – from their opening 24 games, putting them on track for a historically bad season.
Summer optimism soon disappears
Owned by ambitious Saudi entrepreneur Turki Al-Sheikh, Almeria were promoted to La Liga in 2022 and avoided relegation last season thanks to a dramatic 3-3 final day draw at Espanyol.
Although the summer saw the surprise resignation of coach Rubi, that was followed by significant investment in new signings and there was no sign of the historical ineptitude to follow.
However, new boss Vicente Moreno quickly fell out with the club’s hierarchy and was fired after the first seven games yielded just two points.
Youth team coach Alberto Lasarte was appointed caretaker, and his one game in charge summed up much of the campaign.
At home to fellow strugglers Granada, Almeria raced into a 3-0 half-time lead as striker Luis Suarez plundered a five-minute hat-trick.
But a nervous defence could not withstand the slightest sniff of a Granada comeback and collapsed for a 3-3 draw, made worse by an injury to Suarez that sidelined him for three months.
Newly appointed coach Gaizka Garitano then somewhat improved the team’s defence but still lost his first six league games in charge. He could not even gain respite from the Copa del Rey, with Almeria embarrassingly knocked out by fourth-tier Barbastro.
That setback further decimated any lingering confidence, and the rest is the worst kind of footballing history.
Why are Almeria so bad?
Actually, in many ways strangely they are not.
Bizarre as it might sound for a group that have not won all season, at times Almeria can look a pretty good team – especially against top opponents.
They dominated away at Atletico Madrid for an hour but still lost 2-1, nearly claimed a point at champions Barcelona but were sunk by Sergi Roberto’s late winner, and held a deserved 2-0 interval lead at the Bernabeu before a wild second half saw Real Madrid pull level with two VAR-assisted strikes and then score a 99th-minute winner.
According to ‘expected goals’ data, Almeria shouldn’t even be in La Liga’s relegation zone, never mind the worst team in history.
But therein lies the answer to their troubles: they score fewer goals than they should through poor finishing, and they concede more than they should through calamitous defending.
Their game on the first weekend of February, at Valencia, offered another example – midfielder Gonzalo Melero missed an early sitter, and two minutes later unmarked opposition striker Hugo Duro slotted home the opener.
They were 1-0 down instead of 1-0 up, eventually losing 2-1, and a sorry season was encapsulated.
|Premier League: Derby County 2007-08 (11)
|La Liga: Sporting Gijon 1997-98 (13)
|Bundesliga: Schalke 2020-21 (16)
|Ligue 1: Lens 1988-89 (17)
|Serie A: Pescara 2016-17 (18)
That defeat at Valencia saw Almeria match one of many undesirable records within their grasp: the longest winless start to a La Liga season – 23 games, tied with Sporting Gijon in 1997-98.
Monday’s 0-0 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao – albeit after going down to 10 men with more than half an hour to play – meant they are now lumbered with the outright record.
It is not the only milestone in play. Another is La Liga’s longest ever winless run, which was set at 27 games by Levante over the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns. Having failed to win their last three games of last season, Almeria have also now equalled that particular record.
At some point, Almeria should win a game or two. Their generally reasonable football has been let down by awful play inside the two penalty areas, with some bad luck, injuries and questionable refereeing decisions thrown in.
If they can string together 90 minutes without any of those factors interfering, they are more than capable of grabbing three points.
Individually, there will be plenty of motivation as players put themselves in the shop window. Former Real Madrid youngster Sergio Arribas, midfielder Lucas Robertone and versatile Edgar Gonzalez are among those comfortably good enough to stay in the top flight by earning summer moves.
Manager Garitano, too, will be hoping to finish the season well to keep his post for a potential promotion challenge next season.
But for now, Derby fans can cross their fingers in the hope that Almeria’s next 15 games will follow much the same pattern as their last 23.
If that happens, the dismal distinction of being the worst football team in Europe’s elite top-flight history might just change hands.