Late season coaching changes in LaLiga

coaching changes in la liga

March is a month when the Spanish top flight pauses for breath with the final international break of the domestic season before one big dash for the finish line. For many a struggling club, it’s also often a time to decide to stick or twist with under pressure bosses.

Three of LaLiga’s bottom four have already fired their coaches this month. The reasoning for such late season decisions is usually obvious. Clubs hope that a fresh voice and change in approach can bring with it, at least a temporary upturn in fortunes and a few more points at a crucial point in the campaign. If judged correctly, such changes can ultimately prove the difference between survival and relegation for those at the bottom.

There are countless examples of the “new manager bounce” delivering immediate results, not least on the most recent matchday in LaLiga.

Struggling clubs roll the dice

Celta Vigo, having just parted company with big name summer appointment Rafa Benitez, went to Sevilla and claimed a surprise 2-1 win under the guidance of 36 year old former B team boss Claudio Giraldez. That was one of just three matches the Galicians have won this season in the league against teams currently above them in the table.

Even more remarkably, having just replaced Gaizka Garitano with Pepe Mel, rock bottom Almeria won a football match! Their 1-0 triumph away to Las Palmas ended LaLiga’s longest ever winless streak as the Andalusians tasted victory at the 29th time of asking this season.

Perhaps inspired by events in Seville and Gran Canaria, 19th place Granada have also since decided to roll the dice, sacking Alexander Medina and bringing back Jose Ramon Sandoval who famously oversaw one of the great late escape acts in 2015 when his Granada side collected ten points from their final four games to beat the drop.

However, the recent history suggests clubs should tread carefully when deciding to sack coaches late in the season with a subsequent improvement under new management far from guaranteed.

Late season coaching changes in LaLiga – The recent history

Coaching changes in March or later over the previous five seasons

Season Club Date of change Outgoing coach Position at departure Incoming coach Final position
22/23 Getafe April 27th Quique Sanchez Flores 18th Pepe Bordalas 15th
22/23 Espanyol April 3rd Diego Martinez 17th Luis Garcia 19th
22/23 Real Valladolid April 3rd Pacheta 15th Paulo Pezzolano 18th
22/23 Sevilla March 21st Jorge Sampaoli 14th Jose Luis Mendilibar 12th
22/23 Elche March 20th Pablo Machin 20th Sebastian Beccacece 20th
21/22 Espanyol May 13th Vicente Moreno 13th Luis Blanco (caretaker) 14th
21/22 Granada April 18th Ruben Torrecilla (caretaker) 18th Aitor Karanka 18th
21/22 Alaves April 3rd Jose Luis Mendilibar 20th Julio Velazquez 20th
21/22 Mallorca March 22nd Luis Garcia 18th Javier Aguirre 16th
21/22 Granada March 6th Robert Moreno 17th Ruben Torrecilla (caretaker) 18th*
20/21 Valencia May 2nd Javi Gracia 14th Voro (caretaker) 13th
20/21 Alaves April 5th Abelardo 20th Javi Calleja 16th
19/20 Alaves July 5th Asier Garitano 15th Juan Muñiz 16th
19/20 Valencia June 29th Albert Celades 8th Voro (caretaker) 9th
19/20 Espanyol June 27th Abelardo 20th Francisco Rufete (caretaker) 20th
19/20 Real Betis June 21st Rubi 14th Alexis Trujillo (caretaker) 15th
18/19 Rayo Vallecano March 18th Michel 19th Paco Jemez 20th
18/19 Sevilla March 15th Pablo Machin 6th Joaquin Caparros 6th
18/19 Real Madrid March 11th Santi Solari 3rd Zinedine Zidane 3rd
18/19 Celta Vigo March 3rd Miguel Cardoso 17th Fran Escriba 17th
*Caretaker Ruben Torrecilla was later replaced with the club 18th in April 2022 and Granada went on to finish 18th under Aitor Karanka.

Over the five seasons prior to this one, there were 20 coaching changes made by LaLiga clubs from March 1st onwards, 85% of which were made by teams in the bottom eight places.

Of those 20 changes, just five resulted in teams finishing higher than they were at the time of the switch. Three of those cases did see clubs rise from the relegation zone to a position of safety with Javi Calleja guiding Alaves from 20th to 16th in 2021, Javier Aguirre taking Mallorca from 18th to 16th in 2022 while Pepe Bordalas (18th to 15th) secured final day safety for Getafe last term.

Those are clearly the success stories that help convince struggling clubs that making changes late in the season can prove the difference between relegation and safety. However, the overall evidence, from the last five years at least, suggests that more often than not these late season switches either have a negligible impact or end up backfiring.

There are seven cases over the past five years where teams have dismissed coaches only to end up in exactly the same position. Meanwhile on eight occasions, teams have actually gone on to finish even lower.

There are even three times when clubs have been outside the relegation zone at the time of the change, only to be relegated to the Segunda Division.

Granada were one place outside the drop zone when they sacked Robert Moreno in March 2022 but neither caretaker Ruben Torrecilla nor Aitor Karanka could save them. The margins are often very fine though and in that case, had Jorge Molina converted his final day penalty against Espanyol, the Andalusians would have actually finished 15th as opposed to 18th.

Aside from Bordalas’ late impact at Getafe and Sevilla’s wild resurgence under Jose Luis Mendilibar, last season was a particularly bleak year for the “new manager bounce”. Espanyol and Real Valladolid were both outside of the relegation zone when they sacked coaches on the same day in early April. Both ultimately went down with neither Luis Garcia nor Paulo Pezzolano having the desired impact.

The constant search for something new

Given there is little evidence to suggest that changing coaches late in the season can be safely relied upon to produce a better end result, it’s perhaps surprising that struggling clubs continue to fire and hire at such a rate.

Sacking a coach is after all an expensive business with Celta Vigo reportedly needing to pay out €6m to Rafa Benitez following his dismissal earlier this month, not small change by any means for a bottom half LaLiga club.

Celta are at least in a position where their top flight status is salvageable, but that’s surely not the case at Granada or Almeria. If the current points tally of LaLiga’s hapless bottom two was combined, they’d still only have as many as that of the 17th placed Galicians.

Both have plumped for experienced coaches on temporary contracts until the end of the season. Mel has at least guided Almeria to a victory that ensures they’ll avoid the unwanted feat of becoming the first ever team in the Spanish top flight to go a full season without winning a match.

However with the two Andalusian clubs all but certain to be playing Segunda Division football next term, it’s fair to question whether the expense and upheaval of another coaching change will really prove to be worth it with both Almeria and Granada having also fired bosses earlier in the campaign.

Since mid December, all of LaLiga’s bottom six have made changes and we’re not even in April, a month that saw three struggling clubs fire coaches last season.

This season does feel different with less teams involved in the relegation battle and the bottom two being so far adrift. Even so, if recent history is anything to go by, there’s still time for LaLiga 2023/24’s current tally of 11 sackings to increase as clubs continue to search for a quick fix to their problems.

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