The Great Escape: Quique Sánchez Flores at Getafe
If there has been a fairytale story of salvation from the jaws of defeat this season, it has been the role of Quique Sánchez Flores at Getafe.
Seemingly condemned to relegation in September after seven defeats in a row across the first seven fixtures, only the madrileño with his rugged good looks could save the club. Back at the club that he knows so well, he performed a miracle.
“Quique changed it all,” said in-form centre-forward Enes Ünal recently. Here, we’ll take a look at just what the former Valencia full-back has done to turn things around quite so magnificently in the suburbs of south Madrid.
To fully understand Quique’s impact at Getafe, you need to know the background. He never played for the club during his career, but Getafe is a club close to this coach’s heart.
Getafe were the first senior side to offer him a chance at management, calling him to leave Real Madrid’s under-17s to take on the challenge of keeping Getafe in the top flight following promotion and the departure of coach Josu Uribe for Elche in 2004. He was assisted at the time by future Elche coach Fran Escribá.
The team finished 13th in his debut season, and the club that he made more than 100 appearances for as a player, Valencia, swooped in for him only 12 months after his arrival. Spells at Benfica, Atlético Madrid and in the Middle East followed over the next decade. He won a Europa League title and a European Super Cup with Atleti in the process.
In 2015 he returned to Getafe, briefly, for an 11-game stint which came to an abrupt end as he announced his departure due to “personal reasons, after a deep reflection”. Even so, he guided the team away from a relegation scrap and took them to a Copa del Rey quarter-final in the process.
Months later, he would move to Watford, before returning to Spain with Espanyol for two seasons, and then moving on again to go to China, before a short return at Watford again.
Getafe remained a place that he valued highly. Speaking in 2020, he said that “Getafe fans are loyal and valuable, it’s difficult to be a Getafe fan in a city with big teams, but their fans are loyal and I love that.”
Then, after QSF had been out of work for nearly two full years, Ángel Torres put in a call. Again. Getafe had just one point from eight games, and the club president had taken the call to sack coach Míchel. Seven consecutive defeats to kick off the campaign had seen them take to social media to talk about #DoItPossible and #MisiónCrystalPalace in an attempt to emulate the feat of the London-based side as they bounced back to survive in 2017/18. Torres wanted Quique to be his Roy Hodgson.
"Every time I've been in Getafe I've had the same feeling that I'm part of a family,” he said at his presentation. It was particularly striking as Sánchez Flores is said to have turned down more money from Levante, in part because his son plays for Getafe’s academy.
“The family is in trouble at the moment and I'm looking forward to training. We know each other perfectly well and now I know that we have to talk a little and work a lot."
"It's normal to say it's a challenge,” he reflected. “But I want to see it as another step on the path that leads you to more difficult situations and others that are easier. This club is organised and hard-working. At this club there is a lot of demand, a lot of work, dedication, passion and ambition for what needs to be done.”
Had the season started when Sánchez Flores was appointed, Getafe would be sitting in eighth in LaLiga and competing for a European place, level on points with Atlético Madrid and ahead of Athletic Club and Real Sociedad.
Curiously, just like Crystal Palace in 2018, they sit on 26 points from their first 25 games, having failed to pick up any for the first seven fixtures of the season.
From a points per game rate of 0.13 under Míchel, they upped the ante to 1.47 points per game under his replacement. Quique has also recorded eight clean sheets in 17 games and made the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez a fortress again.
In eight home games since his appointment, Getafe have won six, including a victory over league leaders Real Madrid, drawn one, and lost only once. Only Real Madrid have racked up a better record at home over the same time period, averaging 2.4 points per game at the Bernabéu, compared to 2.38 for Getafe, and 2.33 for next best performers Sevilla.
Putting in the hard work
The first change that Sánchez Flores looked to implement was a change in the approach to training. He brought back former Getafe fitness coach Óscar García as one of his very first decisions, and demanded more from his players.
When he ran his first session in charge at the club this season, on a Thursday morning, he informed his players that they would be having double training sessions for the rest of the week, meaning that there would be five sessions before a Saturday afternoon fixture against Levante.
It was evident that the coach was looking to change the way that Getafe worked, to get their fitness levels up, and get players focused. After all, Los Azulones had held on to what looked like a point until injury-time winners gave both Sevilla and Atlético Madrid a chance to rob Getafe of a point.
“With Quique we train a lot, that’s the first factor,” forward Ünal said, speaking in February. “He’s come with different energies, we look at the small details and focus on those in every training session.”
The coach hasn’t made major system changes, sticking to a back three shape which Míchel had preferred. Instead, he’s sought to adapt to the strengths of his players, operating in a more direct style to reach his forwards while also relaxing a press which an ageing squad could not sustain. By working on fitness, Getafe have been able to come a long way.
Goals, goals, goals
One of the key factors has come from Getafe’s goalscoring streak. Under Míchel, the team scored three goals in eight games, 0.38 per game, with an xG of 4.83, or 0.6 per game. That means that on average, Getafe would have been expected to score 0.22 goals per game more than they did under his leadership.
Under QSF, the team has scored 21 goals in 17 games, averaging 1.24 per game, with an xG of 15.37, or 0.9 per game. That means that under QSF, Getafe are scoring 0.34 goals per game more than would be expected. That’s an incredible swing of 0.56 goals per game.
That leads us to some clear conclusions. The team are creating more chances, but crucially, they’re more clinical in how they are taking them.
Enes Ünal is at the very heart of that change. Having failed to score until matchday 11, his longest goal drought since is only two matches, and even that has only happened once. He’s scored 11 goals in his last 14 appearances, sending him to sixth place in the Pichichi standings.
With a goal every 109 minutes under QSF, it’s the best record that the Turkish striker has had under any coach since he made his initial breakthrough as a young teenager at Buraspor.
Getafe do still have one major handicap: their away form. They remain the only side in Primera División yet to pick up a single win on the road. But there could be some doubt about whether Quique is the man to turn things around there.
Across his three stints, he has won only one LaLiga fixture away from Getafe, coming in March 2005 in a 2-1 win over Athletic Club at the old San Mamés, featuring a young Raúl Albiol in the Azulones line-up and facing current Rayo Vallecano coach Andoni Iraola playing at right-back for Les Leones.
With Espanyol their next away trip, followed by a return to the scene of that 2005 victory against Athletic Club, and then a trip across the city to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, it could be optimistic to see that stat change any time soon.
Then, the focus will switch to next season. Given their form since QSF’s arrival, it’s easy to imagine that Torres and co. will be setting their sights a little higher for 2022/23. Their transfer business this winter transfer window reflects that. Borja Mayoral, Óscar Rodríguez and Gonzalo Villar are not players who would be looking to progress their careers by joining a relegation scrap. All three left clubs vying for Europe to join Getafe.
Whether those deals are extended, or even made permanent, will define Getafe’s ambitions. Levante winger Jorge de Frutos, who was pushing for a move to the Coliseum late in the summer transfer window, is another key target that would add much-needed quality to the squad. What’s more, it would add potential. All of these players are yet to hit their peak and have room for improvement.
That marks a substantial change from recent years. Jorge Molina, Ángel Rodríguez, Jaime Mata, Allan Nyom, and so on have performed excellently for the club, but signed at a time when immediate results were all that mattered.
The real shame comes in that an opportunity was wasted this summer. Míchel’s appointment and signings like Vitolo and JJ Macías set the club back. But the future is bright again under a familiar face.
“We’re in part of a process,” Sánchez Flores himself said before a narrow defeat to Atlético. “We don’t think anything is over. We haven’t reached the peak of the mountain. If we look at the whole mountain, the objective looks very far away, so we’re going one step at a time so that we can be more and more competitive.”
These first steps have been remarkably positive for a club which was left on the floor. Pulling themselves back up on to the ropes, it’s hard to envisage anything other than a bright future for the club under Quique Sánchez Flores.
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