A season ago, Las Palmas were just happy to stay in La Liga. Newly promoted after winning the promotion playoffs, Los Amarillos quietly put together a decent 11th place finish, though they still finished perilously close to relegation, just six points clear of the drop. They wanted to avoid that fate this year — and as far as that goal goes, so far so good.
Before that promotion, Las Palmas hadn't been a part of La Liga since the 2001-02 season. Once a fixture in the top flight, they've only spent four season in Spain's first division since their relegation in 1988, but they look set for their longest stay in the Primera since the '80s. And with their location in the Canary Islands, they could make an attractive destination for players as they establish their place in La Liga.
Looking at Las Palmas’ record this season, you probably wouldn’t be awed. They’re in seventh place in La Liga after six matches, sitting on 10 points after winning three times, drawing one, and losing twice. But to watch their performances has been an eye-opening experience, because this team is fun, and they’re getting good results even against superior clubs.
Want proof? Just look at Las Palmas’ match against Real Madrid this past weekend. Most times, lesser sides in La Liga go up against Real or Barcelona and either get too proud and play their preferred style no matter how bad an idea it is — see Sporting Gijon’s ill-conceived approach against Barcelona on Saturday and their subsequent battering — or they bunker up and occasionally lob the ball forward in a hopeful and usually ineffective manner.
Not Las Palmas. They knew their usual free-wheeling style would be doomed to failure against Real Madrid’s elite possession midfield and uber-talented attack. So, instead of battering themselves into that frustrating wall, they took a cue from Real’s greatest rivals Barcelona: play keep-away.
They actually managed to out-possess Real Madrid, and much of the time when they lost the ball they managed to push high up the pitch. They followed that dispossession up with enough pressure that Real would have a hard time getting back up the field quickly enough to do much with the ball. Sure, Real had a lot more shots than Las Palmas — 27 to Los Amarillos' eight — but the ratio of shots on target of 11 for Real and six for Las Palmas tells the story of their patience to find open shooting opportunities.
xG map for Las Palmas - Real Madrid.— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) September 24, 2016
I haven't watched a full match yet but I love me some Las Palmas. pic.twitter.com/CRrNS5inXX
It’s not often that we see a team like Real Madrid pushed into desperation mode against a side like Las Palmas, but that was certainly the case. Even once Real went up 2-1 with just over 20 minutes left in the match, they didn't look comfortable, while Las Palmas kept plugging along with the same game plan. That confidence in themselves came good when Sergio Araujo scored in the 85th minute, and Real still couldn’t do enough to find a winner before the final whistle blew.
It would be easy to chalk the performance up as a fluke, but if you look at Las Palmas’ record and their matches this season, it sure doesn’t look like one. They dominated Valencia and sent that side into the tailspin they’re still struggling in. They lost to Sevilla, but only because of two goals in the last two minutes of regulation after going down a man. Their loss to Real Sociedad was also due to a red card. They looked fully in control in their win against Malaga.
In addition to the results, Las Palmas are just a joy to watch. They have fun on the pitch, and that translates into a hard-working, highly effective style that you just want to watch more of. Manager Quique Setien has developed something to be treasured at Las Palmas. Once known as El Maestro for his creative skills on the pitch, Setien seems to be earning that nickname once again as a manager conducting perhaps the most entertaining team in La Liga right now.
Will this form and delightful play last? Maybe, maybe not. They had a fantastic summer improving the side, signing Kevin Prince-Boateng, Helder Lopes, and Markos Livaja on free transfers, three players who may not be superstars, but who are solid pieces who make the team much better. Existing talents like Tana and Jonathan Viera seem to have taken big steps forward in their development, as well, and Las Palmas are certainly becoming a side not to be taken lightly.
But it’s a long season, and this could easily turn out to be just a hot run of form that will fizzle into mediocrity. For the time being, and hopefully for much of the season to come, we should enjoy this Las Palmas side for what it is: better than we thought they’d be and a whole lot of fun. In a modern era of super clubs trying to dominate the footballing world at any cost, we should treasure sides like this who can just come out and entertain us. After all, isn’t enjoying watching the game why we became fans in the first place?