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Racing Santander surpassed even their own expectations when they managed to escape relegation with relative ease last season. A large part of their success story was simply down to an unlikely couple – one a towering centre-forward who has still to hit his prime while the other is a hunching veteran who has his best years behind him, relying now more on wits and intelligence than on speed.  

This little-and-large combination though funny in sight, was very effective and accounted for more than half of Racing’s victories. New coach Marcelino Garcia Toral’s main job this year is to make sure that Spanish defences this season do not solve this unorthodox problem. While the formula remains, the personnel will have to change.

For a while though it looked as though Pedro Munitis will have to look for another partner because Nikola Zigic was attracting a lot of attention from many of the big clubs and that became reality when Valencia snapped the big Croatian centre-forward up. This will be a huge loss to Racing as Zigic got 11 goals in a tough first season and was expected to surpass that total this year. 

If there is any consolation, it would be Racing’s tactics. The team was very realistic last season: Rather than taking teams head-on, they kept things tight and relied on the hit duo to grab the all important goals. It may seem very negative but one cannot dispute its effectiveness. Perhaps amongst the unsung heroes who emerged were the centre-half Ezequiel Garay at the back and Colsa in midfield.

Adding Argentine hardman Aldo Duscher was also a masterstroke, giving Racing another biting physical player that they can deploy in the battlefield. If one considers that Duscher was once linked to giants such as Manchester United and Juventus, this is a real coup. 

One has to admire the economical ethos at Racing; the club is not one to spend silly money bringing in star players who may not pull their weight. Instead the belief is to bring in players, who may not be the most skilful or the most famous but have determination in abundance and are willing to work for the team. Team spirit is of prime importance and the players all work for each other in a coherent unit. 

The word out from the club now is that they have signed Ebi Somlarek as the natural replacement for Zigic and while the Polish international lacks Zigic’s goalpower, he does possess a good footballing brain and has the versatility to play in midfield as well.

He seems to be a natural fit for Racing, playing either as a frontman alongside Munitis or allowing Marcelino to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Oscar Serrano on the left and Munitis on the right flanking Jorge Lopez in the hole. The arrival of Mohammed Tchite also allows Marcelino to use him as the lone frontman and hope for attacking support from his midfielders.

While it is getting increasingly harder to compete in the new world order in football where finances rule, as long as Racing still have the spirit and if the problems upfront can be solved, they will still be a side to be reckoned with.

Possible Racing First XI:
Tono; Pinollos, Garay, Moraton, Fernandez; Vitolo, Colsa; Serrano, Smolarek, Munitis; Tchite