Following their promotion from the second division last season, most pundits had Las Palmas pegged as relegation certainties. Scraping through the play-offs, winning both the semi-final and final on away goals, no one really held out much hope for them against the giants of Spanish football.
But at the moment things are looking quite rosy for Los Amarillos. They have won their last three games moving up to 15th place, four points clear of the relegation zone. While the side deserves credit for their recent upturn in form, Quique Setién’s men have one special advantage that could make or break their campaign.
As some experienced holidaymakers may know, Las Palmas is the capital of Gran Canaria. Although it is part of Spain and therefore La Liga, the island is actually situated around 150km from the cost of Morocco. But more importantly Gran Canaria is almost 1000 miles from the Spanish mainland, meaning a huge flight of over 1300 miles for Las Palmas to face Barcelona at the Nou Camp in September.
Those are some big numbers but let’s put things into perspective. The biggest league journey in England is in League Two between Carlisle and Plymouth. But at 389 miles it’s less than a third of what the Las Palmas fans had to endure when they travelled to take on the European Champions. And the British clubs that took part in the Europa League group stages (Liverpool, Tottenham and Celtic) only had three trips worse than that – to Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey – from their nine away games.
So away games are undoubtedly a huge challenge for Las Palmas, but the gulf across the North Atlantic works both ways. In a battle where every point matters, the Canarians have arguably the biggest home advantage in Europe.
Their stadium is a fortress. Six of their eight league wins have come there, with just two victories on the road and neither of these before February. Even the mighty Barcelona could only squeak a 2-1 win at the Estadio Gran Canaria, with many commentators conceding the champions looked sluggish and jaded after another away match three days prior. This home superiority was an integral part of Las Palmas’ promotion from the Segunda Liga too, with 15 wins from their 21 home games, and it could well be what secures another season in the top tier.
Los Amarillos have really built momentum by stringing together a three-match win streak. Either side of a 4-0 triumph at home they pulled off their first two away wins in La Liga, with 1-0 victories at Eibar and even more impressively at 4th placed Villarreal. Real Madrid are in Gran Canaria on Sunday and over 30,000 should turn out to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.