I could spend a few thousand words describing how much I’ve been thinking of writing this comeback column, but it would be a waste of your time, so let’s get down to business. This is a Quiniela and hopefully you already know the drill: a home team win is reflected by ‘1’; a draw with ‘X’; and an away team victory with ‘2’. So there we go: ten matches, ten analyses, ten decisions to make… And some terrible jokes in the process.
1. Eibar (16th) vs Leganés (5th): X. (Friday, 21:00)
The curtain raises with one of the most intriguing teams of the season, Leganes, visiting the tough stadium of Eibar. Despite their defeat to the hands of Getafe in the South Madrid derby, the Pepineros looked the part in their first two matches of the season. With the late addition of Nordin Amrabat, on loan from Watford, Leganes adds a bit of creativity they desperately needed in the final third.
Eibar started off the right foot with an away win at Malaga, but consecutive defeats to Athletic and Sevilla have taken the Armeros to the wrong half of the standings. They looked a lot better in Sevilla than the 3-0 score suggests, and are a challenging host.
2. Levante (8th) vs Valencia (9th): 2. (Sat, 13:00)
Both teams have won once and drawn twice so far, including some Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in those draws. An impressive beginning of the season for the city in footballing terms, which has fortunately brought peace back between the clubs. After three seasons of bad blood, the coaches of both teams finally recovered the beautiful tradition of posing together for the cameras a couple of days before the match. The two Asturianos (Marcelino García Toral for Valencia and Juan Ramón López Muñiz for Levante) decided to bury the hatchet, something that should improve the predictably charged atmosphere at the Ciudad de Valencia stadium.
Although in the last few months Levante have shown a lot more flair in their game than they used to, Valencia have more resources and better organisation. This season is Marcelino’s chance to prove his worth after a controversial exit in Villarreal, and his team also wants to prove doubters, media and probably their own supporters wrong.
3. Getafe (10th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sat- 16:15)
Getafe and Messi, right? That obviously brings this to mind, precisely at a point in which the Argentinean star has taken control of proceedings in Barcelona to a level we hadn’t seen in a while. He looks determined to win this season, quieting the voices that constantly remind that this is a World Cup year and that he’ll probably take it easier than usual from January onwards. Having played – and defeated — Juventus in midweek, coach Valverde might rotate some of the players, but we know well that Leo won’t be one of those. The performance of Barcelona’s bench is one of the biggest question marks this season, so let’s see how well some of they do on Saturday.
What can Getafe do? Not much. Their unlikely success depends on the serviceable defensive midfielder Markel Bergara having the game of his life and Alvaro Jimenez coming off the bench as well as he did versus Leganes.
4. Betis (15th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (17th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Although it’s early for overreactions, these two have disappointed in the first three matches of the season. Betis’ coach Quique Setién leaves every training session saying that his team looks like a Champions League outfit, but they appeared quite ordinary in their 3-1 loss to a weakened Villarreal side. Deportivo have conceded nine goals in three matches, something that must be keeping Pepe Mel awake at night. Should be a fun, open match with plenty of goals, but eventually the home side should prevail.
5. Atlético de Madrid (6th) vs Málaga (19th): 1. (Sat – 20:45)
Atleti can’t score. Atleti can’t score. Atleti can’t score. Until Diego Costa arrives in January, Atleti can’t score.
Or so I keep telling myself, but does someone trust Malaga to keep a clean sheet at the Vicente Calderon? Me neither. All my cash is on Atleti to win this one fast and easy. By the way, another defeat will put coach Michel in an almost untenable position in the eyes of the sheik.
6. Alavés (20th) vs Villarreal (13th): 2. (Sun – 12:00)
The noon kickoff on Sunday is probably one of the few recent La Liga inventions that actually works. Differently from those 11pm late August matches, you can take the kids to this one and head for tapas and lunch afterwards to enjoy a free afternoon… or to watch the following three matches from the comfort of your home.
Alaves have no points to their name, but their calendar wasn’t easy. Indeed, they looked decent for a while against Barcelona, but the fact is that they haven’t scored yet. Bojan making the starting line-up right away speaks volumes regarding their lack of offensive talent, something that Villarreal can’t complain about. The offensive pair Carlos Bacca + Cedric Bakambu would start for most European sides, so if they get consistent service from their midfield, it will be hard for Alaves to even get a point on Sunday. Their fans will always have Enzo Zidane’s slow motion dribbles to get some fun out of this match.
7. Girona (11th) vs Sevilla (3rd): X. (Sun – 16:15)
Manchester City’s Spanish subsidiary lost their first match of the season last week in Bilbao, thus ending the considerable hype that surrounded them since this term started. With obvious squad limitations, Girona’s coach Pablo Machín is as smart as they come, and should surprise a few colleagues with his tactics in the coming months.
Sevilla should struggle after the effort made last Wednesday at Anfield, but Eduardo Berizzo’s side is still deep enough to get a point in Girona.
8. Las Palmas (14th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (4th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Having not yet conceded in La Liga, at least on paper Athletic should win this one easily. However, they played a tough away match in Berlin on Thursday in which they did not look as good as they had in La Liga.
Las Palmas are as unpredictable as they come, but their passing and ball movement are good enough to take advantage of a tired team on two-day rest.
9. R. Sociedad (2nd) vs Real Madrid (7th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Few Spanish teams look more in shape than Real Sociedad. Second in La Liga and having embarrassed Rosenborg with a 4-0 victory in the Europa League, Eusebio’s team host Real Madrid on Sunday evening, and I’m glad to say that this blog will have a special reporter to give you plenty of folkloric insight into the match.
Without Ronaldo, Real Madrid struggles mightily to score, whereas the hosts have become a ruthless offensive machine – 10 goals in three La Liga matches, plus another four in just one Europa League fixture. This match comes at a difficult moment for the visitors, who can’t afford another domestic slip.
Illarramendi’s late winner will leave Real Madrid with a huge mountain to climb at the final hours of Sunday. It’s only fair.
10. Espanyol (18th) vs Celta (12th): 1. (Mon- 21:00)
Coach Quique Sanchez Flores needs to awaken his team, or else he’ll be in serious trouble very soon. What was a well-oiled machine in the second half of last season now looks rusty and slow. Espanyol has a great chance of getting back to winning ways against Celta, legendary poor travellers. The visitors have plenty of talented offensive players – Sisto, Aspas, Jozabed –, but they play a lot better in front of their fans.
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1. Eibar (16th) vs Leganés (5th):
2. Levante (8th) vs Valencia (9th):
3. Getafe (10th) vs Barcelona (1st):
4. Betis (15th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (17th):
5. Atlético de Madrid (6th) vs Málaga (19th):
6. Alavés (20th) vs Villarreal (13th):
7. Girona (11th) vs Sevilla (3rd):
8. Las Palmas (14th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (4th):
9. R. Sociedad (2nd) vs Real Madrid (7th):
10. Espanyol (18th) vs Celta (12th):
(All kickoff times are CET).