How much time does a footballer need to show his true potential? In some cases, probably years. Which club or coach has the patience to wait all that time nowadays? Sometimes there’s no room for error, as it’s hard to justify certain investments and salaries with the mere hope that prospect X can bloom into a fantastic asset.
But when clubs take their time and it works, it’s a fantastic feeling for their usually fickle football fans. Think of Isco, for instance. It has taken him a few seasons and a bizarre conjunction of events to feel at ease in a Real Madrid shirt and show all the talent many of us – not me, by the way – thought he had. Or Marcelo, who arrived in Madrid ten seasons ago and could have left the club quite a few times before he finally looked not only talented, but as consistent as he does today.
What should Real Madrid do with Gareth Bale then? Do sparks like last weekend’s against Real Sociedad justify more time devoted to the Welshman? Can he improve and recover his old, overwhelming self with a few more months of patience and playing time? Can Real Madrid afford that investment of time with so much talent waiting for a chance off the bench?
Time is a wonderful thing and, coupled with patience, it can work wonders. If you can invest a decent amount of it on someone who can excel at their job, be it playing football, building houses or writing Quinielas, you should, indeed.
1. Valencia (9th) vs Malaga (19th): 2. (Tue, 20:00)
How does Michel still have a job? Is the sheik losing his fastball? Has he matured? Four matches, four defeats and one goal scored look like precious little to offer, even though Malaga’s decent performance at the Wanda Metropolitano ended up without a point only because Jan Oblak is the best keeper in La Liga.
A visit to Valencia does not sound like the right match to start a positive trend, but one needs to look at this fixture under a different light. Coach Marcelino García Toral, talented as he is, does not come across as an easy character, and he’s chosen to pick a fight with Valencia’s only natural scorer, Simone Zaza. No La Liga team likes controversy and distractions as much as Valencia do, so Marcelino may have just thrown some fuel into what seemed a dying fire. Malaga should take advantage of this, or else Michel won’t be coaching next weekend.
2. Barcelona (1st) vs Eibar (13th): 1. (Tue, 22:00)
Coach Ernesto Valverde is enjoying the dream start of the season for any manager in a top European club. Wins galore, team looking focused, Lionel Messi inspired and willing, and a solid defence that has only conceded once (Shibasaki’s cracker for Getafe). Hell, even Paulinho scores winners! The cherry on the cake is to see Neymar and Edinson Cavani fighting over who takes free kicks and penalties in the French league.
Things look a bit too good to be true, but of course Ousmane Dembele has picked up an inconvenient injury. The French winger will be out between at least three months, time that should be well spent in strengthening his upper body a bit, similarly to what Neymar did when he arrived in Barcelona.
The big question for Valverde is how far he should go with his rotations, given that he’s back to the “Neymar’s just left” situation. Eibar, doing fine in this beginning of the season, looks a like a good testbed to give some bench players a go.
3. Athletic de Bilbao (6th) vs Atletico de Madrid (5th): 2. (Wed- 20:00)
The most interesting match takes us to the New San Mamés in Bilbao, probably the only Spanish stadium built in the last decade that has managed to retain some of the atmosphere of its predecessor. The visitors, Atletico de Madrid, have just experienced the move to a more modern, cooler-looking home and the awkward feeling of loss its exuberance brings.
While Athletic’s numbers look decent so far, this column suspects that their new coach, Cuco Ziganda, might not be the right choice for their bench. Their last match in Las Palmas showcases why: unnecessary tweaking with the line-up, confusing midfield line, a vote of confidence on Sabin Merino that seems ill-advised… The signs are not good, especially when Valverde left a side that at least knew how to exploit their strengths (i.e. Iñaki Williams, painfully out of place last weekend).
Compare that with Diego Simeone’s patient construction of Atletico, and the way they approach this type of top-level matches, and the visitors look like favourites for Wednesday’s match. If they get Diego Costa back on January — and one tends to believe that Simeone wouldn’t have extended his contract without the promise of that happening — their second half of the season could be extraordinary.
4. Leganes (10th) vs Girona (15th): X. (Wed- 20:00)
This is one of the matches that both teams will remember at the end of the season. The duo have overperformed so far, but their weak benches and the demands of a long campaign will be felt sooner rather than later, and three points against a direct rival mean gold.
Girona keep playing well against superior opposition, but struggle to score, the classic issue of sides fighting in the bottom half of the table unless they’re coached by Paco Jemez. Leganes look more threatening, but Girona’s back line should be able to take care of Alexander Szymanowski & co. Looks like a dull nil-nil.
5. Deportivo de La Coruña (18th) vs Alavés (20th): 1. (Wed – 21:00)
Only four matches into the new season and La Liga has seen its first fired coach. Argentinean Luis Zubeldia, Alaves’ manager, lost his job after four consecutive, scoreless defeats. He was the only under-forty gaffer in the top flight, which shows the Spanish preference for white hair — or no hair — over young, energetic, hairy characters.
Both teams have struggled in this start of the season, but Depor at least can score. How they only have one single point with five goals in three matches speaks volumes for their poor defending, but they should have enough firepower to leave Alaves in the bottom of the standings for few more days, while they find a new coach.
6. Real Madrid (4th) vs Betis (12th): 1. (Wed – 22:00)
The owners of the Santiago Bernabeu have won their last 11 away matches in a row, which means that the impressive performance of their B Team last season is being kept alive by their current second unit. Surprisingly enough, the Madridistas suffer a lot more at their own stadium. Two home draws to Levante and Valencia are the reason why they’re four points behind Barcelona after only four matches.
Betis are their next challenge at the Bernabeu. It’s hard to believe, but at age 36 Joaquin Sanchez scored twice last weekend, and he looked as motivated as a teenager. Always one to be well received by the Bernabeu faithful, and of course a night creature – he’ll enjoy the late kick-off time and the predictable full house on Wednesday.
Can Betis get a result in Madrid? I don’t think so. Even if the visitors have improved at keeping possession and controlling the flow of matches, the hosts badly need to win this match, and with Cristiano Ronaldo’s comeback they will have the dynamite they have missed a bit too often lately.
7. Sevilla (2nd) vs Las Palmas (11th): 1. (Thu – 20:00)
The fact that Sevilla played against Girona on two-days’ rest after a thriller in Liverpool and still managed to win the match shows how good and deep this squad is. Already a respected team in Europe by their own record in the last few years, their La Liga performances have also been impressively solid, season after season. And it now appears that, despite plenty of controversies during the summer – such as Vitolo’s bizarre exit – there’s life after Monchi left for Rome.
Precisely because of the convoluted signing of Vitolo, this match has an extra degree of motivation for Sevilla fans. This was never going to be an easy outing for Las Palmas, but when you add a Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium filled with vitriol and contempt, I can’t see how the insulars get a point on Thursday.
8. Villarreal (7th) vs Espanyol (16th): 1. (Thu – 20:00)
In similar fashion to that of Sevilla, Villarreal keep delivering year after year. Now with their own BBC – Carlos Bacca, Cedric Bakambu and Samu Castillejo – their usually fluid football has found a set of scorers that can indeed add finish to their elaborate midfield game.
Espanyol will give them a run for their money, no doubt. Coach Sanchez Flores is a decent tactician and he’s got enough steel in midfield and defence to make the fine Villarreal suffer. But now the hosts have more offensive options than they have had in a while, so they should prevail.
9. Celta (17th) vs Getafe (14th): 1. (Thu – 21:00)
Getafe’s courageous display against Barcelona should not be forgotten, but finishing empty-handed has probably generated plenty of frustration in the visitors’ dressing room. And now a trip to Galicia, where Celta know well how to use their wide pitch and their tireless forwards. The conservative move is to go for a home win, although if Getafe play as well as they did last weekend, they could upset the hosts.
10. Levante (8th) vs Real Sociedad (3rd): X. (Thu- 22:00)
Much to Phil’s chagrin, once Real Sociedad played against a decent squad – ahem, Real Madrid – they struggled mightily. The txuri-urdin had manhandled three weaker teams before Zidane’s side visited Anoeta, but things changed when the opponent took control of the ball and de-activated Asier Illarramendi and David Zurutuza.
Can they pick it up where they left it? Sure, but Levante is a difficult match up for them, as they have added a bit of finesse to their legendary toughness. ‘X’ it is.
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Note: Copy this easy summary to write your own quiniela and share it with us in the “Comments’ section.
1. Valencia (9th) vs Malaga (19th):
2. Barcelona (1st) vs Eibar (13th):
3. Athletic de Bilbao (6th) vs Atletico de Madrid (5th):
4. Leganes (10th) vs Girona (15th):
5. Deportivo de La Coruña (17th) vs Alavés (20th):
6. Real Madrid (4th) vs Betis (11th):
7. Sevilla (2nd) vs Las Palmas (12th):
8. Villarreal (7th) vs Espanyol (18th):
9. Celta (16th) vs Getafe (14th):
10. Levante (8th) vs Real Sociedad (3rd):
(All kickoff times are CET)