Right before another international break, La Liga offers a somewhat underwhelming picture: an unassailable leader; a mild fight over Champions League spots; few real candidates to compete for Europa League positions; and a crystal clear bottom-three.
Is the tournament becoming boring?
Well, not really, and this weekend should give us a few examples. We have the refreshing Valencia displaying a quite entertaining brand of fast, intense football. Barcelona have better results than football, and appear bound to leave some points on the table sooner rather than later. Atleti should start scoring at some point. Espanyol and Real Sociedad will improve as the season goes on, increasing the number of teams who should fight for European football next season. And the bottom three… well, they can’t be that bad all season, can they?
Let’s start with the weekend analysis. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
1. Betis (8th) vs Getafe (11th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Betis at home: four wins, one loss – that memorable 3-6 against Valencia. Getafe away: one win, three draws, one loss. However, Getafe’s coach José Bordalás has a better record than that of his club at the Benito Villamarín: two victories and one draw, all three matches played in the Segunda Divisón. It’s the kind of useless data that may someone to believe that Bordalas has some kind of magic potion that allows him to get results non-stop in Sevilla.
This column believes in Betis, although their latest performances have disappointed somewhat. During Friday’s presser, coach Setien agreed that they’ve lost some of their punch, but looked upbeat. On Friday, they’ll have to defeat a team with seven former Betis players, including striker Jorge Molina – scored 77 goals for the Verdiblancos – and the talented Portillo. A vote of confidence for Setien leads us to go for a ‘1’.
2. Valencia (2nd) vs Leganés (7th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
Two of the biggest overperformers in this beginning of the season face each other on Saturday, at the convenient pre-paella kick off time. True to form, hosts’ coach Marcelino García Toral started the last training session before this match yelling at his players: “We still have a lot to improve!”. His level of exigence is second to none, that is why it’s almost shocking how much he’s endeared himself to Dani Parejo, not the best representative of energy and motivation in the current squad. On Friday, Marcelino stated that Parejo deserves a call up with the national team, saying that “if Lopetegui selects him just once, he’ll never stop calling Parejo”.
These two teams had never played each other until last season, when one of the worst Valencias of all time managed to defeat Leganes four times (two in La Liga, two in their Copa del Rey tie with the unforgettable Cesare Prandelli at the helm).
This season Leganes look a lot tougher (five conceded in ten matches, seven clean sheets!), but the hosts can do no wrong at this point. Guedes and Soler should prevail over the industrious visitors.
3. Deportivo de La Coruña (16th) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th): 1. (Sat- 16:15)
A real test for both Atleti and Diego Pablo. After their huge midweek disappointment in the Champions League – some blokes from Eastern Europe managed to draw at the Wanda –, the Rojiblancos need to react asap, as Villarreal, Sevilla and even Leganés all inch closer to the last Champions League spot that Atleti currently occupy.
Many Atleticos expect Diego Costa to change their underwhelming scoring landscape, but one suspects he may even be the biggest culprit. Torres, Gameiro and Vietto probably feel like they won’t be able to get a single game once the proud son of Lagarto comes back, and they’re right. Their motivation and self-confidence can’t be that high, and both are survival items for any striker.
Depor have started poor, but new coach Cristobal Parralo can build on the team’s away victory at Las Palmas last weekend – their first in more than seven months!. If Lucas Perez finally gets going, Atleti will struggle in Galicia.
4. Alavés (20th) vs Espanyol (10th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
“This was our best match since I arrived”, said Alaves’ coach Gianni De Biasi after his team lost to Valencia last weekend. Munir El Haddadi is recovering that speed that made him a child prodigy, and the team indeed looked more composed than in previous outings.
This is one match they have to win, and Espanyol look like the perfect candidate to do so. The Pericos haven’t won away from home yet, and behave almost like a robot: well-coached, intense and mildly enjoyable, but almost missing that extra spark that could make this team fight for European football next season. Unless coach Quique Sanchez finds a way to unleash the talent that squad undoubtedly possesses, the team will end up exactly where they’re at right now: mid-table.
5. Barcelona (1st) vs Sevilla (5th): X. (Sat – 20:45)
Leader, undefeated, only three goals conceded, perfect home record… And yet, there’s still something that does not feel quite right with Barcelona. Last week, Phil explained how Ernesto Valverde has brought some peace into the dressing room precisely at a point in which the club desperately needed some and, together with Lionel Messi’s outstanding form, that’s been enough to comfortably lead La Liga. But the hosts haven’t been able to impress yet. Their collective game is subpar, probably because there’s something still missing on their midfield that hasn’t been recovered after Luis Enrique’s more direct approach reigned for three seasons. Injuries – and Luis Suarez’ shape — have not helped Valverde either. On Saturday, only 18 players will be available, including a still not fully fit Andrés Iniesta.
While Valverde struggles to find that magic touch in Barcelona, Eduardo Berizzo has finally found the right line-up for Sevilla. Their 4-0 defeat in Valencia two weeks ago market rock bottom, and since then the team looks more focused, probably because Berizzo stopped tinkering and rotating non-stop.
This feels like the match to take a calculated risk. Pablo Sarabia and Ben Yedder have the right skills and speed to wreak havoc at the Camp Nou, while Nolito will probably have a point to prove against Barcelona. A draw seems feasible.
6. Levante (12th) vs Girona (13th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
Archetypical let-down match. After the most famous win in their history, Girona are in for a hard comeback to reality at the Ciudad de Valencia stadium. Levante won’t give them the space Real Madrid generously offered, nor will they behave as naively as the Merengues in the middle of the park. This is one that Levante needs to win, and very few teams in the Spanish top flight are as tough and nasty as the hosts when they need three points.
By the way, last weekend Shaq Moore scored for Levante. He’s the fourth US national to ever play in La Liga – Keller, Jozy and Onyewu were the other three. At first it looked like one of those signings to sell thousands of shirts in a huge market, but that’s obviously unfair to the kid, who’s been doing well so far.
7. Celta (14th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (15th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
This duo keeps disappointing their respective fans. In the case of Celta, one expected more of Unzué in his first season, and it’s still early to judge. Regarding Athletic, Ziganda keeps changing line-ups and approaches, confusing players and supporters alike. On top of that, Ziganda has lost his most creative midfielder, Beñat, who will have to undergo injury and won’t come back until 2018.
The positive result against Ostersund in the Europa League should help in the coming weeks, but the effort they made on Thursday will be felt on Sunday against a rested Celta.
8. Real Sociedad (9th) vs Eibar (17th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Phil’s team keeps punishing poor teams with their mobile offense: in midweek, it was again the turn of Vardar Skopie to watch from up close how inspiring the hosts seem when they have space and Sergio Canales enjoys time to look around and pass the ball. They don’t even need the help of Carlos Vela, almost forgotten by coach Eusebio and almost by the whole club. Last week, Real Sociedad’s community manager tweeted a list of the club players who would play with their national teams and omitted Vela.
Eibar are tougher than Vardar, but not nearly enough to block Real Sociedad’s passing game. Easy home win.
9. Villarreal (6th) vs Málaga (19th): 2. (Sun- 18:30)
This is the completely irrational bet of the weekend. Everything points to a home win, as Villarreal look a much more accomplished side than Malaga in every section of the pitch. However, football has a funny way of surprising us, and after the visitors finally managed to win a match this season, this scribe’s hunch is that they will get into a short, but intense positive streak that will buy Michel a few more weeks in the sunny South of Spain.
10. Real Madrid (3rd) vs UD Las Palmas (18th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
When Marca runs a macro-survey with the pictures of the whole Real Madrid squad asking its readers “Who would you save?”, you know Zidane’s team is in trouble. Very few make the cut, indeed. The worst rating goes to Karim Benzema, not surprisingly, but among those below 50% appear other names such as Kroos, Modric and Casemiro. Real Madrid fans know well that this is a midfield crisis, and only through midfield this team will recover their swagger.
Well, at least their players aren’t fighting each other during training session. Las Palmas’ Loic Remy and Oussama Tannane went at it last Friday, an eloquent example of how the club’s season is going so far.
This will be a cold Santiago Bernabeu for the first time this season. After Real Madrid’s defeat at the hands of Tottenham, and with winterish weather finally in Madrid, the players will have to show what they’re made of if they want to stay alive in the tournament. Expect plenty of rotations after a spell in which Zidane has stuck to last season’s successful line-up. Las Palmas, awful travellers, should make things a bit easier for the hosts.
Last week: 2/10 (20%)
Season: 32/70 (46%)
Note: Copy this easy summary to write your own quiniela and share it with us in the “Comments’ section.
1. Betis (8th) vs Getafe (11th): .
2. Valencia (2nd) vs Leganés (7th):
3. Deportivo de La Coruña (16th) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th):
4. Alavés (20th) vs Espanyol (10th):
5. Barcelona (1st) vs Sevilla (5th):
6. Levante (12th) vs Girona (13th):
7. Celta (14th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (15th):
8. Real Sociedad (9th) vs Eibar (17th):
9. Villarreal (6th) vs Málaga (19th):
10. Real Madrid (3rd) vs UD Las Palmas (18th):
(All kick-off times are CET)