I don’t dislike international breaks one bit, especially when World Cup spots are at stake. Although the bunch of nil-nils was a bit disappointing, we got to see some feel-good stories and a few shocks, such as the Italian disaster. However, I’ll admit that these breaks do alter the pace of the national tournaments quite a bit and all they imply: analyses, gossip, team’s form, certain La Liga blog…
Well, we’re back. The next six weeks until Christmas offer great matches galore, starting with the Atleti-Madrid derby this Saturday. And if you want your La Liga fix, rest assured we’ll be here week after week until the end of the year.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
1. Girona (10th) vs Real Sociedad (7th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
Girona’s fairy tale in La Liga continues. Three wins in a row, two of them away and the third over Real Madrid, have taken them to the middle of the table, where Pablo Machín’s team sit with 15 points.
The duel between two of the most interesting coaches in La Liga – Eusebio’s attacking approach with Real Sociedad has the Txuri-Urdin as the third team in goals scored so far – will probably be a very intense tactical battle. Coach Machin offers a more balanced approach, with a quite well trained defensive structure.
Hard to see one of them prevailing in Girona’s narrow pitch.
2. Getafe (12th) vs Alavés (18th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
Alavés have recovered some hope and energy under Di Biasi, but Getafe are a surprisingly good bunch. Easy home win.
3. Leganés (9th) vs Barcelona (1st ): 2. (Sat, 16:15)
Last week, Leganes’ midfielder Alexander Szymanowski remembered how they had 15 excellent minutes against Barcelona when they met last season, but could not score. They ended up paying for their sins as Lionel Messi mercilessly took the first chance he had to give the Azulgrana the lead.
This season, Leganes look more consistent, but Messi seems even more clinical. At least he did until the unlikely resurgence of Paco Alcacer lifted Barcelona over Sevilla two weeks ago. Valverde’s team knows well that a win in Leganes will put Real Madrid and Atletico under huge pressure, and it would also buy precious time for the upcoming three weeks, during which Barcelona have to visit Valencia and Villarreal in a very tough stretch for the Azulgrana.
Valverde will field his best side, and in that case it’s tough to see anything different than a visitors’ victory, even if Suarez decides to continue with his excellent impersonation of the worst Karim Benzema.
4. Sevilla (6th) vs Celta (11th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Fascinating duel both on and off the pitch. Eduardo Berizzo faces his former team, Celta, just as it seems that he’s steering Sevilla’s ship. His squad’s performance at the Camp Nou showed they can compete with the best, and if they finally get what they need from their forwards, it’s going to be a terrific team (again). Perhaps if Berizzo finally decides to play Muriel and Ben Yedder upfront things could change.
On the opposite end, Juan Carlos Unzue makes progress with Celta, trying to unleash the talent the squad undoubtedly has, but still lacking the required consistency to contend for a top-six spot.
If you want a good warm-up for the main course of the evening, you can’t do better than this. Plenty of entertaining players, a full Sanchez Pizjuan stadium and two squads who like to play offensive football.
5. Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Real Madrid (3rd): X. (Sat- 20:45)
It’s hard to think of a worse situation for this duo: eight points behind Barcelona –could be eleven come kick off time –, they must face each other when both seem in the middle of a respectable identity crisis. Therefore, Real Madrid’s first visit to the Wanda could become a dreadful memory for hosts or visitors, as it could erase any possibility – slim as they are right now – of them winning the title.
Atletico’s issues are well known: their forwards have been unable to score so far, and Diego Simeone’s questionable efforts to motivate Antoine Griezmann through the media have been met by the Frenchman with his traditional Trip to France, “I’d love to play for (fill with team with loads of cash)” statement routine. But nothing like a visit from the eternal rival to close ranks and recover that will to win that permeates the club since Simeone took over.
In the case of Real Madrid, the squad looks almost shocked that Barcelona have already built such a large advantage. In a nightmarish scenario, most Bernabeu visitors have arrived like puppies, but left as demodogs. Their away record kept them reasonably close to the leaders until their defeat in Girona, and now they can’t afford a single slip in the rest of the season.
Both teams have played so often in the last five seasons that they both know well what they need to do to defeat each other. Only the introduction of Thomas Partey, Atleti’s Casemiro, can modify slightly the balance of power, helping Atleti to harden the life of Real Madrid’s midfield.
Atleti will win if they can keep Modric, Kroos and Isco under control, and find a couple of openings through Griezmann, Saul or, who knows, Carrasco. The visitors will prevail if their midfield finally resembles that of last season and creates chances for Cristiano and Benzema. The first weekend after an international break usually brings a few changes in shape, and that may have an impact on some of the starters on Saturday. Modric is not 100% and Carvajal might have to wait to come back, two huge setbacks for Real Madrid.
This column sees no reason to believe that either Atleti will suddenly start to score, or that Real Madrid will decide to wear their best suit to inaugurate their neighbour’s stadium. Tense, tactical, unnerving draw.
6. Málaga (20th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (16th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
Malaga shows signs of life. They should finally climb out of the bottom of the table with a win over the unreliable Depor.
7. Espanyol (13th) vs Valencia (2nd): X. (Sun – 16:15)
If some team can stop Valencia’s tsunami and their seven consecutive wins is the rocky, hard-working, almost Italian Espanyol. Mind you, this won’t be champagne football. Probably a good bet for Sunday’s siesta.
8. UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Levante (14th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
Honestly, one can’t see Las Palmas winning again unless something life-changing happens with the team. A reasonable coach fallen from the sky, for example.
9. Athletic de Bilbao (15th) vs Villarreal (5th): 2. (Sun – 20:45)
A few positive results at the beginning of the season kept Ziganda going for a while. However, his doubts regarding line-ups, rotations and style of play have started to show an impact on the team. Three consecutive defeats have taken Athletic to the wrong half of the table, something concerning for a team with dynamite upfront (Williams and Aduriz) that has scored only 11 times so far.
Something’s wrong with Athletic, exactly when stars have aligned for Villarreal: Four wins and one draw in their last five matches; Bacca, Bakambu and Castillejo becoming the fittest BBC in Spanish football; and a team that likes their coach way more than they did the previous one. Can’t see how Villarreal would not win in San Mames.
10. Eibar (17th) vs Betis (7th): 1. (Mon- 21:00)
This is a tough one to watch on a Monday night. Betis’ flair won’t work at Ipurúa, methinks, even if the hosts have just lost the classy Pedro Leon for another three months . While you’re at it, you can read Phil’s joy of an article on Sarriegi, who should play again on Monday, if you need some inspiration to stay awake on this one.
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 35/70 (50%)
Note: Copy this easy summary to write your own quiniela and share it with us in the “Comments’ section.
1. Girona (15th) vs Real Sociedad (9th):
2. Getafe (14th) vs Alavés (19th):
3. Leganés (5th) vs Barcelona (1st ):
4. Sevilla (8th) vs Celta (10th):
5. Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Real Madrid (3rd):
6. Málaga (20th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (16th):
7. Espanyol (13th) vs Valencia (2nd):
8. UD Las Palmas (18th) vs Levante (12th):
9. Athletic de Bilbao (11th) vs Villarreal (6th):
10. Eibar (17th) vs Betis (7th):
(All kick-off times are CET)