Call it marketing, branding or nonsense, La Liga’s latest communication trick is that it’s now become LaLiga. You probably haven’t noticed the difference, but there’s a space missing. In a world in which orthographic or syntactical errors have become brands, why not LaLiga instead of La Liga?
First, the match in the US – apparently a Girona vs Barcelona in January –, now LaLiga, and then what? It does not really matter. Javier Tebas has decided to be in the media every week, and he’ll succeed. A different topic to generate discussion and awareness – marketeers favourite word – will put La Liga or LaLiga where it deserves.
Not sure this is the way to get to the price of the Premier League’s TV rights, but oh well. Tebas surely knows how.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Getafe (17th) vs Eibar (14th): 1. (Fri – 20:15)
We only have a single competitive match to judge these two sides on, and even though they both lost in their respective opening encounters, the hosts did have their moments against Real Madrid, while Eibar looked awful in their home defeat to the humble newcomers Huesca.
The fact is that Eibar sorely misses Pedro Leon, Ramis and Orellana, the key players in their offensive flow, and they won’t be able to play on Friday either. The revenge story here goes by the name of Ivan Alejo, who played for – and had a very tough time under – Mendilibar last season, and who is beyond motivated to make an impression against his former team. Can’t see Eibar surviving in Getafe.
- Leganés (15th) vs Real Sociedad (7th): X. (Fri – 22:15)
Phil has just warned me that he’ll be there, where the monster of LagoNess lives, to watch this one live. The most interesting subplot is Asier Garitano’s comeback to Leganes, after a five-year spell with the Pepineros in which he took them from the Third Division to La Liga, and reached the Copa del Rey semifinals last season after eliminating Real Madrid. Garitano is a legend in Leganes – a Legalegend? – and as such he’ll be welcomed on Friday.
Despite having played for Bilbao Athletic, Phil really likes Garitano and believes that Real Sociedad will do well this season. Indeed, they started off in impressive fashion, making the most out of two gross mistakes by Villarreal to win in a tough outing. This one looks to me like a boring draw. Phil will let me know if I’m wrong, no doubt.
- Alavés (19th) vs Betis (20th): 1. (Sat – 18:15)
The bottom two teams will face each other next Saturday afternoon. Even though they were both defeated 3-0 in the opening match, the visitors’ loss at home to Levante felt like a huge letdown, while Alaves leaving the Camp Nou empty-handed made total sense.
Betis have a much better, more resourceful squad, but Alaves may have just found what they needed: they just signed Jonathan Calleri, who was Las Palmas’ most decent player last season, and who’ll help a lot where Alaves most need it, in front of the opposition’s goal.
Abelardo’s team finished last season in a quite comfortable situation thanks to their impressive record at home, so it’ll be tough for Betis to get a point in Vitoria. The visitors also need some help up front, as they took 24 shots last week against Levante and did not manage to score. It does not look like the right place to start a winning streak.
- Atlético de Madrid (8th) vs Rayo Vallecano (18th): 1. (Sat – 20:15)
As expected, Atleti’s visit to Valencia became the most tactically appealing match last weekend. Diego Simeone’s team showed its depth, the wide array of options they have and how difficult is to score on them. It took an extremely rare miscalculation by Diego Godin for Valencia to tie the match. The only question for Atleti, one that we’ve seen in the past, is whether they believe enough in their offensive game to go for the jugular when they have a short lead, rather that sit back and wait, as it’s their preference. We need to see more of that killer instinct they showed in the European Supercup final against Real Madrid.
Of course, they should thrash Rayo. Not even the signings of Raul de Tomás and José León from Real Madrid can make that squad look somewhat solid. The visitors, incredibly sloppy in their comeback to La Liga, will struggle during the whole season, and do not have enough physical stamina to resist a proper 90 minutes of Atletiball. In the meantime, the hosts’ management keep working on Filipe Luis, trying to get him to stay on their bench, rather than going to Paris with the Brazilian contingent pulling the strings in Saint Germain. Let’s see what happens.
Btw, Griezmann will score, as he usually does against Rayo.
- Valladolid (13th) vs Barcelona (2nd): 2. (Sat – 22:15)
Are Barcelona really shopping Rakitic around? The rumours keep coming up here and there, in the midst of Barcelona’s financial struggle to pay its outstanding squad and the need to get some cash for the upcoming commitments, such as the Nou Camp Nou. To any sensible observer, that would be like Real Madrid selling Modric, but given that that was in fact about to happen, who knows.
This season, Barcelona’s squad is an embarrassment of riches similar to that of Real Madrid’s squad two seasons ago. Even with the large amount of matches to be played, including one in the USA, it’s almost impossible to keep everyone happy, so Valverde will have to manage playing time really well. But although selling a starter would probably alleviate some of the internal tension, it does not look like Rakitic is the right one. Valverde’s challenge, similarly to Zidane’s two years ago, is to manage egos and playing time, and that’s always a tough cookie, especially because he hasn’t been able to find the right place for Coutinho yet. All that said, Valverde was very emphatic on Friday: “I want to have the best squad possible and Rakitic is one of the best players in the squad”.
Regarding the match, Valladolid’s stadium is wide enough so that Messi & co won’t have to suffer too much to find space and demolish the hosts defence. Suarez won’t score because it´s an away match, but this is an easy ‘2’.
- Espanyol (10th) vs Valencia (11th): 2. (Sun – 18:15)
We’ve already discussed Atleti’s impressive squad and tactical refinement. Valencia aren’t far away from the Atleticos, and even if they are not seriously taken by many pundits, have enough talent to challenge for a top-three finish this season. I can’t say the same about Espanyol, who will survive, but barely. Valencia have won their last five matches against the hosts, and I can’t see why this would change.
- Girona (12th) vs Real Madrid (4th): X. (Sun – 22:15)
Yes, Real Madrid lost in Mendilivi last season, and this scribe does not like what he’s seen so far on Real Madrid’s end. The bizarre decision not to sign any forward looks worse in every match, and will indeed look absolutely indefensible the first time that Bale does not get up after a challenge or that Benz looks at the bench and makes the “sub me, please” sign signaling to his hamstring.
It’s hard to understand that a club with four CL titles in five years looks in such disarray, but that’s the way it is now. This is the kind of away match – narrow pitch, tough, well-coached opponent, late kickoff – with which Real Madrid have struggled in the last two seasons, and I can’t see why they wouldn’t now, with a shorter squad and lacking a reliable goalscorer.
Girona didn’t start the season well, but they’ll be able to inaugurate a new extra 1,000 seats for this match, and will have the backing of an extremely noisy crowd. Stalemate in the making.
- Sevilla (1st) vs Villarreal (16th): 1. (Sun – 22:15)
I like coach Machin and Sevilla’s squad, and was less than impressed by Villarreal’s careless back four last weekend. You can’t play like that at the back in La Liga and aspire to finish in the top six.
If only Sevilla had a dependable striker… Muriel, hard-working as he is, can’t score to save his life, and for some reason Ben Yedder hasn’t been able to convince Berizzo, Caparros or Machin. If Andre Silva can deliver on the promise he showed against Rayo – and I doubt he’ll have that much time to finish in any of the remaining 37 matches this season – Sevilla fans will indeed enjoy the season. By the way, Silva equaled no other than Romario as they both scored a hat trick in their debut match in La Liga. Rest assured he’s not as skilled as the diminutive Brazilian.
The best news in a while: Santi Cazorla is back and did not look half bad against Real Sociedad. His 73 minutes last Friday felt like a prize he deserved. Here’s to a great season for Santi.
- Levante (3rd) vs Celta (9th): 1. (Mon – 20:00)
One of the most unexpected developments of the first weekend in La Liga is that Levante seem to have picked it up where they left it last year. They avoided relegation with an impressive final rush led by their skipper, Morales, and both the team and Morales himself looked in shape and dismantled the hipsters’ team, Betis, at their own stadium.
I can’t see Celta getting a point on Monday, especially with Aspas and Maxi in very poor form. This could be Levante’s chance to start off the season in fantastic shape. They’ve won their last five at home under coach Paco Lopez.
- Athletic de Bilbao (5th) vs Huesca (6th): X. (Mon – 22:00)
Last week, Bilbao celebrated their party week, a Spanish tradition that you may have be familiar with in the case of Pamplona and its Sanfermines. Every single city in Spain have a week in which they party like crazy, and Bilbao did as they usually do. During these weeks, it’s usual to see a couple of young, hot-blooded footballers behave slightly irrationally, and this is what happened with Aritz Aduritz – drunk as a skunk while he should be nursing an injury – and Inaki Williams – who, in a video leaked to the media argued with his partner in very ugly shape and then denounced that they’d been asked money to keep that video off the social networks.
Obviously, not the best environment for a team to prepare their next match, even if they looked decent against Leganes. I see the skilled Alex Gallar scoring in San Mames for a historical draw for Huesca.
Last week: 3/10