Is the Spanish national team back? After winning at Wembley and thrashing World Cup runners-up Croatia, looks like new coach Luis Enrique has found the right approach to get the most out of the talented midfield and play an exciting, hard-to-stop brand of football.
However, this team never went away. The terrible sequence of decisions involving Florentino Perez, Julen Lopetegui and Luis Rubiales – and, for the record, I believe that the third name was as much to blame as the other two combined – wasted some outstanding preparation for the World Cup and made the team lose their focus at the worst possible time.
Remember, this side had scored six against Argentina after a spotless qualifying stage for Russia 2018. The team we saw play in Moscow against the host was a terrible deformation of what we’d seen before the tournament, all the hard work having been lost over a dumb dispute.
So let’s just hope that Luis Enrique keeps things like this, adding the young talent where it’s needed to cover for the retirees and pressing the right buttons to keep the motivation alive. There’s just too much talent in this squad to waste it again.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Huesca (14th) vs Rayo Vallecano (20th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Four matches into the season, this will be the first time that Huesca have played a LaLiga footballmatch (see what I did there?) in front of their own public. Understandably, the 50k-inhabitant city has gone mad with the event. 10% of them will find a seat in the stadium to cheer for their lads, who already have four points, despite their 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona two weeks ago. They’ve done better than expected.
The same cannot be said of Rayo. Their first two matches were not good, and then they were forced to suspend their home game vs Athletic due to the unacceptable condition of their stadium. No points, twenty days without a competitive match, five new faces vs their defeat to Atlético… It looks like a tall order for Rayo, even taking into account the debut of Raul de Tomas.
- Atlético de Madrid (10th) vs Eibar (15th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
Is it possible that Diego Simeone is overwhelmed by the abundance of talent in this year’s squad? Or that he’s perhaps too loyal to those who took him to this level and is reluctant to leave them on the bench? The fact is that Simeone can’t be happy with four points over nine, but especially with the poor performances and the difficulties to score now that he’s got so many offensive options.
They must defeat Eibar, as the Basques will miss up to six players, including Orellana, in their trip to Madrid. Anything different will make this scribe scream CRISIS out loud.
- Real Sociedad (8th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sat, 16:15)
If you follow LaLiga youknow full-well that this is a must watch. The hosts have built a fantastic record at home vs Barcelona, who managed to win in San Sebastian last season after four years of defeats. In fact, the visitors have only won six times in 23 visits to Anoeta, which is a telling stat.
In this case, they will visit a brand-new Anoeta. The refurbishment is almost over and the stadium, now without that annoying running track, looks splendid. We’ll have a detailed report from Phil, but my guess is that the locals won’t be able to get another positive result. In their first three matches they have regressed, while coach Garitano’s risk-averse spirit seems strangely inadequate for this squad. William Jose’s injury does not help either, and Barcelona – especially someone called Messi – look determined to start the season on the right foot.
- Valencia (17th) vs Betis (13th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Two wannabes who have disappointed so far face each other in the heat of Valencia. Betis managed to get quite a bit of breathing space after defeating Sevilla at the Villamarín for the first time in ages. Valencia’s midfield hasn’t looked half as good as last season, which is why Rodrigo isn’t getting the same chances he now gets with the national team.
“I would go for a 2 in the Quiniela”, said coach Setien in the pre-match press conference. He tends to be an upbeat, at times overconfident character, but in this case he may well be right. There’s a hint of desperation at Valencia’s end – “We hope, want and need to defeat Betis”, said Marcelino on Thursday – and Betis can take advantage of that anxiety by applying their keep-ball approach.
- Athletic de Bilbao (6th) vs Real Madrid (2nd): 2. (Sat- 20:45)
Another partidazo. It’s hard to bet on Athletic when everything seems to be going right so far for Real Madrid. Gareth Bale looks as menacing as ever, Karim Benzema is scoring, Marco Asensio had a wonder match with Spain vs Croatia… The pieces fit so far in Lopetegui’s puzzle, but as yet it’s unclear how long he can go on with a group plagued with injury issues and no apparent replacements. For now, it seems safe to bet on them. We’ll see what happens as the matches mount.
The hosts have only defeated Real Madrid once in their six matches since they moved to the beautiful Nuevo San Mamés. Believe it or not, Benz has scored in his last three visits to Bilbao, so everything seems to say “2” for this one. I’d recommend to hedge at halftime, just in case.
- Leganés (19th) vs Villarreal (18th): 2. (Sun – 12:00)
Nightmarish beginning of the season for both. However, while Villarreal have enough talent on and off the bench to correct this sad state of things, Leganes looks fatally flawed after coach Garitano left for San Sebastian and a number of key components of the squad, such as Mantovani, also went to pastures greener in the summer. If Villarreal can avoid silly mistakes at the back, this should also be a visitors’ win. It’s key for Villarreal to win this one, as they start a sequence of seven matches in three weeks, and another defeat would see them thrown into a troubling situation.
- Espanyol (7th) vs Levante (4th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
If the previous match was about underperformers trying to hit their stride, this one brings together two nice surprises at this early stage of the season. Both play intense, physical football, but have added a spark of talent upfront on top of their hard-working DNA and have, at least so far, become entertaining to watch.
And now that Espanyol looked on the right track, profitable off the pitch and increasingly interesting on it, rumours about a new sale of the team appear again. The Chinese owner of 99.25% of the shares, Mr Yansheng, is keen on selling a piece to new investors, and you never know when an Ali Syed or Dimitri Piterman can show up.
Espanyol have only lost once after 12 Levante visits, and I see Leo Baptistao close to his best shape ever, so let’s ride the hosts in this case.
- Valladolid (16th) vs Alavés (11th): X. (Sun – 18:30)
Valladolid are good at the back – one goal conceded after three matches, and it was the unstoppable Dembele after an assist from Barcelona’s Swiss army knife, Sergi Roberto –, but they’re terrible in offense – scoreless so far. Alaves would love to get a point in Valladolid, mainly because their striker Borja Baston is injured and they’ll struggle to create in offense. Pay attention to the pitch at the Jose Zorrilla stadium: Valladolid management swear it’s already fine and dandy, but one still harbours plenty of doubts.
- Sevilla (5th) vs Getafe (9th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
You can understand Sevilla if they felt aggravated by their defeat at the hands of Betis. We know that Roque Mesa is not the sharpest knife in the kitchen, but sending him off after Pau Lopez almost broke his head seemed extremely unfair. Still, they looked competitive and should easily dispose of Getafe, terribly boring so far this season.
- Girona (12th) vs Celta (3rd): X. (Mon-21:00)
Celta are probably the biggest surprise of this first month of the season. Two wins and a draw, including an authoritative win over Atlético de Madrid, are enough for them to look at the rest of the standings from the third place. Their new coach, Antonio Mohamed, fits well with the talented squad, and just by providing some order he’s leading them to play quite entertaining football.
Not sure that this will be enough to win in Girona, but they should at least get a point. The Manchester City subsidiary looks too short in resources and talent this season, but they managed to retain forward Portu, and that will keep them fighting until the very end.
Last week: 4/9 (44%)
Season: 12/29 (41%)
- Huesca (14th) vs Rayo Vallecano (20th):
- Atlético de Madrid (10th) vs Eibar (15th):
- Real Sociedad (8th) vs Barcelona (1st):
- Valencia (17th) vs Betis (13th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (6th) vs Real Madrid (2nd):
- Leganés (19th) vs Villarreal (18th):
- Espanyol (7th) vs Levante (4th):
- Valladolid (16th) vs Alavés (11th):
- Sevilla (5th) vs Getafe (9th):
- Girona (12th) vs Celta (3rd):