No foreplay, let’s just do it.
Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Espanyol (8th) vs Eibar (11th): 1. (Tue, 20:00)
Both look promising, both play better than expected. Last season, Eibar’s visit to the Cornellá stadium resulted in the dismissal of Quique Sanchez Flores, back then Espanyol’s coach. That brought Rubi on board, and the team’s improvement is clear. Expect plenty of rotations in both teams; Eibar’s coach Mendilibar, huge fan of the 23-man squad, could change up to nine starters vs last weekend’s match. I’m not that keen on revamps at the beginning of the season, so let’s take the home side.
- Real Sociedad (9th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th): 1. (Tue, 21:00)
Willian José is back and the home side will want to take advantage of that to win their first match at the new Anoeta. Three seasons ago, Rayo was relegated on this same pitch, so no good memories of San Sebastian among the visitors. Great chance for Real Sociedad to show that they’re ready to do something big this year.
- Atlético de Madrid (5th) vs Huesca (17th): 1. (Tue, 22:00)
Huesca’s coach Leo Franco played for Atleti more than a decade ago, and shared dressing room with Diego Simeone. Now they both need a win, the hosts to avoid losing sight of the top two, and the visitors to recover some motivation after three consecutive losses. To me, the most interesting subplot on Atletico’s end is Lemar. Can he play in the Simeone scheme? I’m not as sure as most of the pundits. Let’s see if he starts. In any case, this should be a walk in the park for Atletico if they play as seriously as they did in Getafe last weekend.
- Athletic de Bilbao (12th) vs Villarreal (14th): 1. (Wed- 20:00)
At least Athletic have had their moments this season. Villarreal have been hesitant, inaccurate, but especially and against their own style, extremely boring. If Athletic play they way they did against Real Madrid or the first half at Betis, they should win this one. If that happens, Villarreal’s coach Calleja may be questioned despite their great season last year. “We’re playing as though we were frightened”, he said after wasting a precious chance to win in Valencia last weekend. It does not look good.
- Leganés (20th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Wed- 20:00)
Was Lenglet’s elbow a red? I tend to think so. Was it intentional? I wouldn’t say so. Had it been, it would deserve a six-match suspension, not the single match Lenglet will have to sit out. Was that the right time to apply VAR? I’m really not sure.
In any case, I do prefer life with VAR to what was before VAR. I still believe that better decisions are being taken this season than last season, and that it’s what this should be about.
The leader visits Leganes, top vs bottom in the standings. Messi did not shake the ref’s hand after the home draw vs Girona, so it’s safe to say he’ll make Leganes pay on Wednesday. Easy win for the visitors, and a couple of memorable plays by the diminutive Argentinean.
- Sevilla (7th) vs Real Madrid (2nd): 2. (Wed- 22:00)
Among many other things, I did not see Sevilla winning 6-2 at Levante coming at all. That win puts this next match in a new perspective. Sevilla is always a tough pitch for Real Madrid, and the hosts have scored 11 times in their last two matches, so the hesitant side I wrote about last weekend may have morphed into what was expected when Machín took over.
That said, it seems like Lopetegui will field the full starting line-up except Isco, who’ll be out for six weeks. Even without the short-legged Malagueno, if Real Madrid keep their new ability to focus on the match for 90 minutes, this match should be theirs, although the fact that Machín has finally bet on Ben Yedder as a starting forward does not help.
- Valencia (15th) vs Celta (4th): 2. (Wed- 22:00)
I know, Celta were unable to beat Valladolid at home last weekend, but Valencia look terrible. Their midfield hasn’t come back from vacation, starting with their most influential player, Dani Parejo. The additional element of Celta’s dressing room trying to prove a point for Daniel Wass – “you did not leave for a better team” could also help the visitors. A brutal stat: Valencia have not led a match so far this season. None. Not even for one minute.
- Alavés (3rd) vs Getafe (10th): 1. (Thu – 20:00)
Yes, you read that right. Alaves sit proudly on the third spot of the rankings. Who would have thought? Phil warned you yesterday, watch Ibai’s goal last Sunday. The kid hits the ball like very few players. And I know that Alaves’ running streak is bound to finish, but let’s bet on them for one more week, even if they play against the man who coached them to the Primera División, Mr Bordalás.
- Valladolid (18th) vs Levante (16th): X. (Thu – 20:00)
Impossible to predict: Valladolid have not scored at home, Levante look rattled after two defeats and one draw. This won’t be pretty and could finish with no goals.
- Girona (6th) vs Betis (13th): 1. (Thu – 22:00)
One quick thought about The Best. Unless you’re physically or mentally blind, it’s obvious that Lionel Messi is the best player on earth, especially when he wears a FC Barcelona shirt. As you probably know by now, the whole controversy over who deserves the prize to the best footballer of the season bores me to death, but I can understand that, while Messi is the best, his last season — or some of the previous ones — may have not been as complete as that of other players, even if we do know that, on his day, he’s second to none. That becomes even more obvious when there’s an international tournament and Messi has to play in the blue and white shirt. There’s no swagger then, no sense of danger. Opposition does not fear Messi with Argentina the same way other clubs do when he plays for Barcelona. That is why, even if all these individual accolades suck in such a complex team sport, there is a way to explain why Messi does not win every single one of them.
Leaving Lio aside, Stuani is the name of this season so far. A brace against Barcelona at the Camp Nou will probably be unforgettable for the Uruguayan who, at age 32, looks more threatening than ever. Five goals so far, three consecutive matches scoring, and the chance to keep that sequence going against the unpredictable Betis. I still believe that Girona will miss some depth in the squad as matches mount, but when Portu and Stuani look this good, it’s hard to bet on the less inspired Betis.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 18/49 (37%)
- Espanyol (8th) vs Eibar (11th):
- Real Sociedad (9th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th):
- Atlético de Madrid (5th) vs Huesca (17th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (12th) vs Villarreal (14th):
- Leganés (20th) vs Barcelona (1st):
- Sevilla (7th) vs Real Madrid (2nd):
- Valencia (15th) vs Celta (4th):
- Alavés (3rd) vs Getafe (10th):
- Valladolid (18th) vs Levante (16th):
- Girona (6th) vs Betis (13th):