Do you think we’ve had enough upsets already? Well, my money is on two more this weekend. Yes, Real Madrid and Barcelona won’t win their matches. Even in that case, with subversion and chaos taking over LaLiga, they may not lose the first two spots. Should be an extremely entertaining weekend.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Athletic de Bilbao (15th) vs Real Sociedad (13th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
Monster opener for the weekend, even if neither team has looked its best so far. I’ll even stay home for this on a Friday evening, which indeed shows the importance of the match. Because of their lowish ranking positions, a defeat would mean trouble for the defeated coach, as not only would it mean bragging rights for the east or west side of the Basque Country but would leave the beaten side very close to the relegation positions. And in the midst of a not very subtle war between and over players with contract between both teams, a loss would make a lot of noise.
Real have travelled poorly – no wins in three matches –, but Athletic hardly look intimidating at home – one win in four matches –, despite their competitive performance vs Real Madrid. The hosts indeed up their game in top level encounters, just like they did a week ago in Barcelona, but I can’t help but think that there’s nothing new to Athletic, that their players are just getting older and their system more and more predictable. This could be the perfect chance for Real Sociedad’s Oyarzabal, in talks with Athletic during the summer, to make a statement. However, he’s lacked that spark of character that the true greats have in them and has not been particularly focused this season. That is why I expect a lot of noise but not much happening on the pitch, and an intense draw.
- Girona (11th) vs Eibar (17th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
Eibar undergoing their trademark off month in the season? Three points for Girona and another goal for Stuani. But don’t sleep on Eibar, they will come back.
- Getafe (9th) vs Levante (16th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
Markel Bergara is back on the pitch and Jaume Mata is back on the scoresheet, so great news for the home side. Levante will finish this weekend deep in trouble.
- Alavés (6th) vs Real Madrid (2nd): X. (Sat- 18:30)
Is the Cristiano withdrawal syndrome already showing its first symptoms? Is there a remedy? Scoreless in three consecutive matches, Real Madrid do create chances, but the finishing is off. As expected, Bale can’t be trusted every week, and even less in spells during which he would need to be trusted twice a week! Benzema’s mirage fooled some of us for a month, but since then he’s just wandered around offering an easy pass, but refusing to shoot on goal as though that’s below him.
The fact that Mariano looks like the hungriest player on the pitch whenever he plays is quite frustrating, because one would expect that from other, more talented squad members. So yes, this looks like the season no Real Madrid fan wanted to witness, an endless collection of fantastic moves and passes that no one finishes.
Julen Lopetegui’s team will suffer in Vitoria. Alaves are the nice surprise of this first two months, and know how to make Real Madrid’s life uncomfortable. I don’t think they can win, but a draw is on the cards, especially if Bale does not play again.
- Leganés (20th) vs Rayo Vallecano (18th): 1. (Sat- 20:45)
My money is on Leganés to finally wake up on Saturday, and they won’t have much better chances than against the 2nd worst defence in La Liga.
- Valladolid (10th) vs Huesca (19th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
Are Valladolid secretly good? Seven points from the last nine, a decent back four and an improving offense say that we should not be surprised when this newly-promoted side get a good result against a more traditional, higher budget one. They will kill the lowly Huesca which will get very likely lead the club’s management to replace their coach, Leo Franco, completely out of his depth during the last month. [This result has been corrected to reflect 1 instead of X]
- Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Betis (5th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
Really tempted to pay a visit to the Wanda to watch this. In what seems like a decade ago but it’s only less than a year, coach Quique Setién has transformed Betis from a trigger-happy, no-defence team that was so much fun to watch into a cautious, methodical side that will probably end up even higher in the table, but that’s clearly less pleasing to that section of football fans less inclined to watch Man City even when they go to the toilette.
I would not be surprised if this ends up 0-0, but Atleti must prevail because of their intimidating home-court advantage and also because of their superior talent up front, even if Diego Costa is out injured. In fact, Betis’s ceiling depends on finding a reliable scorer in the winter transfer window. Otherwise, Europa League is as far as they will get.
- Espanyol (7th) vs Villarreal (12th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Villarreal are undefeated away from their own pitch, but their horrendous start to the season at the Ceramica stadium has brought a lot of doubts to their fans and especially their players. With such a talented squad, they will improve, but the fighting Espanyol are a tough opponent when you come back from an exhausting trip to Moscow. By the way, pay attention to Samuel Chukwueze, the visitors’ latest discovery. He’s one of those talents that, if correctly managed, should make an impression in the next couple of years.
- Sevilla (3rd) vs Celta (8th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
Another side which should suffer from their midweek trip is Sevilla. Their defeat in Krasnodar showed that their bench isn’t as deep as it’s been in previous seasons, and their impressive running streak was halted by their own tiredness and Krasnodar’s persistence. Celta, rested and hungry after three consecutive draws, should be ready to pounce.
- Valencia (14th) vs Barcelona (1st): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Partidazo! All of Europe saw Lionel Messi’s exhibition in Wembley and remembered what an amazingly gifted player he is, especially when focused and mobile. It’s been a while since we last saw Leo so incisive, so involved, and especially making so many runs. Again, and I apologise because I’m insisting on this too much, the comparison with the Leo who plays for Argentina is brutal, even if his supporting cast is not comparable.
That said, Valencia are back, and there are very few matches in which they get more motivated than for this one, at home vs Barcelona. Valverde will probably rotate a few players, while Valencia have prepared for this all week. I can see the host’s physicality hurting Barcelona, while Rodrigo can have a field day with his speed vs Barcelona’s slowing centre backs. Call me crazy, but I see another negative result for Barcelona in La Liga, which would see them go for four matches without a win.
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 26/69 (37%)
- Athletic de Bilbao (15th) vs Real Sociedad (13th):
- Girona (11th) vs Eibar (17th):
- Getafe (9th) vs Levante (16th):
- Alavés (6th) vs Real Madrid (2nd):
- Leganés (20th) vs Rayo Vallecano (18th):
- Valladolid (10th) vs Huesca (19th):
- Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Betis (5th):
- Espanyol (7th) vs Villarreal (12th):
- Sevilla (3rd) vs Celta (8th):
- Valencia (14th) vs Barcelona (1st):