Last week I spent some time watching PSG, something I rarely do. As Neymar kept feeding Kylian Mbappe time and again, I remembered an old interview with the great Michael Laudrup in which he spoke about his changing role on the pitch as his game evolved. I can’t quote him exactly, but he spoke of his time with Juventus as an apprenticeship under another memorable icon, Michel Platini. His words were something like: “At that time, Platini was the king of the team. He hogged the ball, saw the gaps in the defence and passed it through magnificently, while I just ran and ran after it. Then I understood that, in football’s pecking order, passing is well above running to meet those passes”. That interview took place when Laudrup played for Real Madrid. His previous move from Juventus to Barcelona meant he was now the passer, not the runner, and from that point onwards, he’d never had to run as much again in his career.
Things may have changed in the last couple of decades, and perhaps finishers have become bigger than they were before, but watching Neymar play, I could not help but draw the parallel with Laudrup: Neymar learned a great deal of how to play as a number 10 with Messi while he had to run to meet the Argentinean’s passes, and is now applying his knowledge in Paris. Mbappe may have well stolen the spotlight for the media, but if you’re slightly old-fashioned, you probably agree with me that PSG is still Neymar’s team.
What does this have to do with this weekend’s LaLiga SetofFixtures? Well, it’s just football.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Celta (10th) vs Alavés (6th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Classic trap: in their last five, Celta has drawn three and lost two, which would lead many to believe this is a great chance for the consistent, fired up Alaves, coming off a memorable last minute win against Real Madrid, to get a result in Vigo. Well, we all should know better. This will end up in an easy 4-1 home win.
In more relevant matters, seven supporters’ associations will not sing or support Celta for the first 30 minutes of the match, as the club has prohibited any sign or flag that could hide or cover any advertisement in the stadium. Eternal hate to modern football, chapter x+1.
- Real Madrid (4th) vs Levante (11th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
They can’t lose again, can they? Four winless matches, three of them defeats; A scoring drought unseen since the mid eighties; an under-fire coach who’s probably thinking “Why the hell did I think this was a good idea?” Does not look like a promising combo, but the fact is that Real Madrid have been decent at home and that, assuming Gareth Bale comes back, their forward line can’t keep that uninspired run for much longer.
A bizarre fact: Toni Kroos has not won any of his last six matches, four with his club and two with his national team. He may very well sit this one out.
- Valencia (14th) vs Leganés (18th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
With one win in eight matches, Valencia are struggling mightily so far. However, their position in the standings is quite misleading: they’ve already played vs Barcelona and Atletico – two draws – and they look as though they only need a couple of good results in a row to get going.
Despite the fact that the hosts have drawn their four home matches so far, Leganes’ visit is a great chance to start a winning sequence. The visitors have lost all their four away matches, are short on confidence and can’t score to save their lives. Easy home win.
- Villarreal (16th) vs Atlético de Madrid (3rd): 2. (Sat- 18:30)
Many things need to happen for Villarreal to win this one. First, they need to start scoring – six goals in eight matches so far. They need to do so against the best defence of LaLiga, as Atletico have only conceded four times so far. Second, they need to stop the excellent connection between the in-form Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa. And third, they need to get over the exit of Rodrigo, now impressing with the national team and Atletico, and back in Villarreal for this match. Too much to ask for, methinks.
- Barcelona (2nd) vs Sevilla (1st): 1. (Sat- 20:45)
The match of the weekend by far. Sevilla have an excellent chance to show that they’re leading the standings for a reason. Their four consecutive wins and the thrashing of Real Madrid must be a huge warning sign for Barcelona, who have three draws and one defeat in their last four and hardly look in shape. The hosts’ secret weapon is a rested Lionel Messi, as the Argentinean is not playing for his country since the World Cup finished, and enjoyed a decent break while the rest of capped players left for the international break.
Sevilla have lost in thirteen of their last sixteen visits to the Camp Nou, including the last six. It seems like an extremely tall order for the visitors but, bizarre as this may sound, I think they’re one of the few La Liga teams that have enough in the squad to drive Barcelona crazy at their own stadium, together with Valencia. I’m extremely tempted to choose Sevilla, especially if coach Machín pick Ben Yedder from the start. The thing is, I’ve made too many fancy picks in this beginning of the tournament, and I guess it’s time to settle for a more conservative bet. Messi should win this one for Barcelona.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Getafe (13th): 2. (Sun – 12:00)
Rayo are going to Segunda, and it won’t take long. We’ll see a few sparks by Raul de Tomas and Gael Kakuta, but the team is completely flawed. The hard-working Getafe know well how to manage a match like this.
- Eibar (12th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (17th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
Last season, Eibar led the Basque teams in LaLiga, including the powerful, at times arrogant neighbour of the north. They now have the chance to leave Athletic deep into the relegation zone, generating a crisis that could endanger Eduardo Berizzo’s job.
It’s already obvious that Athletic don’t quite know how to apply Berizzo’s high press, and a poorly applied high press is a suicidal weapon, especially against a Mendilibar-coached team. I can’t see Athletic getting anything positive in Eibar, even less with Beñat out sick.
In the summer, Athletic picked Berizzo over Mendilibar, and now the latter can leave the former without a job…
- Huesca (20th) vs Espanyol (5th): X. (Sun – 18:30)
The visitors are doing phenomenally so far this season, but they’re not good travellers. Two draws and two defeats show that their consistency at home becomes hesitation and nerves when they leave Cornella. And yes, they go to Huesca, winless since their opening match of the season and with a new coach, Francisco Rodriguez, who has replaced Leo Franco.
The hosts started off the season well, with a high press and apparently playing without any concerns. But their 8-2 defeat at the Camp Nou changed their mental attitude and since then, they’ve looked like a Segunda División team. New coach Francisco needs to recover that buzz in the team, but he’ll need more time. An X looks sensible.
- Betis (8th) vs Valladolid (7th): X. (Sun – 20:45)
Another X for the next fixture between the hipsters’ team and the most pleasant surprise of the season so far. Betis’ coach Quique Setien has started to sound like an apologist – “Betis fans just want to win, few care about how the team plays”, while in fact his team has scored five times in eight matches, the worst numbers in LaLiga. Betis fans probably want their team to score as well, if that’s not too much to ask.
Valladolid, with three wins in a row and undefeated away from home, have started to enjoy themselves in Primera División. I do believe that they can deal with Betis endless sequence of passes with ease, and even punish the Beticos if they make a mistake at the back. Of course, that would be rare, as Betis don’t score but don’t concede either. Stalemate is a safe bet.
- Real Sociedad (9th) vs Girona (15th): 1. (Mon – 21:00)
I wasn’t too optimistic about Girona at the beginning of the season, and these first eight matches have not made me change my opinion. That can be countered easily: in a surprising development, Real Sociedad are winless at the new Anoeta, which was supposed to be more intimidating and indeed better for the hosts.
Of course, the interesting angle of this match is Eusebio’s comeback to San Sebastián, a city in which he enjoyed a very impressive sequence of football and results with Real Sociedad, to play against a team he knows by heart. This could give Girona the upper hand, but the hosts have more talent and must be determined to break the Anoeta jinx as soon as possible. Another home win.
Last week: 4/10 (40%)
Season: 30/79 (37%)
- Celta (10th) vs Alavés (6th):
- Real Madrid (4th) vs Levante (11th):
- Valencia (14th) vs Leganés (18th):
- Villarreal (16th) vs Atlético de Madrid (3rd):
- Barcelona (2nd) vs Sevilla (1st):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Getafe (13th):
- Eibar (12th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (17th):
- Huesca (20th) vs Espanyol (5th):
- Betis (8th) vs Valladolid (7th):
- Real Sociedad (9th) vs Girona (15th):