The clásico tends to put the rest of the fixtures into the shade, over in the small pond with its pond-life flapping and flipping about – a minor eco-system of relative irrelevance compared to the leviathans chopping through the waves of their own public importance. And yet the ‘look at me’ aspect of Sunday’s clásico differs in several ways to previous encounters. For one, the absence of Messi and Ronaldo is certainly interesting (it’s the first time they both missed for eleven years) and for two, you get the feeling that the result – come what may – will have a major influence on the development of events this season.
This tends to be the case with the 2nd clásico of the season, not the first. But here, a win for Barcelona will confirm their ‘okay’ status whilst condemning Madrid to depths of the league well below their already unthinkable 7th. It will certainly signal yet another change of coach. If they win, he still might go. All these things have a general impact. They are not confined to the Bernabéu alone.
It also goes without saying that another defeat for one of the leviathans will further open the race for democracy that La Liga so craves (I think) and maintain hope in a number of aspirants for the top six positions, many of them unaccustomed to anything more than thoughts of survival – which usually means getting out of the way of the leviathans as they swim to some distant sunlit surface that you have rarely seen or experienced. Can’t be bad, say I. Espanyol and Alavés, in 2nd and 3rd position respectively? Bring it on! Three points between the top six sides? Now that’s what I call a competition.
As Eduardo tends to write, in that posh English of his – shall we? You know the rubric – it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win. Let’s see if I can improve on Ed’s 2/10 last week, although to be fair to him, a more democratic league is a less predictable one. Anyway, Ed gets the clásico this weekend. My turn for the predictions.
- Valladolid (6th) vs Espanyol (2nd): X. Friday 21.00
It’s ironic that the usual Friday night fixtures are scheduled to be between teams that are normally scrambling around at the bottom of the pile. You go out for a drink and watch the games out the corner of an eye, on the bar tellies as you flit from hostelry to hostelry. They’d never do that to the clásico, for example. How cool then, that these two sides are in the top six and that the winner will be able to watch the rest down below, for at least until Saturday. Valladolid could go second, and Espanyol could go top. This is fantastic news for two clubs widely tipped to struggle this season, with the tips failing to take into account the Ronaldo factor for the home side (I refer to the Brazilian version) and the mystery at Espanyol where Rubí is seemingly working miracles.
Just so you know – Valladolid were last top in 1951 and Espanyol in 1973. Lovin’ it! Oh…and just to be awkward, I think it’ll be a draw. Why? Because despite Valladolid’s great start, they’ve won more points away than at home. I think it’s going to stay that way for a while.
- Girona (15th) vs Rayo (19th): X. Saturday 13.00
I saw Girona last week at Anoeta, and they struck me as less interesting than last season but certainly more efficient and organised. In his previous job, coach Eusebio got Real Sociedad playing prettily, but they weren’t always resilient. He seems to have learned his lesson, and the visitors this weekend are struggling. I’m tempted to say it’s an obvious home win, but Rayo, if there is a light in their tunnel, is the fact that they seem to be able to squeeze some points from away games – 4 from their measly 6 have been from away fixtures. They also looked a bit better in midweek against Athletic. I’m going to stick my neck out and go for a draw. I think Rayo are improving and Girona might be ready for a dip in form. Call it instinct.
- Athletic (17th) vs Valencia (14th): 2. (Saturday 16.15)
Battle of the doldrums. Athletic are struggling to find a consistent pattern of play, are not scoring or playing well. Even they admit it, which is unusual. They also played their re-arranged fixture in midweek at Rayo and it will have tired them more than it did Rayo (see above prediction). Valencia are the big disappointment so far, having promised so much with their strutting last season, their pre-season and the useful signings they made. Coach Marcelino says there’s no ‘crisis’, but their inability to win at Young Boys last Tuesday complicates matters in the Champions League and in the domestic version, only one win so far (away to Real Sociedad). Seven draws from 9 games is extraordinary, but Athletic seem in such a depressive state (their president was hinting last week that he’s leaving too) that I think Valencia will win. Pound for pound, despite their form, they’re the better side.
- Celta (13th) vs Eibar (12th): 2. (Saturday 18.30)
Two sides just below the middle, and whereas Eibar won’t be losing sleep over that, rather more was expected of Celta this campaign. With only one home win so far this season and a rather undefined manner of playing (look for Aspas and hope), new coach Tony Mohamed is under a bit of pressure. Eibar are nobody’s fools, however, and the enormous acres of Balaídos seem to suit their hard-running, hunting style. They deserved better last week at home to Athletic, and won pretty convincingly the week before at Girona. They’re on form. I think they’ll win.
- Levante (8th) vs Leganés (18th): 1. (Saturday 18.30)
Levante are another of the season’s surprise packages, confirmed during last week’s assault on the Bernabéu. They’ve won three on the trot and it’s hard to see why they can’t make it four. Leganés have picked up a bit recently too, with their draw last week in the Mestalla, but I reckon Levante will keep their roll going with the cool motive of moving into the top four, at least for the night.
- Atlético de Madrid (5th) vs Real Sociedad (9th): 1. (Saturday 20.45)
Atlético might feel hard done by, to be playing on the Saturday night after a Wednesday playing in the Champions, but it’s not so much the time factor as the depression element that might give Sociedad a chance to return home with a point or three. The 4-0 defeat on Wednesday was the worst of Simeone’s reign, and it was odd to see them so comprehensively beaten, despite the woodwork that got in their way. Then again, Atlético are nothing if not resilient, and you could argue that the visitors might get caught in the lights of the reaction that Simeone will expect from his boys.
Real Sociedad don’t enjoy this visit traditionally, although in general this season they’re better visitors than hosts. It’s a tricky one to predict, but I think that Atlético will bounce back. Sociedad are known as the ‘aspirin’ team, since they tend to lose to sides that are having a bad run, and play better against the confident ones. It’s a Basque thing. Home win, but it’ll be close.
- Getafe (10th) vs Betis (11th): 1. (Sunday 12.00)
Battle of the mid-table boys. Getafe can’t quite decide whether they want to join the unusual aspirants up top or just hang around their usual zone, whilst Betis keep promising but falling to bouts of inconsistency. But their season so far has been one of extremes, culminating in their fine (and historic) win on Thursday in the San Siro – so fine it could have been with more of a winning margin. It shows what they’re capable of, but a visit three days later to tough guys Getafe is coming to be something of a come-down. Getafe have lost their last two home games – to Levante (in form) and Atlético, so I wouldn’t read too much into that. It’s a home win for me.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Madrid (7th): X. (Sunday 16.15)
I really don’t know. I thought Barça looked pretty convincing against Inter, and Madrid looked anything but against Viktoria Plsen, but appearances can deceive when it comes to this particular match. Plus there are so many other factors at play for this game that I’m tempted to say it might even be a stalemate, so cautious will Real Madrid be. Barça will know that they’re up against a wounded lion, but they’d be crazy to approach the game with too much confidence. It’s true that the Messi factor seemed fairly low on Wednesday, with Arthur magnificent (the new Xavi?) but against Madrid it cuts out a major worry factor for the visitors, so significant has the little one’s influence been in the recent clásicos.
Marcelo will apparently play, although that isn’t necessarily good news. He might be scoring occasionally, but he’s looking in the throes of physical decline. Others will have to step up, such as Kroos and Modric, but it would be foolish to write them off. Barça have had their off days this season. If I have to plump for a result, I’d say a low-scoring draw. 1-1. Madrid will defend with a dagger between their teeth, and nick one on the break. You’ll see. Apart from that, don’t expect a pretty game. There’s too much at stake.
- Alavés (3rd) vs Villarreal (16th): X. (Sunday 18.30)
This would never have seemed like a straight home win in the past, and despite results so far, I still don’t think it’s an obvious one. Well…I’d be tempted to say that Villarreal would be starting to get their act together in this game if they hadn’t been distracted by Thursday’s Europa League game – but they won it 5-0 and won’t have been too fatigued by the experience. Alavés can again go top, but I don’t think they will. Stalemate.
- Sevilla (4th) vs Huesca (20th): 1. (Sunday 20.45)
The final game of the weekend doesn’t look too much of a mystery, although Sevilla have actually won more games away, unusually for them. Again, the fact that the result of the clásico could go in their favour suggests that they won’t let up the chance to get three points against the bottom side. Huesca looked quite spunky early on, but are looking doomed already. With their new coach Francisco, they might pick up, but I don’t think it’s going to be on Sunday night in the Pizjuán, with Musto and Melero both out. Home win. It’s not a quiniela buster, believe me.
Last week: 2/10 (20%)
Season: 33/90 (36%). Got that Rayo vs Athletic right, amazingly enough.
- Valladolid (6th) vs Espanyol (2nd):
- Girona (15th) vs Rayo (19th):
- Athletic (17th) vs Valencia (14th):
- Celta (13th) vs Eibar (12th):
- Levante (8th) vs Leganés (18th):
- Atlético (5th) vs Real Sociedad (9th):
- Getafe (10th) vs Betis (11th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Real Madrid (7th):
- Alavés (3rd) vs Villarreal (16th):
- Sevilla (4th) vs Huesca (20th):