The not totally surprising La Liga immolation of a certain team from the capital has hidden the disappointing beginning to the season of another three talented, high-ish budget teams that, so far, have failed to impress. I’m talking about Betis, currently in the 13th spot of the standings, Valencia in the 14th and Villarreal in 17th.
At least half of the clubs in the top ten would gladly swap their squads and coaches for any of those three teams, but the fact is that they sit four points or fewer away from the relegation zone, can’t score to save their lives – 20 goals in 30 matches adding up all three teams – and have tried to distract their fans with a handful of okay-ish performances, some of them in the European competitions.
Yes, Europe is perhaps a distraction for all three, but it’s still hard to understand how such a talented trio is struggling to score to the extent that they are. Is this another symptom that LaLiga is indeed becoming more competitive? In our next Quiniela, you will read a rare defence of Javier Tebas & co. based on their work with the financial areas of each club in LaLiga, which has improved their finances amazingly and has therefore allowed them to compete in better conditions with the traditionally more powerful sides.
But now let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Leganés (18th) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th): 2. (Sab, 13:00)
I’m never quite sure, is this a derby? Yes, both teams come from the same region, but there is hardly history between them, let alone any hint of a rivalry. A derby demands ‘Morbo’ (see Ball, Phil), and this match hardly has any.
Slowly but surely Atlético are getting closer to the top, after seven matches unbeaten, and one could say that their win over Real Sociedad was a quite solid performance, although the visitors’ softness takes some merit away from it. This is the type of match that Atlético must win for them to be taken seriously as an alternative to Barcelona, and the one for Diego Costa to come back to the land of the living. Atlético can’t depend on their defenders to score any longer, and at some point Antoine Griezmann’s efforts to get Costa to score should pay off.
“It’s not easy to win in Butarque” (Leganes’ stadium), said coach Pellegrino on Friday, but that can’t possibly apply to a title candidate, even more considering that Leganés will miss five key players (Arnaiz, Szymanowski, Ezequiel, Bustinza y Diego Rolan). It will be a tough match, but Atleti will prevail.
- Real Madrid (9th) vs Valladolid (6th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
On Saturday afternoon, Real Valladolid Club de Fútbol, the sixth best team in LaLiga after ten matches, will visit the capital. Valladolid, proud owner of the Pneumonia stadium – built so that the wind blows from one goal to another at will in the extremely cold winter Castilian nights — is a humble club which during its 90 years of existence has spent more seasons out of the Primera Division than in it.
Well, Valladolid occupy sixth place, while their hosts are three spots and two points behind them in the standings. A couple of weeks ago we wondered whether this Valladolid was secretly good, and now we can safely say that, even if this is some kind of champagne effect, they can indeed compete in LaLiga.
In midweek, they won their Copa del Rey match in Mallorca with two screamers by their #11, Daniele Verde, a leftie who can kick the ball with respectable strength. No big names in the squad if you forget that Ronaldo Fenomeno is the owner, but they work well together and have the occasional spark of class that can surprise any opponent.
A lot has been written about Real Madrid’s crisis, and this site has also added its bit. While the picture is clear enough, the solutions aren’t. The short-term mentality prevents the club from executing a real revamp of a squad they’ve neglected for the last two summers. Now Santiago Solari finds himself in a very uncomfortable situation, not being the real candidate for the job but having to weather the storm for a couple of weeks, although given the low expectations, anything positive he may achieve would work wonders in his favour.
The midweek win in Melilla was a great example. Vinicius would have played under Lopetegui as well, but it’s now thanks to Solari’s genius that we got to see the Brazilian kid driving the naïve Melilla defence nuts. The real test is on Saturday, and for that Solari will have to make his first few tough decisions in his tenure as a Real Madrid coach. It seems safe to say that Bale and Benz will start, but the fickle Bernabeu will probably demand Vinnie if the duo don’t show something in the first 15 minutes.
It’ll be an interesting match, and the upside for Real Madrid is next to zero. The socios are seriously pissed off. Home win, but complete chaos at the Bernabeu for long spells of the match.
- Valencia (14th) vs Girona (11th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
Out of the four unpleasant surprises in LaLiga so far, Valencia are the only ones which have played much better than their current ranking shows. Something is slightly off in their offence, though, and seven goals in 10 matches tell the story of a tough summer for Rodrigo and the absence of Zaza, not well replaced by the theoretically more talented Batshuayi.
For Saturday, Parejo is out but Guedes is back after a month out. Visitors Girona will miss Portu and Juanpe, out for a month, which limits their offensive options. Valencia must win this one, or coach Marcelino will start to hear from the dark side of the Mestalla.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sat- 20:45)
“98% of the world thinks we’re going to lose. I belong to the 2% who believes we can win”, said the upbeat Rayo coach, Michel, on Friday afternoon. I think he was optimistic with that 2%, because it’s hard to see Barcelona, recovered after their slump in form, not winning in Vallecas. Yes, the narrow pitch is far from ideal for the visitors, and some noise remains among the Azulgrana after Dembele and Malcom had another stinker in midweek, but this is another chance for Suarez to show that he’s Messi’s best replacement. He leads by example, so we’ll see a motivated Barcelona, which should be enough.
- Eibar (15th) vs Alavés (2nd): X. (Sun- 12:00)
Basque derby? Again, I’m not sure. Both teams have bigger rivalries inside the Basque Country, but let’s pretend they’re going to die in each tackle, something that used to be characteristic of the region until Real Sociedad started to play like ballet dancers.
Alavés are indeed in better shape, and that was already evident in midweek, when Eibar lost to Segunda’s Sporting after a performance that prompted coach Mendilibar to say “We have done everything the wrong way”. I don’t need more than that to assign an “X” for this match, because reason says that Alaves can’t stay that high for much longer, even if Eibar look this bad.
- Villarreal (17th) vs Levante (7th): 1. (Sun – 16:15). (Corrected to reflect a “1”)
In midweek, Villarreal drew 3-3 in Almeria, in their Copa del Rey match. The good news is that Santi Cazorla scored a fantastic goal. The bad news? “We have shown a defensive intensity unbecoming for a top level team”, said coach Calleja, more and more irritated with the doubts his team displays in every match.
Villarreal’s crisis is one of confidence, and only two or three positive results can get them out of that hole. Levante have won their last four having lost their previous three, so it’s obviously a streaky team that is hard to figure out. I’m taking the home side based on pure talent, even though that has proven the wrong choice way too often.
- Huesca (20th) vs Getafe (8th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
Great chance for Getafe to keep climbing in the standings. Huesca have the worst defence in LaLiga, while Getafe are great getting points for their scarce goals. 1-0 to the Arsenal of Madrid’s periphery.
- Real Sociedad (12th) vs Sevilla (3rd): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
I won’t speak again about Real Sociedad’s lack of testosterone, I promise.
Ok, I will, if only to say that they have added a minuscule forward, Luca Sangalli, who has more guts than the rest of the team put together. His stamina and determination only makes it more obvious how passive the rest of the team is.
The kid has heart. Unfortunately, this week he suffered a stroke when he was about to take an exam – he’s studying a Masters in Industrial Engineering, not very common among footballers –, and is now recovering under observation. Seems like there’s no harm to his brain, but Real Sociedad will have to face the physical, manly Sevilla without their toughest gladiator. Looks to me like another defeat at the new Anoeta, after four matches and no wins there for the hosts.
- Betis (13th) vs Celta (10th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Betis seem determined to bring huge joy to their fans, but just every two or three weeks. A memorable, authoritative display in Milan changed a bit their mood, but their form in LaLiga is terrible – three scoreless defeats in a row. The midweek win in the Copa del Rey, with comebacks to the line-up by Joaquin and Guardado, should get their spirits back again, but they can’t afford another negative result in LaLiga.
Aspas is back in shape, and that could bring a whole set of issues to Betis’ defence. I’m taking the home team out of pure intuition, but won’t be surprised if Celta somehow finds a point in Sevilla.
- Espanyol (5th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (16th): 1. (Mon – 21:00)
Athletic will spend the whole season flirting with relegation, which is all I have to say about Monday’s match. Aduritz loves to play against Espanyol (10 goals in 21 matches), but he’s finally looking his age, and coach Berizzo looks out of solutions for his apathetic, talent-limited team. Easy home win for Espanyol, who will probably spend the week in the Champions League spots.
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 38/100 (38%)
- Leganés (18th) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th):
- Real Madrid (9th) vs Valladolid (6th):
- Valencia (14th) vs Girona (11th):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Barcelona (1st):
- Eibar (15th) vs Alavés (2nd):
- Villarreal (17th) vs Levante (7th):
- Huesca (20th) vs Getafe (8th):
- Real Sociedad (12th) vs Sevilla (3rd):
- Betis (13th) vs Celta (10th):
- Espanyol (5th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (16th):