Many of you probably don’t like LaLiga’s president Javier Tebas, and you may very well have a perfectly good reason for it. To Barcelona fans, his support of Real Madrid makes him a representative of the enemy in a terrible position to have one. To the most irrational Real Madrid supporters, he’s someone who believes that Lionel Messi is the best player ever. To the rest of the teams, he’s the responsible party for the current inequality in the revenue distribution among LaLiga clubs, and thus the man who is still perpetuating the gap between the top two and the struggling followers. He’s also guilty of La Liga having become LaLiga (nospace). Adding insult to injury, he wants to take a LaLiga match to the USofA, not really giving a s*it about local fans missing that one in their home stadium. In short, he’s indeed no saint, and to the more or less objective reasons mentioned in this paragraph, you may throw on top that he’s just not a very likeable person at all.
However, Tebas and his team must be doing something well if he keeps being reelected as the head of LaLiga. I first heard of Tebas’ good work through a work connection who does some financial projects for one of the middle-of-the-table clubs in Spain. I couldn’t believe my ears when this gentleman started to speak so highly about the usually hated president of LaLiga: “He’s changed the way we do things here, and we’re now in a much better position than we were five years ago. The financial difficulties are over”.
My connection referred to something called Control Económico – financial control –, a set of measures implemented by Tebas’ team in order to avoid small clubs doing stupid things with their money. When he took over, Tebas identified that Real Madrid and Barcelona not only had a huge advantage in revenue generation, but also in the talent they used to manage that cash. Only Atletico de Madrid had comparable expertise in that department, while the rest of the clubs pretty much did what their president wanted with the money, with no rules or controls over what could be spent or when. Bankruptcies due to outstanding debts with the Spanish IRS or unpaid players were common in Spanish football, and Tebas wanted to avoid them and instill in the clubs the financial discipline required to compete, both in Spain and in Europe.
‘Control Económico’ started in 2013 and has changed the way most clubs do things in Spain. When it started, they owed more than 600Mn to different Spanish institutions. At the end of 2017, that amount had decreased to 97 Mn. Football players are now timely paid, when back in 2012 there were 341 civil actions against clubs because of unpaid salaries. Today there’s just none.
Back to my contact, he says that LaLiga has a financial team that has become the financial department of most clubs. They tell you how much you should spend on signings, on youth teams, on salaries, on advertisement… How much your revenue from merchandising or ticketing should be, and how much cash you should have available in the bank per month.
That’s the kind of work that only pays off in the middle term, and that work which started five seasons ago is becoming more visible now. The Economist has already written about it. So next time you curse Tebas, remember it’s really rare that someone is completely awful in all his/her facets and that, in his case, greed is good.
Now let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Levante (7th) vs Real Sociedad (13th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Real Sociedad haven’t scored in the last month, since Oyarzabal silenced San Mames. That famous win has proven fatal, as the team relaxed and appears to have decided that it justified the entire season.
This scoreless run is the worst kind of stat to face Levante, who have four wins and a draw in their last five matches and have only conceded four times in 11 matches.
The visitors need Januzaj, apparently in great shape, to be able to finish any of the plays he starts, and Oyarzabal, no doubt talented, to focus on the pitch 100%. It will be tough in Valencia, because Levante are a very hard team, and that is why I’m afraid Real Sociedad will cave in again against a physical side. Tough times for Mr Ball. You can very well see the irony of this statement written by a Real Madrid fan.
- Valladolid (9th) vs Eibar (12th): X. (Sab, 13:00)
Valladolid played a fantastic match at the Santiago Bernabeu, and must feel hard done by after Vinicius’ lucky goal and their two spectacular strikes that hit Real Madrid’s posts. If these bunch of no-name players keep performing like this, many of them will end up in bigger teams next season, unless Ronaldo convinces them to build a serious club.
For the time being, they need to defeat the tough Eibar, and that’s a hard one for such an inexperienced group of players. A goalless draw is on the cards.
- Getafe (8th) vs Valencia (15th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
I’ve learned my lesson: trusting Valencia’s talent over their recent performances does not work. Getafe all the way.
- Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (17th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
A classic match that shows a slightly unreliable Atleti hosting a totally reliable Athletic, although the latter for all the wrong reasons. They simply look like a Segunda División team. If the visitors don’t react fast, they could spend the whole season struggling to keep their Primera División status and remember, the Basques are one of three teams that have always played in the Primera, without a single relegation to their name.
Even if Atleti are currently undergoing a nightmare of muscular injuries – only centre-back Gimenez has suffered three in four weeks! –, perhaps due to their authoritative fitness coach, seems like the non-starters have stepped up, at least judging by what we saw against Borussia Dortmund last Tuesday. Their most illustrious absentees are at the heart of the defence – Godin and Savic are trying to get back into the team for this match – but given that Aduritz finally looks his age and that Williams can’t seem to find any consistence to his scoring, Atleti can rest safe. Home win.
- Girona (10th) vs Leganés (18th): X. (Sat- 20:45)
I have repeatedly not trusted Girona this season, partly because I associate new coach Eusebio with his champagne effect when he coached Real Sociedad, partly because I feel that the players they lost in the offseason weren’t properly replaced. That said, Girona have done much better than I expected so far, even though their star Portu has not been available for a few matches. Cristian Stuani is as deadly in front of goal as he’s ever been in his career, and they’ve added a fantastic goalkeeper in Yassine Bounou, mentioned by Phil in his last weekend summary.
Leganes, on the other hand, haven’t fooled anybody. They had a limited squad and that’s become painfully obvious, even though coach Pellegrino, under a serious case of denial, said on Thursday that “we’re in good shape”. They’ve gone four consecutive matches without a win, and their away record is especially painful: one draw and five defeats in six games. They desperately need a new centreback, and recovering some of their injurees – the tireless Alexander Szymanowski comes to mind – would also help. Can’t see them winning in Montilivi.
- Alavés (5th) vs Huesca (20th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
It’s brutal to see that 15 spots separate these two teams, who in essence aren’t that dissimilar in terms of budget and talent. The visitors are struggling in their first season in the top flight, and unless they find gold in the winter transfer window it’s very likely that they’ll end up in Segunda.
The work done by Alaves’ current owners since they bought the team deserves a book, but for now let’s just say that the atmosphere in Vitoria is second to none in Spain nowadays, and that only should be enough to defeat Huesca and stay one more week in Europa League spots. The dream is still alive.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Betis (14th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
I know I’m repeating myself. This must be the third time this season that I have written that this is a true test for Betis’ style, but this is indeed the good one. If Betis can take the ball away from Barcelona and get a result at the Camp Nou, I’ll believe in Setien.
The fact is that the sequence of negative results in LaLiga has generated a terrible atmosphere in the dressing room, and Setién’s public statements are not helping. After their home draw vs Celta, he said he hadn’t used his three subs because there was nobody in the bench who could shake things up, which does not resonate well inside the dressing room. Later on this week, he spoke with the press and explained that he usually tries to motivate Marc Bartra by saying that, if he’s playing for Betis, he must’ve done something wrong with his career and needs to get it right, which comprehensibly irritated plenty of Béticos.
Well, in summary, I think that Setién is closer to losing his job than Betis is to putting together a decent season.
On Barcelona’s side, satisfaction for their performance while Lio Messi was away, and concern for Dembele’s constant disciplinary issues, that apparently have Valverde extremely frustrated. He could be out in the winter.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Villarreal (16th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
While Alaves and Huesca are more distant than one would expect, Rayo and Villarreal sit much closer in the standings than could have been imagined. The guilty part is Villarreal, flirting with the relegation zone after five winless matches and plenty of wasted chances. I’ve said this a few times already, but this has to change at some point. Probably Rayo’s pitch is not the perfect stadium for the skilled visitors to play their best football, but they should get their act together at some point, and it’s about time.
- Sevilla (3rd) vs Espanyol (2nd): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Barcelona will watch this one in delight, as their two closest followers play on Sunday afternoon for the second spot in LaLiga. It’s a match between the most promising Spanish coaches right now, Pablo Machín y Rubi, both former coaches of Girona. They like their teams to play with flair, but also with a very high intensity, and enjoy midfielders much higher than your average top-level coach. Entertainment guaranteed with these two.
Still, the talent gap between both teams favours Sevilla, as does Espanyol’s poor away record (1W/3D/2L). That said, the visitors have the advantage of a restful week, while Sevilla played a thriller in Turkey and could feel the impact on their legs. I’ll go for a “1”, but if you want to put some cash on Espanyol, it’s not a bad call either.
- Celta (11th) vs Real Madrid (6th): X. (Sun – 20:45)
With three wins, 11 goals scored and none conceded, Santiago Solari has the numbers on his side during his tenure as a caretaker manager. While the club is still searching for a full-time coach, he’s got another match to show he can take over Lopetegui for the rest of the season, but this one is probably the toughest of them all.
Even if Celta have been unpredictable so far, their talent is beyond doubt and they come off a convincing win over Eibar (4-0). This is their third consecutive home match, another peculiarity of the new calendar that doesn’t quite work as well as the finances of the clubs.
I believe it’s already clear that a Real Madrid structured around Bale and Benzema as offensive options is not solid. It may fool some of us for a few matches, but the Welshman is always four matches away from an injury, and the Frenchman is a forward that can spend five consecutive matches without a shot on goal (yes, that happened this season). Either Solari opts for the risk of the youth and the unknown, or he’ll die with his boots on, be in in Vigo or in some other Spanish city.
By the way, pay attention to Brais Mendes, Celta’s new talent who, together with Aspas and Gomez, could drive Real Madrid’s defence crazy on Sunday.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 41/110 (37%)
- Levante (7th) vs Real Sociedad (13th):
- Valladolid (9th) vs Eibar (12th):
- Getafe (8th) vs Valencia (15th):
- Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (17th):
- Girona (10th) vs Leganés (18th):
- Alavés (5th) vs Huesca (20th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Betis (14th):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Villarreal (16th):
- Sevilla (3rd) vs Espanyol (2nd):
- Celta (11th) vs Real Madrid (6th):