Two weeks ago, this scribe wrote “If Betis can take the ball away from Barcelona and get a result at the Camp Nou, I’ll believe in Setien”. Well, I’ll now have to believe in the wizard from Santander, leaving aside my obvious reluctance for his patronizing way of describing how the other teams play and his habit of throwing his own players under the bus after a poor performance. Wait, did I just write that?
And while we’re at it, this column also recognizes its tendency to overestimate the ability of Iago Aspas, its mistrust of Levante, its frustration with this season’s Valencia and its obvious contempt for the softest Real Sociedad in decades – all this in case you hadn’t noticed. Those biases have an impact on all predictions, and probably explain the poor performance in terms of % so far…
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 Alavés (4th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
Bustinza is back for the home side, which means that Alaves’ forwards will not sleep on Thursday night, terror filling their restless brains. That, and Real Madrid’s loanee Lunin, who could start as well, might help Leganes to keep a clean sheet, but the home side can’t score – 9 goals in 12 matches – and that can’t be good against the organized, overperforming Alaves. A point for each side and a nil-nil sounds very likely.
- Eibar (13th) vs Real Madrid (6th): 2. (Sab, 13:00)
Indeed, LaLiga wants to ruin one of the most sacred moments of my week, Saturday’s lunch. There is no upside here. If Solari’s immaculate running streak goes on, it’s just what is expected from him and his team. However, and using some economist lingo, I don’t think Real Madrid’s fundamentals are solid at all. A few wins over mediocre opposition with Karim Benzema in a stellar role is not exactly the stuff dreams are made of, and thus the downside of a pre-lunch Saturday match is humongous.
Eibar isn’t an easy visit, even though coach Mendilibar will miss three key players in keeper Marko Dmitrovic, defender Anaitz Arbilla and defensive midfielder Pape Diop. This should be another high scoring win for Solari, but I’m picking this “2” with plenty of fear over another dismal performance, while I feel guilty of a potential jinx. Let’s just move on.
- Valencia (15th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
Of course, just as I decided to stop backing Valencia, they won away. That brought some relief to coach Marcelino Garcia, who was starting to feel the fickle Valencia fan base turning against him with each negative result. Even with that 1-0 win at Getafe, there’s something bizarre going on with the Ches. A team with Parejo, Rodrigo, Batshuayi, Santi Mina and Kevin Gameiro – well, perhaps Gameiro is a stretch – has scored eight times in 12 matches. According to Marca, it’s the second worst offence out of the top five leagues in Europe, which include 98 teams. Again: Valencia’s offence ranks in the 97th spot in a 98-team list.
Either Marcelino loses his job on Saturday – a defeat vs 19th-position Rayo would be fatal – or the law of averages starts to compensate for these bizarre three months of football in Valencia. The visitors have shown sparks of motivation, such as their last draw vs Villarreal, but can’t possibly beat Valencia at the Mestalla if the hosts find their swagger.
- Huesca (20th) vs Levante (8th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
Last time Huesca won a home match? 28th of April. In their next seven matches, only two draws and five defeats, which obviously explains their spot in the standings. But here comes my mistrust of Levante. Not only because three of their starters won’t play on Saturday – Postigo, Campaña and the great José Luis Morales –, but also due to their inherent reliability, which makes them win at the Santiago Bernabeu and then lose at home to Real Soft-ciedad.
Therefore, I fancy Huesca to finally win again in front of their 7,000 faithful followers. It’s about time.
- Atlético de Madrid (3rd) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sat- 20:45)
Last season, I watched this one in a hotel in the middle of Galicia. Back then, I expected an open match and in fact what we saw was a game of two halves, in which Lionel Messi and Barcelona progressively took over after Atlético’s impetuous start made the visitors look almost like a groggy boxer in the first half.
This is a different match altogether. Neither team has looked their best for more than two weeks so far, which makes this one especially difficult to predict. Griezmann and Costa will lead the line for Atlético, who desperately need the Brazilian to start scoring like he usually does.
The hosts do look slightly more focused than the visitors, as Valverde has to deal with Rafinha’s complaints over lack of playing time, Dembele’s undisciplined habits off the pitch and the likely exit of Denis Suarez in the transfer window. It’s too much noise and may have an impact on Saturday, but we all know what happens when Messi decides to grab a match by the throat, and he’s been resting for the last two weeks. The best player wins this one.
By the way, new grass for this match at the Wanda. Needless to say, it’s a must-see, unless you have access to watch River-Boca, in which case…
- Athletic de Bilbao (17th) vs Getafe (11th): X. (Sun- 12:00)
In the middle of a pretty serious crisis that has led the team to flirt with the relegation battle, it seems untimely to speak about elections at the club, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Bilbao. Rather than focus on their offensive woes, the conversation this week had to do with Urrutia’s likely successors.
That is obviously a relevant topic, but the fact that Williams, Aduriz and Garcia have not scored this season in San Mames appears rather important. In fact, Williams hasn’t scored in San Mames in a LaLiga match since December 2016, so if he fails to get on the scoresheet on Sunday he’ll have spent two full years scoreless at home. It’s a mindboggling stat for such a talented player.
Something isn’t quite working for Athletic, and coach Berizzo, while doggedly trying to fix his high press, looks bound to lose his job. I predict a frustrating draw that will see the home fans leave half irritated, half scared with their team’s situation.
- Sevilla (2nd) vs Valladolid (7th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
Every piece of news coming from Sevilla emanates good vibes. It’s now hard to remember Pablo Machin’s struggles when the season started, as fans and squad live a fantastic honeymoon. The hosts still want to reinforce the team in the winter transfer window, but while that happens they have the chance to lead the standings if they defeat Valladolid and Barcelona fail to defeat Atlético the day before.
Valladolid have surprised many of us so far, but I can’t see them upsetting Sevilla on Sunday.
- Espanyol (5th) vs Girona (9th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Two Catalan overperformers going toe to toe for the right to claim their second spot in terms of Catalan football. Espanyol’s key stat so far: five home matches, five wins. Let’s follow the running streak.
- Villarreal (16th) vs Betis (12th): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
If Valencia have disappointed (me) so far, what could be said of Villarreal? Loads of talent and bizarre spells during matches in which they waste all their excellent work. I was building an elaborated argument to back Villarreal, but then I realised that Betis won at the Camp Nou in extremely convincing fashion, which obligates me to go for a “2”. One is a man of his word.
- Real Sociedad (10th) vs Celta (14th): 2. (Mon – 21:00)
If you’ve read the opening paragraphs, two of my biases team up on Monday’s match to generate an obvious “2” prediction. What Iago Aspas can do with Real Sociedad’s defence could get him arrested in a few countries. Mind you, I said the same thing last week when Real Madrid visited Vigo, to no avail. Similarly, I also thought Real Sociedad would lose to the tough, physical Levante, and the Txuri Urdins came back from 1-0 down to shock the hosts 3-1. Still, quoting Setien, “We will play with our style and will die by it”, and that’s that. “2” and see you next week.
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 46/120 (38%)
- Leganés (18th) vs Alavés (4th):
- Eibar (13th) vs Real Madrid (6th):
- Valencia (15th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th):
- Huesca (20th) vs Levante (8th):
- Atlético de Madrid (3rd) vs Barcelona (1st):
- Athletic de Bilbao (17th) vs Getafe (11th):
- Sevilla (2nd) vs Valladolid (7th):
- Espanyol (5th) vs Girona (9th):
- Villarreal (16th) vs Betis (12th):
- Real Sociedad (10th) vs Celta (14th):