Feel my pain: it’s very hard to write this column while I’ve got two tickets for River vs Boca at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday next to my laptop and an eight-month pregnant wife who roots for River dying to go to the match. Of course, we’re totally aware that it does not make any sense to get anywhere close to the stadium, and yet…
Well, let’s talk LaLiga. It’s an action-packed weekend in Europe, and Spain couldn’t be different. A couple of real derbies, a legitimate title race, egregious clubs involved in the relegation battle… Should be a fun weekend, with or without River vs Boca.
Now let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Leganés (16th) vs Getafe (9th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
This is indeed a derby: both stadia are just seven kilometers apart, both clubs hate each other’s guts with a passion and now they have the added spice of settling their disputes in LaLiga, something few ever thought possible.
Last season, Getafe won at Leganés, and they indeed look like the better side this year too. They are the toughest team in the tournament if we look at the – shocking amount of – fouls they make, but they’re not only a physical side. They know what to do with the ball and trust an offensive trio – Jorge Molina, Angel Rodriguez and the promoted Jaime Mata – much more threatening than Leganes’ line. That said, this won’t be pretty. Stalemate to start the weekend.
- Atlético de Madrid (3rd) vs Alavés (4th): 1. (Sab, 13:00)
Sevilla and Barcelona will play after this early afternoon contest, already knowing the result of the clash between these two title contenders. Yes, Alaves are a legitimate candidate to upset all of LaLiga, if only because of the atmosphere they’ve generated around the team. Last weekend they stopped Sevilla, and no-one should be surprised if they get a result at the Wanda. Their narrow elimination in the Copa del Rey at the hands of Girona last Wednesday will take its toll on Sunday, but they should be extremely satisfied so far.
That said, their great numbers since Abelardo took over have to do with an impressive sequence of home performances, while their away displays are slightly less consistent. Atleti have drawn seven times, but are fine at home – five wins and two draws, no defeats. Simeone has invited four players from the youth team to the match squad, which says he’s probably concerned with the Champions League match against Brugge next week. He’ll still miss Juanfran, Godin and Filipe Luis, and tried Saul at left back this week, but he’s got enough to defeat the enthusiastic, but probably tired Alaves.
- Valencia (14th) vs Sevilla (2nd): 2. (Sat, 16:15)
Less than a year ago, Valencia could feel almost as good about themselves as Sevilla do now. In fact, last season Valencia won both matches vs Sevilla by an aggregate of 6-0.
Now they’re 10 points below in LaLiga, and the most mortifying thing is that they can’t score. Valencia’s best offensive options are Santi Mina, Parejo and Gameiro with two goals each, which is precious little at this stage of the season. Guedes hasn’t been a factor, Rodrigo hasn’t been healthy… Compare that to Sevilla, with André Silva (8), Ben Yedder (7) and Sarabia (5) as top scorers.
I know Mestalla can be a beast, but I haven’t seen enough punch from Valencia for me to believe that they can defeat this Sevilla side, who with plenty of injuries themselves and a very tough calendar have shown up to compete in every match.
- Villarreal (17th) vs Celta (13th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
Villarreal’s miserable performances so far have hidden the most interesting development in terms of young players in LaLiga: Samu Chukweze. Left-sided and full of talent, the kid can drive any fullback nuts, and is so much fun to watch that he’s probably keeping many Villarreal fans numb, oblivious to the terrible situation of the side.
In midweek, the hosts scored eight in their Copa del Rey match against Almeria, so they should feel better about themselves. Celta started the season a bit better, but quickly derailed under Antonio Mohamed, and they now need to restart. Can’t see them winning in Villarreal if the hosts decide to play, although that’s a big “if”.
- Espanyol (7th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sat- 20:45)
Huge match. Not only do Barcelona need a win to keep the top spot, but also Espanyol fancy their chances of reaching the Europa League positions. As if that wasn’t enough, the traditional bad blood between these two neighbours has only increased since Gerard Pique decided to channel his culé soul and become an outspoken critic of the Pericos. It’s evident that the Azulgrana centre-back loves to play against Espanyol, and it’s his preferred target: he’s scored six times against them, more than against any other team in his career.
Pique started the season slowly, probably considering what it took him to raise his hand inside the box against Russia. Once he forgot about that, he improved and now looks in impressive shape. He’ll get the help of Luis Suarez, back in the team after three matches nursing a knee injury.
Despite Espanyol’s usual stamina when they face Barcelona and the obvious improvement in their game since coach Rubi took over, it’s hard to see Barcelona not winning in Cornella. Let’s just hope both clubs go about their business in a more civilized way than they’ve done in the last couple of seasons.
- Eibar (12th) vs Levante (6th): 2. (Sun- 12:00)
Should we ride Levante? This is a sentence I never expected I’d write, but they’re doing so well both at home and away that they deserve a bit more trust from this column. They made the next round of the Copa del Rey while resting their star Morales and free kick menace Bardhi, so let’s go for a “2” and see what happens.
By the way, both teams have already defeated Real Madrid this season, and we’ve just started December. Let’s just move on.
- Huesca (20th) vs Real Madrid (5th): 2. (Sun – 16:15)
This has to be a “2”, and yet when you think of previous similar away matches the Madridistas have played this season – see final paragraph of the previous match – it’s not hard to picture a dismal performance with no shots on goal and a horror show at the back. Hopefully the confidence of some players will have improved after the goal fest vs Melilla, although it seems like Solari’s doubts about Isco and Absentio will need far more than a couple of goals against a Third Division side.
Huesca can only enjoy the visit and hope for a hesitant version of Solari’s team. Otherwise, it should be a rout.
- Real Sociedad (10th) vs Valladolid (15th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Ecstatic after defeating Celta in the Copa del Rey with two golazos by Oyarzabal and Januzaj, it seems like Garitano (the one in San Sebastián) is finally getting the team to play the version of conservative but effective football he enjoys. It’s perhaps not as entertaining as Eusebio’s version, but it adds some bite to a squad that desperately needed it.
Valladolid are finally where most expected them: a few points over the relegation battle, happy to get a result every couple of matches and aiming for survival. They won’t get a single point against this motivated Erreala.
- Betis (11th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Betis will pass the ball 2,532 times and will win 1-0. Zzzzzz.
Or maybe not. It’s typical Betis to screw up against a minnow, and there’s almost no better minnow than Rayo. I take the safe bet, but you’ve been warned.
- Athletic de Bilbao (18th) vs Girona (8th): 2. (Mon – 21:00)
Flirting not only with relegation, but with outright tragedy, Athletic need to react now, before this situation becomes too hard to control and the media and fans start putting too much pressure on a young squad who’s never dealt with anything remotely similar to a relegation battle.
The visitors are tricky, and that is why I believe they could make the most of the tension that indeed will be felt in San Mamés. A tough Monday night in Bilbao.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 52/140 (35%)
- Leganés (16th) vs Getafe (9th):
- Atlético de Madrid (3rd) vs Alavés (4th):
- Valencia (14th) vs Sevilla (2nd):
- Villarreal (17th) vs Celta (13th):
- Espanyol (7th) vs Barcelona (1st):
- Eibar (12th) vs Levante (6th):
- Huesca (20th) vs Real Madrid (5th):
- Real Sociedad (10th) vs Valladolid (15th):
- Betis (11th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (18th) vs Girona (8th):