May I have your attention, please?
May I have your attention, please?
Will the real Real Madrid please stand up?
I repeat, will the real Real Madrid please stand up?
We’re gonna have a problem here.
Yes, we’re gonna have a problem indeed. During long stretches of quite a few matches in the last five weeks I haven’t been able to recognize my own team. It’s not a matter of playing better or worse football, of having more or less ball possession, of not winning becoming more and more regular and even acceptable to the coach. It’s just that this squad barely resembles they way a Real Madrid squad should play week in week out. Five defenders, an absolutely lame offence heavily dependent on a 19-year-old who barely knows his team mates, total lack of team moves, awful, even uninterested defending…
This smells of catastrophic developments sooner rather than later. Either the club reacts with a handful of tough, exemplary decisions, or these next few months will become a very painful experience for the Madridistas. Fans of the remaining 19 clubs, rejoice. This should be a fun ride for you.
Now let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Getafe (6th) vs Alavés (5th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Had someone said before the league started that these two clubs would face each other occupying Europa League spots with half the season gone, I would have thought him/her mad. But Getafe’s outstanding defence – the third best in Europe after Atleti and Juventus in terms of goals conceded / matches played in 2018 – and Alaves’s excellent home record have taken both teams to the right half of the table. Two Spanish coaches… Now, wait, I was going to start to sound like an English football writer defending the merits of Steve Bruce, Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew. Scrap that.
Their coaches are solid, whatever place they were born in, and have now been enough time with their respective squads to instill them their style in full. Bordalas likes tough teams, tight matches, has no fear of fouling and uses the classic duo of a silky, skillful forward next to an imposing one. Angel and Jorge Molina can drive many defences crazy, but they work on the back of a team totally in synch and for whom mistakes are very rare.
Impressive as Abelardo has been as Alaves coach, I still think this is Getafe winning easily and getting really close to their rivals on the standings. Great cult match to open the weekend.
- Real Madrid (4th) vs Sevilla (3rd): 2. (Sab, 16:15)
As a player, Santiago Solari overachieved, and not only because he played five seasons for a star-studded Real Madrid. He was indeed a classy leftie, but that would not be a fair description of his talent, and in itself his class was not the reason why he succeeded. Playing at the same time as the Galacticos, he looked bound to spend long stretches of the season watching football from the bench, but ended up seeing much more minutes than could be expected, and even started in the Champions League final that saw Zidane score THE volley.
The reason why Solari played was not class or fitness, but mindset. He never shied away from responsibility, always played a bit better than many thought he could, always supported his team mates on the pitch when needed. All this to say that he’s an earlier version of Lucas Vazquez, and that this column’s theory is that he starts Vazquez so often because he sees himself in the diminutive Galicean.
On top of this wild theory, it’s also clear that Solari has a pretty strong character and that he’ll get rid of Isco if he doesn’t start pulling his weight, that he’ll start 11 kids from the youth teams if he believes the squad is not training well and that he’ll field seven defenders if he thinks that’s they only way to stop the defensive bleeding we’ve seen way too often this season.
Of course, the fact that Solari is not scared to make decisions does not mean he knows what he’s doing. As the current Real Madrid coach, and understandably in a very tough situation, his performance is far from good. This team is unrecognizable, has no identity or a playing style, and what we guess could be coming does not look good either.
Sevilla did look intimidating at an earlier point of the season, but their poor results of late have seen them slip ten points behind Barcelona and five behind Atleti. Not that it matters. Against this Real Madrid, a decent idea of how to play and solid execution could very well be enough. The visitors will even have the help of a frustrated, blood thirsty Bernabeu, who will probably boo a few of their own players.
- Huesca (20th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): X. (Sat, 18:30)
I’d rather have my teeth pulled one by one than watch this one. Atleti, depressed after their shocking elimination in the Copa del Rey, travel to the tiny pitch of Huesca, where they will face La Liga’s worst team, not only in points, but also in offence AND defence. It won’t be pretty, and it will be a draw.
- Celta (17th) vs Valencia (11th): 2. (Sat, 20:45)
Three consecutive losses have taken Celta very close to the relegation zone, although they’re still just two points behind their fellow underachievers Valencia. This one won’t be a question of which one is the better side, but rather of which one makes less mistakes. Inspiration has abandoned both clubs this season, and what last year were two great to watch sides has now become an extremely frustrating duo.
If we followed Valencia’s most repeated result, this could very well end up in a draw, but I believe that the Ches play a lot better without their public yelling abuse at them. They have more talent, and that must make the difference without the noise they suffer at home.
- Betis (7th) vs Girona (9th): 2. (Sun- 12:00)
I’ll admit I’m at fault. Only last weekend I realised that the force behind Girona’s success is not Man City’s cash, but the Valladolid connection of Eusebio Sacristan and Onesimo Sanchez. Of course I knew Eusebio took the Girona job after Machín left for Sevilla, but hadn’t seen the quite noticeable Onesimo next to him until I watched Girona and Alaves draw level last weekend.
Nicknamed “The last of the Mohicans” by Angel Cappa due to his dribbling ability – “There are no players like him anymore, he’s the last of a dying breed”, he said in the early 90s, a statement which has been also said of another 50 players since Onesimo played –, the Valladolid born former forward was a favourite of Cruyff’s and even played in Barcelona for a season. He was unnerving because of his tendency to try one more dribble, but great fun to watch. As a manager, he hasn’t been very successful, but his fellow Vallisoletano Eusebio has taken him under his wing, and the combination of both must indeed mean fun, even if results may become secondary to sexy football.
This one will be a cracker. Both teams enjoy playing with the ball, and the tactical battle between Setien and the Valladolid duo seems promising. I’ll pick Girona because Stuani looks terrifying and Betis has no one as sharp in front of goal as him. Do watch this one if you have the chance.
- Villarreal (19th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (15th): 1. (Sun- 16:15)
Another duel between underachievers, althoung in this case Athletic have improved since they changed coaches – three wins and two draws in their last five –, while Villarreal look determined to make life difficult for themselves after six matches without a win.
Call me crazy, but this is the one that makes the hosts wake up. Easy home win and first defeat of Athletic in the Garitano era.
- Levante (12th) vs Valladolid (14th): X. (Sun – 18:30)
This screams “X” because Levante must be dead after their midweek trip to Barcelona, and because I’m not courageous enough to take Valladolid outright.
- Rayo Vallecano (18th) vs Real Sociedad (8th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Like a yo-yo, you can find Real Sociedad at the right or wrong half of the table with no rhyme or reason. It’s really hard to understand how this team works, and even harder to predict what they could do on a given weekend. New coach Imanol picked things where he left them last season and is doing a terrific job as a caretaker manager, but his players can let him down at any point.
Rayo only has one hope to stay up: keep getting wins at their narrow, extremely uncomfortable stadium of Vallecas. Not many teams understand how to play there. If Raul de Tomas is half as trustworthy as the hair gel he wears – it lasts all match long! –, they can get it done.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Leganés (13th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
LaLiga is over. This is disappointing after just 19 matches, but it’s a fact of life. On Sunday, we’ll seat in front of the telly to watch another Barcelona show with Messi, Suarez, Dembele and Coutinho terrorizing an otherwise decent, but probably overwhelmed Leganes. At least they’re entertaining… Barcelona, of course.
Yes, Barcelona fans, you keep complaining about Valverde and Rakitic. You will miss them like I miss the younger Del Bosque and Makelele.
- Eibar (16th) vs Espanyol (10th): 1. (Mon – 21:00)
Espanyol are the 2nd worst travelling team in LaLiga. Eibar know how to grind out a win, especially against classy, but soft teams like the Periquitos.
Last week: 7/10 (70%)
Season: 66/160 (41%)
- Getafe (6th) vs Alavés (5th):
- Real Madrid (4th) vs Sevilla (3rd):
- Huesca (20th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Celta (17th) vs Valencia (11th):
- Betis (7th) vs Girona (9th):
- Villarreal (19th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (15th):
- Levante (12th) vs Valladolid (14th):
- Rayo Vallecano (18th) vs Real Sociedad (8th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Leganés (13th):
- Eibar (16th) vs Espanyol (10th):