Believe me, it’s really hard to keep up with LaLiga’s frenzied comeback. Things get even more complex timewise as I’m moving to Brazil with my family and the whole process is a mess, but then it all becomes completely impossible to manage if I have to spend a long part of my Sunday evening trying to calm Phil down after the match between Reales.
“Everyone saw what happened yesterday in Anoeta”, said Barcelona’s Setién a few hours earlier today. We all did. What changes is the interpretation. But in any case, it’s not surprising that, VAR or no VAR, our national pastime is to feign outrage when calls don’t go our way. I’ll be doing exactly the same in the next few days, of that I’m sure.
But let’s not waste time with introductions. Let’s focus on the next four days.
Shall we? As usual, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Villarreal (7th) –Sevilla (4th): X. 22/06, 19:30
The most entertaining match of this set of fixtures finds two teams that have come back playing well after the break. Villarreal have won all three matches 1-0 each, two of them away from home. This speaks volumes of their defensive solidity, but they’ve always been a midfielders’ team and that section of the pitch has worked wonders in the last three matches. They really have control of the match, and that’s where I believe that Sevilla will suffer.
Lopetegui’s men managed to stop Barcelona with a 0-0 draw, but it’s fair to say that they had decent chances and reduced Setién’s men to their worst version, that of the thousands of passes with no aggression. Given that both sides have performed extremely well at the back, I would not be surprised if this highly entertaining tactical duel finishes in stalemate. Worth your time in any case. Final comment: great to see forward Gerard Moreno at his best with Villarreal, if he keeps going like this he should be a great attacking option for the national team.
- Leganés (19th) – Granada (10th): 1. 22/06, 22:00
If you have missed Oscar Rodriguez’s latest cracker, the one that gave his side a miraculous point during the weekend, just check it out here. It’s an amazing way of hitting the ball. The kid has stepped up after Leganes lost their two starting forwards and in a deeper role he’s managing to keep his team’s hopes alive week after week. The hosts need this win and the visitors, who came back from the break looking well, failed to keep going on Saturday in a disappointing loss to Villarreal. I’m seduced by Leganes’ faith, something we’ve seen at play in every single match since Mexican coach Aguirre took over.
- Levante (12th) – Atlético de Madrid (4th): X. 23/06, 19:30
Trying to make sense of these two teams’ performances over the last three matches is simply impossible. Atleti looked awful in Bilbao, overwhelming in Pamplona and simply ok vs Valladolid. Levante have looked terrific against Espanyol and had huge ups and downs against Valencia and Sevilla, although in both matches they managed to get a result. I’m still not convinced by Atleti and Marcos Llorente’s magical conversion into a diabolic trequartista, so let’s go for a tie.
- Valladolid (15th) – Getafe (5th): 1. 23/06, 19:30
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Bordalas’ hopes and dreams of making it big with a wealthier side next season have had an impact on Getafe’s performance. One loss and two draws after the break and not a single week without a “I deserve better” statements from the gaffer seem like highly correlated events. The visitors have lost the bite, the toughness, the huge dislikeability they enjoyed a few months ago. I think that they will lose in Valladolid, the hosts get out of trouble and pressure starts mounting on Mr Manager to get his act together or leave immediately for pastures greener.
- Barcelona (1st) – Athletic de Bilbao (10th): 1. 23/06, 22:00
You’re probably thinking that, at least on paper, this looks even better than Villarreal vs Sevilla, but hear me out: Barcelona are fundamentally BORING. I’ve probably watched more Barcelona than Real Madrid over the last decade, and I can’t think of a less exciting moment to follow the Azulgrana in terms of the quality of their football. The bad combination of players slightly past their top form, replacements not working out and a dressing room that controls everything that happens on the pitch has had a terrible impact on the way the team plays. Setien has made things even worse: he’s taken the possession-without-aggression approach that characterised some of his previous spells to a team that can do that like no other.
If Barcelona have been overly Messi-dependent – and that is only natural with the Argentinean being as outrageously talented as he is – that dependency has reached bizarre levels at a point in which he’s no longer as steady as he used to be. He’ll become 33 almost as soon as this match is over, and it’s hard to see this team getting better without him getting real help, which by the way will involve him leaving the car keys to other players more and more often.
So at this point you watch Barcelona because you expect Messi to do something special or because you enjoy Ter Stegen’s goalkeeping style. At least from my point of view, no other players catch my eye or make me think “I can’t miss this Barcelona match”. And that is a very dangerous place to be at when you’re about to extend Messi’s contract for another two years and are almost financially bankrupt.
Musings aside, they will win on Wed. As soon as they remember how the positional offside rule works, they’ll score four or five times with Suarez interfering with the goalie. The lethargic Athletic we’ve seen this week don’t stand a chance.
- Alavés (15th) – Osasuna (11th): X. 24/06, 19:30
Close friends, these two will be happy with a draw that would keep them out of trouble. A pity, because at some point both sides could have dreamt higher, but injuries in the case of Osasuna and a certain relaxation on the hosts’ side have finished any hopes of completing a memorable season. In any case, they’ve done well enough considering their respective budgets.
- Real Sociedad (5th) – Celta (17th): 1. 24/06, 19:30
Unless Real Sociedad’s coach Imanol is a complete amateur, this is the perfect occasion to channel all that aggression generated by three borderline, but perfectly fair calls a couple of days ago against Celta. The hosts have been crap since the season re-started (I’m quoting Phil, by the way) and they need a lot more from Odegaard and their frontline if they want to challenge for a place in Europe.
Celta should feel a bit of relief, as they finally showed what an amazing offensive side they can be when the place is right and they feel like playing some ball. But I can’t see them playing consistently every week, let alone every three days.
- Real Madrid (2nd) – Mallorca (18th): 1. 24/06, 22:00
A few predictions: Zidane will rotate like crazy, almost endangering the win. Casemiro will be sent off, prompting comments along the lines of “they needed to do this so that it didn’t look that bad”. Mallorca, fielding a B side, will look terrible. Some random Real Madrid bench player will score a hat trick. The ambience sound will surprisingly reflect chants of ‘Así, así, así gana el Madrid’.
- Eibar (16th) – Valencia (8th): 2. 25/06, 19:30
Looks like Eibar’s coach Mendilibar was right to dread LaLiga’s comeback. His team appears rattled, as though they didn’t really wanted to finish this awkward season.
And while I wasn’t sure about Celades and Valencia, if they can get the magic Gonçalo Guedes back on track, anything is possible for such a physical and talented team.
- Betis (13th) – Espanyol (19th): X. 25/06, 22:00
Betis finally decided to sever ties with coach Rubi, after a series of disappointing results both before and after the CoVid break. If you judge his tenure by how his players bid him farewell, the outcome is very depressing. Only fullback Emerson offered some kind words on twitter, while the rest of the squad remained silent. Rubi has worked for nine different teams during the last nine years, which poses a huge question mark about his ability to perform, despite his usually good press.
Watching Betis has been hugely disappointing this season. Similarly to Celta, if you take a look at their squad, you’d be thinking they should challenge for a top six in a good season, nor less than the top 10 in an average one. Nine points away from relegation means they should not run that risk, but another couple of negative results and things could turn tense and very ugly.
I still believe that Abelardo can save Espanyol, but neither team look their best right now. Conservative ‘X’.
As usual, if you want to share your picks with us, be our guest. I’m not keeping track anymore…
- Villarreal (7th) –Sevilla (3rd):
- Leganés (20th) – Granada (9th):
- Levante (12th) – Atlético de Madrid (4th):
- Valladolid (14th) – Getafe (6th):
- Barcelona (1st) – Athletic de Bilbao (10th):
- Alavés (15th) – Osasuna (11th):
- Real Sociedad (5th) – Celta (17th):
- Real Madrid (2nd) – Mallorca (18th):
- Eibar (16th) – Valencia (8th):
- Betis (13th) – Espanyol (19th):