Are Barcelona really at the end of an extremely successful cycle? I’m not going to dwell on what I wrote last week about the boredom that their current incarnation brings to the average football fan. The point is a different one this time: it’s not only that the sports side of things looks old, but especially that the club structure, eroded by years of poor management and ill-advised decisions, seems ready to implode.
The decision to sell Arthur and buy Pjanic, obviously a financial one in a desperate attempt to keep the books going as the club takes advantage of the curious way to account for players’ purchases and sales, is not an isolated fact: it’s exactly the same trick they used with Neto and Cilessen, and at this point one feels that it is almost imperative to keep things going financially. This thread by the great @swissramble explains it well. It hurts the future of the squad, it sends the wrong signal to fans and youth team players and solves none of the issues the current team suffers from. But they needed to do it.
The club elections, due in 2021, will see two strong candidates fight for the job in Joan Laporta and Hector Font. It’s likely that the winner will be the one who manages to lure Xavi Hernandez for their project. But whoever wins will have to deal with plenty of financial issues that could hamper their ability to turn things around, especially when the new president, due for a six-year tenure, will have to deal with the revamp of the current team and… Messi’s retirement!
- Mallorca (18th) vs Celta (17th): 1 30/06 19:30
Eight points away from salvation, Mallorca desperately need to win this one, especially because they face the team right on top of them. Defeating Celta is their only chance to get the Viguenses anxious again after the visitors put together four consecutive undefeated matches with eight points, including a draw against Barcelona that could very well have become a win, right Nolito?
If Celta win or draw in Mallorca, the relegation battle could almost be over. With only six matches left, the gap between the bottom three and the fourth worst side would be huge. Therefore, this is a bet just to keep things interesting. Kubo finally delivers not a couple of nice plays, but a great all-round performance and the island recovers the faith to remain in La Liga.
- Leganés (19th) vs Sevilla (4th): 2 30/06 21:00
Similarly to Mallorca, Lega desperately need three points if they want to stay up, but the problem is that they face Sevilla. The visitors have tied their last three matches, and while they looked bound for a third-place finish, they’ve now lost that battle to Atletico de Madrid and have to take care of Getafe and Villarreal, who would die for a top four spot and Champions League football next season.
Leganes will probably feel the heat more than Sevilla, but even if Oscar Rodriguez is lighting it up with his amazing range, Lopetegui’s team are far deeper and should win in Madrid. Anything different would be a major upset, but remember that we’re now in that weird part of the year…
- Barcelona (2nd) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th): 1 30/06 22:00
Yes, they look like they hate each other when they’re on the pitch, and that seems even worse when they take one of those hydration breaks. But they’re bound to react, aren’t they?
Last weekend, Setien listened to those who demanded fresh blood on the pitch, but in fact one of the few things that really worked for him in Vigo was the old Messi – Suarez combo, the one that got them both goals. Obviously Puig and Fati need a lot more playing time to prove their worth, the problem being that the season has become a six-match sprint and they need performances now, not in the future. The title is at stake and it is understandable that the coach opted for the tried and tested, tired as that may look right now.
But I believe that the tables have turned in that sense, especially because Setien now knows that he and his assistant Eder Sarabia will be out the door once the season is over – that’s how long the purest heir to Cruyff’s crown has lasted at Can Barça. He’ll probably want to be remembered by some as a Barcelona coach, and his best bet is to get these few youngsters as many minutes as possible, even if they face one of the most professional / tough / cynical / disliked sides in LaLiga.
Under the rebirth of Marcos Llorente as a false nine, Atletico have enjoyed a great spell with four consecutive wins. They have no upside other that their pride at this point. Can they surprise Barcelona? I don’t think so. If this match were played with public, they would have had a puncher’s chance of getting the Camp Nou irritated with every passing minute, but in this case I believe that the empty stadium favours the locals.
- Alavés (16th) vs Granada (10th): 1 01/07 19:30
The visitors came back from the break doing well, but that win over Getafe feels way too distant now. They haven’t been able to win again and with nothing to play for, they play like the season couldn’t finish early enough.
The hosts need one more win to embrace salvation and stay up one more year, which is an amazing achievement for the humble club. Kudos to them.
- Valencia (8th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (9th): 1. 01/07 19:30
Two of the big clubs meet when far from their best this season, but they play for the last Europa League spot available, currently in the hands of the faltering Real Sociedad. Valencia’s coach Celades has just been fired, having underperformed his predecessor Marcelino in about every dimension you could think of, and Athletic, Copa del Rey finalists, haven’t been able to replicate that form in their La Liga campaign. The visitors have been terrible all season away from home, and Valencia usually react well to changes in management, so let’s go for that champagne effect.
But even if the pick is ‘1’, what the future holds for Valencia is quite concerning indeed. Peter Lim’s team has consistently made every wrong decision in the book, and one struggles to see how they can lead this club to recover their status in Spanish football.
- Betis (13th) vs Villarreal (6th): 2. 01/07 22:00
Before anything else, if you haven’t seen Gerard Moreno’s goal, please do. It’s an amazing piece of skill from Cazorla and the striker himself, and the play as such is extremely special.
It’s a perfect example of what Villarreal have managed to become after the break: four wins and one draw that have taken them to the top six, still with the chance to get to Champions League football spots. We’re now seeing what this team promised for the last two years: an entertaining, classy outfit who take care of the ball, create plays based on outstanding passing and movement, and finally have a finisher who does his job as expected.
While the visitors keep improving, Betis have become their own bizarro version. They have some of the elements, but they all seem out of synch. Four points after five post-break matches have taken them down in the standings, and judging by their body language they’re dying for the season to end. I’ll be shocked if Villarreal can’t win in Sevilla.
- Valladolid (14th) vs Levante (12th): 1 01/07 22:00
The hosts probably have one of the most limited squads in the competition, but they keep grinding out results week after week, and there’s still six teams worse than them. That said, they can’t afford any slip-ups, but Levante’s visit is the perfect day for them to get three points. The visitors have nothing to play for after Morales and Mayoral demolished Betis last week, and this looks like one of those matches in which you do someone else a favour so that you have something to call when the time is right.
Let’s see if Ronaldo Fenomeno can get some signings going for the home side. Otherwise, nest season will be even tougher than this one.
- Eibar (15th) vs Osasuna (11th):1 02/07 19:30
One liner for this one: the home side wins along the same lines of the previous match. Pity that Osasusa lost Chimy Avila, because they looked like they could challenge for a higher finish this season.
- Real Sociedad (7th) vs Espanyol (20th): 1 02/07 19:30
I’ll leave Phil to analyse what has happened with his team after the break, but the fact is that they have lost four and tied one. Before this comeback they were thinking of Champions League football next season and they now have to contend against Valencia and Athletic for the last Europa League spot. Odegaard looks like a sad shadow of himself, while the team’s class has disappeared every time the opponents have used some tricks to get the realistas out of the match.
Poor Espanyol can’t do that, and at this point it seems sensible to abandon coach Abelardo’s bandwagon. It was great while it lasted, old lad.
- Real Madrid (1st) vs Getafe (5th): 1 02/07 22:00
Well, that was an amazing play, indeed. 10 years later Benz returned Guti’s favour with a play that regardless of the comparison with that previous taconazo, it was key for the hosts to increase their lead over Barcelona.
Zidane has invigorated the team, no questions about that, and they look as focused as ever to win the championship. I’d be more concerned with the pre-break Getafe, but their comeback has lacked the focus and aggression the team displayed before. They’ve only defeated Real Sociedad in their last five matches, and that’s probably because the realistas were the perfect prey for them in terms of frailty.
Zidane has gone back to his rotations, and even if the wins have been quite tight, they’ve generated the belief the team needed to go for this title. Hazard still owes some final product, but something tells me that we’ll see that in the next couple of matches. Eden plays himself in shape bit by bit, and we should see him at his best in the next couple of weeks.
- Mallorca (18th) vs Celta (17th):
- Leganés (19th) vs Sevilla (4th):
- Barcelona (2nd) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th):
- Alavés (16th) vs Granada (10th):
- Valencia (8th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (9th):
- Betis (13th) vs Villarreal (6th):
- Valladolid (14th) vs Levante (12th):
- Eibar (15th) vs Osasuna (11th):
- Real Sociedad (7th) vs Espanyol (20th):
- Real Madrid (1st) vs Getafe (5th):