Bye, European Glory
One used to think that the balance of power in LaLiga was not good for the tournament itself, but great for European competitions. Let me explain: three top teams (Barcelona, Real Madrid and yes, Atletico as long as Simeone is their coach), five or six middle class who can compete with anyone on a given day (Sevilla, Villarreal, Athletic, Real Sociedad, Valencia and perhaps even Betis) and then the remaining teams who struggle to survive and get a famous win every once in a while. Three clear tiers with obvious consequences for the competition in Spain and the chances to challenge for a European title.
Of course, only the first three teams could win LaLiga and that was bad for the competition. But the first two levels worked in terms of cash allocation and ability to sign talent so that LaLiga would do well in the Champions League and the Europa League. Just take a look at the results in the last 15 years, pretty much since Sevilla started to impress in Europe.
Now the top two have been beheaded: Messi-less Barcelona are bankrupt and Cristiano-less Real Madrid haven’t made a real signing since Hazard arrived, and we all know how that’s gone so far. One could make a case that Atleti have a better team than both and that Sevilla have a deeper squad too. So on the bright side of things, this LaLiga season will indeed be the most interesting one in almost twenty years. The flip side of this will be Europe. I can’t see Spanish teams doing well in the Champions League (not even Atletico, who still need a proven scoring forward who can give the ageing Suarez some rest) or the Europa League (a decade of cash raining over the mid table English teams has finally paid off, and now our middle class can’t compete with them unless they’re magically inspired, like Villarreal vc Man Utd).
Is the CVC contract — the so called IMPULSO — the solution? It will help the middle class, but not in the sense that many expect. 70% of the money has to go to infra projects (stadium, merchandising structure, training grounds, youth teams), so they won’t be able to bring new players in the short term. The fact is that unless a major model change happens, and that has to do with the Spanish football product being sold better abroad, it’s always going to be an uphill battle from now on.
Can Tebas bring that type of change? He’s been trying many fronts at the same time, but I can’t see a serious, well structured strategy behind his moves. It’s better if we prepare for the worst in terms of competitiveness in Europe, I guess. Who knows, we may be pleasantly surprised at some point.
- Levante (13th)) vs Rayo Vallecano (10th): 1. (11/09, 18:30)
The biggest news of the year for Rayo fans: Radamel Falcao is back in Madrid to play for the thunder-striped outfit. There had been plenty of rumours about this transaction, but I have to say I never thought it would become true. To the ageing aficionados it does ring some bells of Hugo Sanchez’s last spell in La Liga, when he scored 16 goals in 29 matches. His more than decent numbers – he was 35 – didn’t prevent Rayo from being relegated that season, let’s hope Radamel brings better luck. The Colombian will be introduced to the team on Monday.
This one indeed looks like a walk in the park for the home side, better and deeper than Rayo. So deep in fact that coach Lopez has 27 players to choose from, among them two veterans such as Mustafi and Soldado. The former will wear number 13 this season, something bizarre as he’s no goalie. One of the collectors, I guess.
- Villarreal (15th) vs Alavés (19th): (POSTPONED)
This match has been postponed due to the arrival of the Conmebol players from South America the day before the match. There’s no new date yet.
- Athletic (9th) vs Mallorca (6th): 2. (11/09, 21:00)
One of the nicest surprises after three matches is how much fun to watch Mallorca are. Kubo, Dani Rodriguez and Fer Niño guarantee excitement and goals, and the signing of Kang In Lee should also help to keep the offence fresh and unpredictable.
This account respects Marcelino’s work immensely, but this Athletic lacks plenty of assets to make the team recognisable in Marcelinean terms. No wings, no freshness, lack of fight… Having let Unai Lopez go, and analysing where the players who leave Athletic go, it’s clear that the team have a quite significant talent issue, and the squad is not getting any younger. A daring ‘2’ for the so far brave Mallorca.
- Sevilla (2nd) vs Barcelona (4th): POSTPONED
This match has been postponed due to the arrival of the Conmebol players from South America the day before the match. There’s no new date yet. Mierda, I was dying to watch this one.
- Espanyol (16th) vs Atlético de Madrid (5th): 2. (12/09, 14:00)
So yes, Griezmann is back. He got his hair cut, said all the right things and he even has the chance to score away from home to soften his comeback to the Wanda. Let’s remember his plaque at the Atletico stadium has suffered a fair (or unfair) deal of deterioration at the hands of hurt fans, but we all know that it will only take a couple of good performances to make that go away.
With the best squad one can remember, Atletico are clear title favourites. Vicente Moreno, Espanyol’s coach, also believes that, and he knows his side’s main challenge is scoring. I can’t see them defeating Atleti, especially with Antoine and Luis Suarez dying to impress in the city that let them go.
- Osasuna (8th) vs Valencia (3rd): X. (12/09, 16:15)
After a couple of 0-0 draws, Osasuna finally wore their scoring boots and won 3-2 at Cadiz, so they’re undefeated and in the right half of the table. Not bad for a team that’s supposed to struggle at the end of the season. Valencia have started even better under their former foe Bordalas, and you really start to wonder what he can do with a competitive squad after years of overperforming with the budget-constrained Getafe.
Valencia aren’t swimming in cash either, but they do have a few players that many teams could never afford, plus a more than decent stream of competent players coming from the youth teams. If Bordalas can get Gonçalo Guedes to shine after two years of irrelevance, this could be an extremely fun side to watch. In any case, this won’t be a match for the faint of heart. Both sides like to play to the limit physically.
I’m going for the controversial draw here and a couple of sending offs as well.
- Cádiz (12th) vs Real Sociedad (7th): 2. (12/09, 18:30)
The old tricky fixture between a hard, tackle-happy side (Cadiz) and a soft, elegant one (Real Sociedad). The hosts don’t look as solid at the back as they did last season, and they’ve conceded in all matches so far. For the visitors, this will be the first of seven matches in 22 days, with PSV Eindhoven awaiting in midweek.
The gap in talent in favour of the visitors is huge. Let’s bet on the ‘2’ and wait for Phil to explain to us on Monday why Real did not prevail.
- Real Madrid (1st) vs Celta (18th): 1. (12/09, 21:00)
We’ve been here before: Real Madrid won’t be able to contend for the title unless some of the have beens (Hazard, Bale) suddenly recover some kind of form AND one of the young talents (Vini, Rodrygo) starts to demonstrate his true level. One of them won’t be enough, and the two of them happening seems very unlikely. That is one of the reasons why bringing Mbappe this season was very important: chances are that this will be another empty year in terms of trophies.
That said, I like what I’ve seen from Carletto so far. He seems more into it than I would have expected, and his ideas on roles and line-ups have been spot on. The visitors have been extremely disappointing so far, so I can’t see Celta spoiling the party on the first match at the brand new Bernabeu, although neighbours Depor did star in the famous Centenariazo, back in 2002.
- Getafe (19th) vs Elche (15th): X. (13/09, 20:00)
Life after Bordalas will be extremely painful for Getafe. The former coach was able to extract a lot more from their players than anyone in their sane minds would expect. This season’s Getafe look and behave like a relegation candidate, and that will only make every match feel worse. Elche will arrive in Madrid smelling blood, and with a bunch of reinforcements that look extremely interesting. Javier Pastore and Lucas Boyé, in very different moments of their respective careers, make me want to watch every Elche match, which is indeed a first.
I’ll be cautious, but this “X” could well be a “2”.
- Granada (17th) vs Betis (14th): 1. (13/09, 22:00)
Neither team have won so far, which is especially surprising for two clubs who have invested well in their squads and coaching staff in the last 18 months. Betis’ Pellegrini is happy with the hirings – Bellerín should be of help, motivated to impress his family full of Betis supporters – and needs a win to repay that confidence.
On Granada’s side, coach Moreno – yes, the one who tried to get Luis Enrique’s job as the Spain manager took a leave of absence after a very tough family problem – is also impressed with his squad and we could see that he can get a team up and running in his time with the Spanish national team. I’ll go for the ‘1’ as Pelle has had less time to work with his signings and Granada looked decent enough at home last season.
As usual, you’re welcome to post your predictions:
- Levante (13th)) vs Rayo Vallecano (10th):
- Villarreal (15th) vs Alavés (19th): POSTPONED
- Athletic (9th) vs Mallorca (6th):
- Sevilla (2nd) vs Barcelona (4th): POSTPONED
- Espanyol (16th) vs Atlético de Madrid (5th):
- Osasuna (8th) vs Valencia (3rd):
- Cádiz (12th) vs Real Sociedad (7th):
- Real Madrid (1st) vs Celta (18th):
- Getafe (19th) vs Elche (15th):
- Granada (17th) vs Betis (14th):