The weekend after a set of fixtures in the European competitions is always ripe for upsets. And if you throw in the fact that the traditional top three (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico) haven’t looked themselves since the season started, this could be the first matchday in which all three fail to win their games. That is indeed a rare combination, however one which this column believes will happen several times this campaign.
Am I exaggerating? Well, after a hesitant beginning of their post-Messi life, Barcelona now have to recover from one of the most humbling defeats ever at the Camp Nou, as Bayern didn’t even break sweat and won 3-0. In a lacklustre display with Courtois in hero mode, Real Madrid struggled for most of their Champions League match against Inter to steal a win in extra time. They have conceded six goals in four La Liga matches so far. And Atletico, with one of the most intimidating squads they’ve ever had, don’t seem to be able to find the right combination to extract the best out of their talent.
The challengers / outsiders got great results in midweek (how on earth Sevilla got away with that draw is inexplicable, yes, but Villarreal, Real Sociedad and Betis did very well), which strengthens the thesis that many defend: this season it will be a lot of fun if you enjoy chaotic tournaments and successions of upsets. And yes, this is going to be quite an entertaining weekend indeed.
1. Celta (18th) vs Cádiz (16th): 1. (17/09, 21:00)
I’ve said a few times that I’d support Coudet’s Celta until it sunk, and it seems like the time is getting near. He’s an entertaining coach, his team is packed with talent and youth, but things haven’t clicked yet and when you’re in relegation positions with such a squad you should be asking yourself very tough questions.
Celta played a courageous match at the Bernabeu, but went back to Vigo with five goals conceded. With only one point after four matches they must win against the ultra defensive Cadiz. The most talented player in the visitors’ squad, Andone, won’t be able to play as he’s still getting up to speed, so I can’t see the visitors scoring. Last season this same fixture ended 4-0 with very similar teams. It’s win or bust for Coudet.
2. Rayo Vallecano (12th) vs Getafe (19th): 2. (18/09, 14:00)
The most unexpected signing of the season, Radamel Falcao for Rayo, will start on Saturday afternoon in Vallecas. Wearing #3 in a homage to his father, who played with that number, the sight of El Tigre in the popular Madrid neighbourhood will be one to remember. It’s unclear how fit he is as he’s not been able to play more than 20 matches in any of the last two seasons , but as long as he’s 50% of his top form he can help Rayo quite a lot.
Getafe have started the season off the wrong foot. The comeback of Real Madrid’s legend Michel to the bench where he once excelled hasn’t been successful, and similarly to Coudet, he’s another manager who could lose his job before the end of September. Judging by how they’ve played so far, this should be an easy win for Rayo, but something tells me this is one of those matches in which the visiting team takes advantage of their greater experience and get an unexpected win which will relieve Michel for a few days at least.
3. Atlético de Madrid (3rd) vs Athletic (5th): 2. (18/09, 16:15)
Reminder: Marcelino García Toral is a great coach. He may not have the type of players he prefers in Bilbao, but he always manages to extract a lot more from his squads than one would expect at first sight. I have been downplaying Athletic since the season kicked off and at this point I got tired of being proven wrong. They’re undefeated and, for the first time since Simeone coaches Atletico, I believe they’re going to win in Madrid.
It’s hard to know what’s wrong with Atleti. Ok, there’s nothing terribly wrong with their results – 3rd in La Liga and a home draw with Porto in the Champions League – but we didn’t expect them to depend on Correa with such a loaded set of offensive players. Several times in the past Simeone has tried to add more flair to the team but he’s never succeeded. His best model, with a pure 9 (Costa or Suarez) and Griezmann floating behind him should work, but now he’s got many other offensive options and it seems hard for him to make them work together. I see Athletic taking advantage of the predictable tiredness of the hosts. Inaki Williams on the scoresheet.
4. Elche (10th) vs Levante (14th): 1. (18/09, 18:30)
This is indeed a derby of the Valencian community. I’ve chosen the Football manager squad of Elche as my pet team this season, full of random signings and players that you thought were playing elsewhere. I know the experience is on the visitors’ side, but Boyé, Lucas Perez, Mojica and co are going to upset quite a few old dogs this year.
5. Alavés (20th) vs Osasuna (11th): X. (18/09, 21:00)
Last weekend, Osasuna scored first against Valencia to then concede four goals in a fantastic performance by the visitors. We have not seen the rough Osasuna of previous seasons yet, but this weekend should be different. Alaves have lost the plot in La Liga and they’re my biggest candidate for relegation next year. Eight goals conceded in three matches while they convey the genuine feeling that their squad is not top level. They can salvage a point against an Osasuna side who struggle to score away from home, but that’s all.
6. Mallorca (8th) vs Villarreal (13th): 1. (19/09, 14:00)
Two super fun teams to watch for the beginning of Sunday afternoon. I tend to favour the home side, as Villarreal had an extremely demanding match vs Atalanta on Tuesday. Mallorca should be rested and ready to put pressure on the visitors, who have conceded two draws in the final minutes of their last two matches (that mistake from Rulli last weekend, good God).
7. Real Sociedad (4th) vs Sevilla (6th): X. (19/09, 16:15)
Another extremely appealing match between two solid candidates to CL positions at the end of the season and, who knows, perhaps something else too. You already know that I would like the hosts to be slightly more physical, but they seem to be improving in that end of late. Sevilla looked legitimately lost in their CL fixture on Tuesday and made so many mistakes that they were unrecognisable. Lamela is becoming important as a source of unexpected plays and will add a lot to the side as the season progresses.
Both sides will be tired after their demanding midweek matches, so I’ll go for an “X”.
8. Betis (9th) vs Espanyol (15th): 1. (19/09, 18:30)
A few seasons ago this would have been a contested match. Nowadays, if Betis don’t get all three points it’ll be quite an upset. The hosts played an electrifying Europa League match on Thursday so that could be felt on Sunday, but they still have enough depth on the bench to overcome the visitors. Former Betis player Loren will want to prove his old club wrong. Still, Espanyol will need a miracle to get a point in Sevilla.
9. Valencia (2nd) vs Real Madrid (1st): 1. (19/09, 21:00)
This match has everything to become Real Madrid’s first defeat under Carletto in his second phase in the club. Valencia are absolutely on fire, have recovered Gonçalo Guedes for the cause and seems like the fit between the club and coach Bordalás is total. The hosts are rested, they hate the visitors in a rivalry that has increased quite remarkably during the last decade and they would love to get all three points on Sunday.
Real Madrid have better results than their performances would suggest so far. At some point that has to change, and I can’t see them dominating proceedings in Valencia, especially against this Valencia. On Wednesday we saw the tiring Modric, their lack of offensive alternatives and the already customary gaps at the back that were covered by an amazing Courtois. And this comes after the Celta and Levante matches, neither of them performances which gave reasons to be proud.
I’m not sure how long the Valencia resurrection with last. I’ve spoken about Guedes comebacks three or four times so far in the past, but he’s been unable to sustain the level he showed four seasons ago. Let’s hope this one is for real, because the Portuguese playmaker is a joy to watch when inspired.
10. Barcelona (7th) vs Granada (17th): X. (20/09, 21:00)
And to cap off a weekend of upsets, yes, I believe that Barcelona will not defeat Granada. The hosts’ performance against Bayern was so underwhelming that I could not believe my own eyes, especially after their match the weekend before was suspended: They were on ten days’ rest and were never physically close to the Germans, which was hugely concerning.
Some players in their starting unit seem 10 years older after Messi left, which is something understandable, but I don’t quite buy the logic of many Azulgranas who want Koeman to start all the teenagers. That would be suicidal for the club and for the teenagers themselves. You can add some spice here and there with one or two youngsters who give you an edge in specific positions, but there’s a reason why most clubs don’t start 7/8 under 20 players on their line-ups. This is the pros, they will get manhandled.
So Koeman – who won’t be fired anytime soon because the club can’t afford to do so, they haven’t even paid Setién yet! – will probably stick to what he had last week with a couple of young players added to appease his critics, but the issue at Barcelona is not Koeman’s fault. The squad was not competitive in Europe, as we saw in consecutive and embarrassing CL exits in the last few seasons, and only Messi sustained them in Spain. In the first few matches of the season it seemed that Depay could pick up the slack, but now I’m not so sure.
Every club visiting the Camp Nou will fancy their chance at an upset against this weakened Barcelona, and Granada are no different.
- Celta (18th) vs Cádiz (16th):
- Rayo Vallecano (12th) vs Getafe (19th):
- Atlético de Madrid (3rd) vs Athletic (5th):
- Elche (10th) vs Levante (14th):
- Alavés (20th) vs Osasuna (11th):
- Mallorca (8th) vs Villarreal (13th):
- Real Sociedad (4th) vs Sevilla (6th):
- Betis (9th) vs Espanyol (15th):
- Valencia (2nd) vs Real Madrid (1st):
- Barcelona (7th) vs Granada (17th):