Koeman’s bed & breakfast, and stateless sheriffs
Three things are inevitable this weekend: I’ll forget where I’ve put my underpants, the cock will crow at the onset of dawn, and Barcelona will win at Atlético. You may scoff at the latter, but both Eduardo and myself agree on the inevitability of this result, which means that you’ll get at least one correct on this weekend’s quiniela.
Why such a counter-intuitive opening paragraph, you ask? This is because the bad karma that daily visits Laporta will strike its final blow on Saturday night. The last thing the beleaguered president now requires is for his weary and media-whipped team to fight tooth-and-nail for the preservation of Ronnie Koeman, not the easiest of chaps to like but a scapegoat who will prove useful for Laporta to turn what he hopes might be the last page in this sorry saga. Koeman was never his man – we all know that – but you could argue that he’s done a half-decent job in wretched circumstances. Two warring men, you might argue, who nevertheless accepted jobs in waters they could already see were turbulent, but only one of whom will be walking away with a 13 million contractual pay-off, money that Barça can hardly afford.
Then again, the Barcelona players may ‘make Koeman’s bed’ (hacerle la cama) – a wonderful Spanish phrase to mean that they’ll lose in order to get rid of him, although that would be an unlikely conclusion to a home win, since most people expect that anyway, along with Griezmann and Suarez both on the score-sheet. But Barça will win. You read it here first. Oh – and I once had breakfast with Koeman (and his agent) in a hotel in Barcelona, but I’ll save that story for another day. And in case you were wondering, he prefers his eggs sunny-side-up.
However, the weekend does have other points of interest. Real Madrid are also licking their wounds post-Champions, having lost to a team that nobody knew about and whose victory has now put Transnistria on the map and led to a thousand erudite podcasters pretending that they knew beforehand. Real Madrid once helped a fascist dictator to consolidate power and stick up a finger in the direction of the Commies. Now they’ve given Putin hopes of recovering a bit of land and Transnistria competing in the next CONIFA World Cup. You don’t know what that is? Google will tell you, but never forget how educational an experience it is to read Liga Fever.
Talking of education, let’s take a look at this weekend’s post-Champions League hangover fixtures.
Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win. Good luck.
1. Athletic (10th) vs Alavés (19th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
Another Basque derby, although now Eibar have gone there are fewer this season. Alavés seemed intent on further reducing the region’s presence in the top-flight until last week, when they upset the quiniela by beating Atlético in Vitoria and giving themselves some hope in the process. It was backs-to-the-wall stuff however, and although they may have had their morale boosted, Athletic will be in no mood to let this one slip. Athletic bounced back from the Rayo reverse with a good performance at in-form Valencia, and deserved more than a draw. Despite almost identical personnel to last season, they seem to be picking up. Home win.
2. Osasuna (9th) vs Rayo (5th): X. (Sab, 14:00)
Osasuna seem to be bafflingly inconsistent this season so far, a fact which mirrors their mid-table position, but they’re always tricky to play at home. Nevertheless, Rayo are surfin’ the Falcao wave and looking interesting all round. I like that baldy guy, Isi, and with Unai López more happily installed at the club where he cut his teeth (on loan) and Pathé Ciss looking like the best defender to emerge from these opening weeks, this is going to be a tight one. I’ll sit on the fence and go for a draw (but a scoring one).
3. Mallorca (12th) vs Levante (17th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
Mallorca, like the Osasuna they lost to last week, can’t quite seem to decide on who they are and on how they want to play (give it to Kubo and see) but they’re on a bad run (three defeats from the last four) and they’re shipping too many goals – 9 in the last two games. This second home game on the trot should give them a chance to stop the rot because Levante are also less resilient than last season, it would seem. Two points from the last 5 games is a poor return and they look like being dragged into the mire if they don’t wake up soon. They did Barcelona a favour last week (3-0) and managed to make them look good, which is some achievement these days, coupled with the fact that they’re one of the three teams still not to have won this season. I reckon Mallorca will scrape it, but it’s a tricky one to predict.
4. Cádiz (15th) vs Valencia (8th): 2. (Sat, 18:30)
Another interesting one this. Cádiz are the team that everyone seems to love, largely because everyone loves Cádiz (the city). The team, however, are as dull as ditchwater this season, and are making bus-parking and drinking their major tactical innovation. Their coach, Álvaro Cervera, is a great study in human expression – never once allowing a smile to crack his face and particularly narked this weekend after some of his players went out on the piss in midweek. It’s thus hard to warm to them this season, however, with their ultra-negative approach and some niggly fouling to go with it. I reckon Valencia will be too good for those that are allowed to play by Cervera, and the psycho Bordalás won’t be at all worried by the hosts’ physical approach. In fact he’ll relish it. The sparks may fly but it’s an easy away win for me.
5. Atlético Madrid (4th) vs Barcelona (6th): 2. (Sat- 21:00)
You already know the prediction, and despite Atlético’s virtuous win in Milan and the contrasting fortunes of Barça at Benfica, this is a game that both sides could probably have done without, at this stage. The obvious point to make is that Barça’s back line is struggling and Atlético’s strike-force will be out to prove a point, but things are rarely so simple. With Ansu Fati back and Gavi looking like an unpredictable element, Pedri restored and Depay capable of anything, it’s far from a foregone conclusion. The visitors still haven’t lost in the league (a point often overlooked) and Atlético are looking jittery in general, as though they can’t quite settle on the right team configuration. And…in a perverse sense, Barcelona have nothing to lose. Away win.
6. Elche (16th) vs Celta (13th): 2. (Sun- 14:00)
Elche look half-decent and will probably stay up. I saw them last week and forgot to mention their left-sided full-back, Johan Mojica. What’s he been doing all my life? My American guest at the game, a perceptive neutral observer, quipped after some 30 minutes ‘That guy’s playing on the wrong team’, which was a kind nod to Real Sociedad’s superiority (he did get a freebie on me) but it was also true. What a player – but he might not be enough to keep them from struggling in the nether regions this season. Up against them are the weirdest team in the top flight, one who make Osasuna’s inconsistency look relatively stable. And yet what everyone says about them is true – that the overall quality of their squad should see them eventually competing for a Europa space, and Santi Mina’s back this weekend. They’ve just picked up two wins on the trot and this will probably be their third. Elche still haven’t won at home, and one suspects this will continue on Sunday, despite the return of Lucas Boyé to their line-up.
7. Espanyol (14th) vs Real Madrid (1st): X. (Sun – 16:15)
It’s tempting to say that RM will take the midweek trauma into this game, but although it’s easy to poke fun about not shooting the sheriff, the truth is that they didn’t play badly. It was just one of those nights when Vinicius couldn’t work a deflection and the opposing goalie decided to play a blinder. I must reluctantly admit that Madrid look decent this season, despite the obvious problems of the rear-guard and the new Casemiro-Camavinga dilemma. I don’t mean one-or-the-other but rather the obvious puzzle this creates for their overall tactical approach.
Espanyol lost at Sevilla last week, but that’s no crime. Vicente Moreno is doing a decent job, they got a good draw at in-form Betis quite recently and are quite tight at the back this time around. The traditional notion that Espanyol is actually a Real Madrid fan-club in disguise can sometimes distract from the truth of this game, which is basically that the hosts will be going for it. I reckon it’ll be a draw.
8. Getafe (20th) vs Real Sociedad (2nd ): X. (Sun – 18:30)
Well you’d put a ‘2’ for this one if you were looking at the league positions and the happy attractiveness of the visitors, as opposed to the dark clouds hanging over Getafe. Bottom without a point, Michel is still hanging in there, like Koeman above. The return of Isak to Real’s injury-prone side won’t be good news for him either, but he’s also welcoming players back from injury, and faces a shit-or-bust situation. The visitors will be tired after Thursday’s Europa game against Monaco, and the youngsters who have been drafted in have played well, but there are limits. Getafe are playing differently under Michel, which is part of the problem, but I think they’ll pick up their first point on Sunday. Sociedad have a great squad and set-up (Michel dixit: ‘We want to be like them’) but with 9 players still in dry dock, there are limits to their possibilities.
9. Villarreal 11th) vs Betis (7th): x. (Sun – 18:30)
Villarreal are traditional slow-starters, but their quality is still there in abundance – frightening Man Utd in midweek and deserving at least a point from the Theatre of Screams. But this could be the game of the weekend, with Betis seemingly able to do no wrong and Willian José slotting in nicely with the other ex-Sociedad striker Juanmi to form a more coherent strike-force than that offered by Borja Iglesias …and with Carvalho, Fekir and Canales, it’s looking good again for the green and whites. Why isn’t Canales playing for Spain? Good question. Oh and Betis won their Europa tie on Thursday. Result? No idea. I’d like to stick my neck out and go with Betis’ feel-good factor but it looks like an obvious draw to me.
10. Granada (18th) vs Sevilla (3rd): 2. (Sun – 21:00)
It’s another away win, with Granada on a single point in 5 games and their rather annoying manager (Robert Moreno) joining Michel and Koeman on the gibbet. Granada actually look the worst side in the league at the moment, which is odd, given their character and resilience last season. Sevilla are not as good as folks are suggesting, but they’ll be too good for Granada in this derby situation. The hosts will park the bus and might scrape a draw, but I don’t think so. Sevilla will be more tired after their midweek exertions at Wolfsburgo, but I’m still going for an away win.
1. Athletic (10th) vs Alavés (19th):
2. Osasuna (9th) vs Rayo (5th):
3. Mallorca (12th) vs Levante (17th):
4. Cádiz (15th) vs Valencia (8th):
5. Atlético Madrid (4th) vs Barcelona (6th):
6. Elche (16th) vs Celta (13th):
7. Espanyol (14th) vs Real Madrid (1st):
8. Getafe (20th) vs Real Sociedad (2nd ):
9. Villarreal 11th) vs Betis (7th):
10. Granada (18th) vs Sevilla (3rd):