I must confess I’m quite enjoying Luis Enrique’s Spain. I know, I am a Real Madrid supporter and should be outraged because the opinionated Asturiano is not keen on our top-level Spanish talent: Nacho, Lucas Vazquez, Asensio, Isco… In addition to that, word has it that Lucho is selecting players represented by some close friends of his, which according to some is the only reason why Gavi, for instance, made the last list.
Look, after those years of glory (2008-2012) I don’t ask much of my national team. I know this sounds complacent, but I don’t care. I never expected Spain to win anything, so I’m more than satisfied with that incredible run. Now I settle for a team that make the most of the available talent and – perhaps mostly – play their hearts out every match. This team tick both boxes and adds a third: they take the game to the opposition, whoever that may be, and have them off the wrong foot for most of the match – which is unbelievable when you compare our arguably limited amount of talent with the squads that Italy or France currently boast.
Luis Enrique has built a team who believe in what they’re doing and is getting more than decent results. Indeed, the siege mentality also plays a part, and every press conference in which the gaffer defends his selection in front of the media increases his players’ motivation a bit more. He’s almost Mourinhoesque at that, if we remember the Jose Mourinho of yore. So yes, I’m a madridista and I really like this national team, even if Luis Enrique is the Real Madrid player I’ve booed the most BY FAR when he wore the white shirt.
[By the way, don’t tell Phil, but there’s one flaw in Morbo: Real Madrid fans did not turn on Luis Enrique because he left for Barcelona. We hated his guts well before he left, felt relief when he said he was leaving, and thought it made all the sense in the world when he announced he was going to Barcelona. That was the level of deterioration of our relationship with Lucho, the player. We were happy that he left for Barcelona because we could hate him even more without remorse.]
Let’s start. As usual, “1” means a home team win, “X” means draw and “2” points at a visitors’ victory.
1. Levante (18th) vs Getafe (20th): 1. (16/10, 18:30)
This early into the season and there’s a relegation battle to start the weekend. Both teams have replaced their respective coaches already and share the lead in the “Worst defences of LaLiga” race with 13 goals conceded in eight matches. This could be understandable from the trigger happy Levante, but makes no sense when you remember the solid Getafe of the last few seasons.
Despite their terrible position in the standings, we have seen a few sparks of talent from the hosts. The visitors are a complete mess. Can Quique Sánchez Flores save them from themselves? I really like the choice, even if Getafe’s president keeps going back to the same coach names time and again, but I guess this is still too early to see his hand on the team.
2. Real Sociedad (3rd) vs Mallorca (12th): X. (16/10, 21:00)
The hosts are going to offer last season’s Copa del Rey title to the fans in the stadium, something neither Fabio Capello nor myself like at all. Those celebrations distract the players and the fans and the home team usually starts trailing. Don’t ask me for stats on this, I’m old guard.
On top of that, Oyarzábal is out injured. One of the most in-shape players in world football at this point, the skilled forward can take his team to contend the title this season, assuming he manages to keep this form. Missing his offensive reference, Real Sociedad will drop points here. Lee on the scoresheet for Mallorca.
3. Rayo Vallecano (6th) vs Elche (14th): 1. (17/10, 14:00)
Four wins in eight matches have taken Rayo to the Europa League spots. The big question is how long this will last, as the team is painfully short and they have minimum support from an arguably horrendous club management. One example: if you visited the club’s shop this week, you wouldn’t have been able to buy shirts. None. When the team is in the sixth position and every English journo in Europe speaks about Rayo as some kind of depository of all that’s good and pure in club football. They should be selling shirts by the thousands and getting that cash to improve the team, but oh well…
I still see them winning this one, but do not discount the globetrotter-like Elche, who will be missing their starting duo of central defenders, but who have enough offensive talent to surprise most clubs. And if you like streaks, Elche have won eight of their last 10 matches in Vallecas…
4. Celta (16th) vs Sevilla (4th): 2. (17/10, 16:15)
These two clubs were relegated to the Third Division back in 1995 because of their absurd levels of debt (by the way, those same levels of debt today would make many of us laugh). And yes, they were reinstated for that glorious year with 22 teams in the Primera División.
Celta and Sevilla have also had plenty of players going from one squad to another in the past. Even today, Nolito, Denis Suárez and Iago Aspas show both teams in their curricula vitarum. However, Sevilla have achieved a status that Celta never got close to.
And if you look at this season, Sevilla look much more accomplished and tough than the hosts. Similarly to what happened between these two teams last season, Iago Aspas will shine, but Sevilla will take the three points.
5. Granada (17th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): TO BE PLAYED LATER ON
Seems like LaLiga is copying the worst habits of the Premier League. And this is going to continue in the next few weekends. Now we seem bound to spend half of the season with temporary rankings and 40% of clubs with one or two games in hand… Hate it.
6. Real Madrid (1st) vs Athletic de Bilbao (7th): TO BE PLAYED LATER ON
See previous match.
7. Villarreal (11th) vs Osasuna (5th): 1. (17/10, 18:30)
Osasuna 5th? Is this right? Yes, they’ve ground out four wins and two draws and have generally looked like the kind of team no one wants to play against. However, this is Villarreal, a team with one of the most intriguing forwards in Yeremy Pino with a rested set of quality players that will want to trounce Osasuna. Had this taken place after a European midweek match I’d probably think differently, but in this case Villarreal must prevail.
8. Barcelona (9th) vs Valencia (8th): 2. (17/10, 21:00)
Most interesting match of the weekend by far: we have the chance to witness Koeman’s reaction to the impressive performances of his players, especially Busquets, with Spain. We’ll be able to see if he dares to insist with that trio at the back that frustrates most Barcelona fans. We’ll hear the Camp Nou’s reception to the Dutchman, who has made clear that will not leave unless he’s paid what he’s owed, as one does. And we’ll see if the bunch of young talents that the Dutch coach has promoted to the first team can carry the team on their shoulders for one more week.
And of course, there’s also the morbo of watching Koeman in a weak position facing his former team, Valencia, from where he left in the worst possible terms with the club and with some specific players…
In the other corner, Bordalás’ Valencia, an invigorated club that despite having done their financial homework by letting go plenty of talent in the summer, still have plenty of players who can drive any defence nuts. Even if some Barcelona players come back from national team duty on a high, I see this as an organised, disciplined side playing away against a team for which any play can generate chaos on and off the pitch. Guedes will channel his inner Piojo López and will drive Koeman nuts, this time on the bench.
This is probably a gutsy call, but is the clearest away win I’ve seen in a while.
9. Alavés (19th) vs Betis (10th): 2. (18/10, 19:00)
If Pellegrini’s kids can’t win this, they don’t deserve to be in Europe next season. There is nothing good to say about Alavés… well, if we leave aside their shock win over Atletico three weeks ago.
10. Espanyol (13th) vs Cádiz (15th): 1. (18/10, 21:00)
My thesis: Cadiz performed a miracle by staying up last season and are going to the Segunda at the end of this one no matter what. It’s hard to see a squad as short as theirs in the top level. Espanyol, on the other hand, have a few decent players and a coach that still controls his dressing room. Easy home win.
- Levante (18th) vs Getafe (20th):
- Real Sociedad (3rd) vs Mallorca (12th):
- Rayo Vallecano (6th) vs Elche (14th):
- Celta (16th) vs Sevilla (4th):
- Granada (17th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Real Madrid (1st) vs Athletic de Bilbao (7th):
- Villarreal (11th) vs Osasuna (5th):
- Barcelona (9th) vs Valencia (8th):
- Alavés (19th) vs Betis (10th):
- Espanyol (13th) vs Cádiz (15th):