No digression today. There’s a Barça Madrid this weekend! And even if it’s never an easy call, it’s hard to remember a moment as lopsided as this. Barcelona do look like a club on the brink of implosion: the financial situation, the coach’s relationship with the fans, the stadium falling apart, the request for additional credit to build a new stadium when it’s already hard making ends meet with the current debt. And yet, there’s still a handful of young players wearing the Azulgrana who could make this a hard outing for Real Madrid…
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
1. Osasuna (5th) vs Granada (17th): 1. (22/10, 21:00)
The only thing missing in Osasuna’s dream start so far was Chimy Avila scoring, and that happened last weekend. No way Granada, with one of the least appealing managers in the tournament, are going to get a point in such a hyped atmosphere. On fire, Osasuna won’t be denied this weekend.
2. Valencia (10th) vs Mallorca (13th): 1. (23/10, 14:00)
I was extremely disappointed by Valencia’s performance at the Camp Nou. The result could always be negative, as of course you’re playing against a top side. However, I saw nothing of the Bordalesque Valencia we had witnessed at the beginning of this season. The bite, the ambition, the aggression even, were not there. Hell, Barcelona fouled Guedes a lot more than Valencia fouled Barcelona… Koeman out-Bordaled Bordalás, and that’s indeed frustrating for those who expected a powerful Valencia.
I expect them to take advantage of Mallorca, an interesting but soft side, but the reasons for concern are there.
3. Cádiz (16th) vs Alavés (19th): 1. (23/10, 16:15)
Four points of difference between these two sides, but the gap is in fact bigger. Cadiz have competed well in every match this season, while Alavés seem resigned to their fate. And one of the very few times in which they decided to show up for work – last weekend vs Betis – a quick counter in the 88th minute punished them unfairly. I can’t see them getting better anytime soon.
4. Elche (14th) vs Espanyol (11th): 1. (23/10, 18:30)
Espanyol’s coach has shown occasional moments of quite deep understanding of the game and Raul de Tomás is looking like a killer again, but my pet team Elche has seen Boye score for the first time, and once the former River player hits it off, the ride will be fun. Keep an eye on him, please do.
5. Athletic de Bilbao (9th) vs Villarreal (12th): 1. (23/10, 21:00)
Phil doubts Villarreal, and with good reason. Five draws and one loss in eight matches seems like underachieving for such a talented side; there is a lack of toughness and killer instinct that Phil would indeed recognise quickly, as it was Real Sociedad’s main limiting factor towards greatness until that Copa del Rey final vs Athletic.
Yes, the visitors need to toughen up, and despite their fantastic midweek win, I bet they’ll suffer at the hands of Marcelino and his conservative but well coached squad. The hosts are the team who have run the most distance so far in LaLiga, so not the best opponent for a Saturday after a decent midweek effort.
6. Sevilla (3rd) vs Levante (18th): 1. (24/10, 14:00)
One can’t say that the hosts are playing well, but they’re indeed getting the results they need. They’re two wins away from making it to the knockout stages of the CL even though they haven’t defeated anyone yet, and they’re 3rd in LaLiga even though they’re the 8th team in goals scored. Again, quite unspectacular, but effective. They do depend on wingers Ocampos and Suso to get back their inspiration if they want to really aspire to get to the second half of the season challenging for trophies. Assuming the squad can get out of this discreet sequence of performances without major scratches they will become a serious contender in Spain at least. Not much Levante can do here.
7. Barcelona (7th) vs Real Madrid (2nd): 2. (24/10, 16:15)
I know well that the result of a derby does not depend on recent form, especially when we’re discussing a Madrid-Barça. During the Quinta del Buitre times the Madridistas won five Ligas in a row scoring left, right and centre, but they struggled mightily in every match against Barcelona, who seemed content with upsetting their arch-rivals despite the trophy drought. That has also been the case in the other direction in other eras. That said, I really can’t see this one falling into Barcelona’s lap.
Yes, the visitors have looked hesitant at the back way too often this season, and they still lack a dependable scoring threat to offload some of Benzema’s responsibility. And no, despite Vinniedona’s outstanding performance vs Shakhtar, the Brazilian is far from being trustworthy in front of the keeper. However, this match is men vs kids. Koeman’s best starting eleven would have to face the most experienced midfield in Europe – Casemiro, Kroos, Modric – who compensate for the diminishing energy of the latter two with an amazing control over what happens on the pitch. I’m probably one of the Madridistas who most recognizes the talent of Barcelona’s younger generation – especially Pedri and Gavi – but it’s simply too much too early for them, and this is a different kind of match. With Pedri and Araujo out, Saturday will become a huge test for Dest (rhymes!), Gavi, Ansu Fati and even Eric Garcia…
On Real Madrid’s side, the question is whether Carletto sticks to the offensive plan that has worked a couple of times recently (Vinicius / Benzema / Rodrygo with the usual trio on midfield) or if he respects Barcelona more and adds a fourth midfielder (Valverde, Camavinga) to increase Real Madrid’s control over proceedings. Whatever option Ancelotti goes for, I believe his side will dominate for most of the match and the outcome will be down to their ability to capitalise on that domination. And, of course, the recent comeback of Mendy is great news for the team, as the Frenchman covers a huge gap on the left flank.
What about Barcelona? The main doubt regarding Koeman’s tactics is clear: will he dare to irritate the Camp Nou’s faithful again by starting with a 3-5-2 formation? In favour of the “yes”, he’s a Dutchman, and therefore a man of strong convictions, some would even say stubborn. He’s openly said a few times that, with the current squad, he feels safer by having more men at the back, and if there were a match in which he would want to play as safe as possible, this is it. Nevertheless, that 3-5-2 has rarely worked well for Barcelona, at least in terms of results, and he would have to include Lenglet to the left of Piqué and Eric. The Frenchman played well vs Dynamo on midweek, but he’s been so prone to error in the recent past that I’d be shocked if Koeman changed his lineup this way.
I do expect him to start Ansu Fati, whom he’s been wisely bringing back into the team match by match, and probably Dest as a forward, an innovation which worked well too. But again, for the Azulgrana to win this one everything has to go their way for the full 90 minutes, and despite some rare glimpses of decent play here and there, they aren’t solid enough with this configuration and coach… Easy visitors’ win which will increase pressure on Laporta to devise a financially feasible way to fire Koeman and hire a new coach, which, as you know, is not easy.
8. Betis (8th) vs Rayo Vallecano (6th): 1. (24/10, 18:30)
Rayo are higher than they ever dreamed of thanks to a perfect home start: four wins in four matches in Vallecas. You never know how such an excellent beginning to the season could motivate a team to go further, but at some point reality will hit and the squad limitations will become apparent. Even if Falcao is back this weekend I can’t see them getting a single point in Sevilla. Borja Iglesias has found his scoring touch under Pellegrini and that should be enough for the home side.
9. Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Real Sociedad (1st): X. (24/10, 21:00)
Of course all the attention will go to the Barcelona / Madrid clash, but this is a legitimate thriller between two title contenders who hate each other’s guts. On top of that, they’re very accomplished teams with the benefit of coaches who have been there for a while and a core of players who have been together for some time as well. It would be THE match to watch any other weekend.
And yes, many things to mention about two great sides. For instance, Griezmann back on the scoresheet right before facing his old team, Joao Felix showing glimpses of his undoubtable talent, Simeone rotating Suárez, and the general impression that, despite the home defeat against Liverpool, Atletico are inching closer to the menace their squad should represent. And if you look at the visitors, 11 matches undefeated, a great away win in Austria during the week but a clear struggle to score since the season started.
I hate to go for a draw here, but as much as I think that Atletico are the tougher side, it’s evident that Real Sociedad have grown immensely in terms of getting the results they need even when they don’t play well, and that includes matches against one of their most despised rivals in LaLiga. Whatever the result, this is a must watch. Won’t be pretty, but should be tactically fantastic.
10. Getafe (20th) vs Celta (15th): 1. (24/10, 21:00)
At this point I officially leave Celta’s (and especially Coudet’s) boat. They have shown nothing so far. It’s the same disjointed team that started the previous season off the wrong foot and almost got relegated. A month ago, they had two consecutive wins (Levante and Granada) and then fell again to Elche and Sevilla. They have scored seven goals in nine matches. They’re just awful.
And yes, they play against the bottom of the table team who have only three goals and two points to their name so far. But I believe that coach Quique is a smart man and he’ll know how to get Celta to get themselves into trouble.
We haven’t had many posters writing their predictions. Please, do so. You never know when a perfect 10 may appear…
1. Osasuna (5th) vs Granada (17th):
2. Valencia (10th) vs Mallorca (13th):
3. Cádiz (16th) vs Alavés (19th):
4. Elche (14th) vs Espanyol (11th):
5. Athletic de Bilbao (9th) vs Villarreal (12th):
6. Sevilla (3rd) vs Levante (18th):
7. Barcelona (7th) vs Real Madrid (2nd):
8. Betis (8th) vs Rayo Vallecano (6th):
9. Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Real Sociedad (1st):
10. Getafe (20th) vs Celta (15th):