Weekends before European competitions usually bring a few upsets: rotations and a lack of focus from the leading sides open the window for some minnows to celebrate unexpected results. And in a tournament that has already had a large share of surprising scores, this is only going to add more fun.
Ah, and in case you’ve forgotten – if that’s humanly possible assuming you live in society – Xavi’s debut happens on Saturday, versus the great Espanyol.
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
1. Levante (19th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (8th): 1. (19/11, 21:00)
This is a classic pick between form and belief. Looks like a clear “2” on paper, as Athletic have been decent so far, although slightly underwhelming. But hey, how long can a talented team such as Levante go without a win? Six draws and seven losses in 13 matches with a more than solid handful of offensive players sounds like a stat that’s dying to be broken, no matter against whom.
If you include last season, Levante have not won in seven months, and the last time they hosted Athletic was the opening match of that shocking winless streak. It’s only poetic justice that they break the jinx on Friday.
One point worth mentioning: Athletic are the 5th best side in Expected Goals in LaLiga and third-from-bottom in goals scored, something that tells you they attack very well, but they can’t finish to save their lives. This team would improve overnight with a half-good finisher.
2. Celta (15th) vs Villarreal (12th): X. (20/11, 14:00)
One win in seven home matches tells you the story of a struggling Celta. They only managed to defeat Granada a few weeks ago, although they recovered some swagger in their more recent 3-3 draw against Barcelona. Last season, Villarreal won in Vigo 4-0, but Celta prevailed in Villareal (4-2). As you can see, goals seemed guaranteed for this tie.
This is a tough call because both sides are extremely unpredictable, better at attacking than at defending and able to go through long spells disconnected. The visitors have more and better talent, but seeing their recent results I can’t really vouch for a “2” here.
3. Sevilla (3rd) vs Alavés (14th): 1. (20/11, 16:15)
Both teams have 10 points from the last 12. In Sevilla’s case, that’s almost expected, at least by this scribe who keeps seeing them as the main candidates for the title. In the case of Alavés, their resurrection has taken them from the bottom of the table to the 14th spot in less than a month. What changed for Alavés? Well, coach Calleja (former Villarreal) knows a thing or two about building teams from the back, so we’ve seen the visitors tightening up their defence. The recovery of Joselu as a dependable scorer added the missing offensive component. In any case, I’d be shocked if they got a result in Sevilla. The hosts are in cruise control, and most of the summer signings are already producing what was expected from them. Mir and Lamela, especially, have given Lopetegui extra options off the bench, so Sevilla are now as deep as any other top team in Spain. Home win.
4. Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Osasuna (7th): X. (20/11, 18:30)
“This Griezmann is the player we wanted back”, said Simeone about the Frenchman on Thursday. Eloquent sentence, which reflects what’s happened progressively over the last month: Griezmann has found his place in Atletico’s system, and can now push the team behind him. João Felix’s injury ironically helps Simeone, who had already decided not to field Suarez, Griezmann and the Portuguese at the same time unless they desperately needed to score. I see Atletico beginning to gel, and that’s great for Simeone.
That said, Atleti host Milan next week in a vital match for their Champions League run, so I expect Simeone to rest quite a few players, including Suárez. I expect Osasuna, the third best travelling side of the tournament, to steal a point at the Wanda. They’re tough enough.
5. Barcelona (9th) vs Espanyol (11th): 1. (20/11, 21:00)
Fate has deemed that Xavi’s debut at the reins of Barcelona takes place against Espanyol, their city rivals and the team against which the new Barcelona coach scored most goals in his playing career. In their history, Espanyol have finished above Barcelona in LaLiga only three times, all of them before 1945, but now they could surpass them if they win on Saturday. As you can imagine, that does not seem likely.
The week of hype generated by Xavi’s and Dani Alves’ arrival in Barcelona has the Azulgrana in cloud nine. All seems to be back to where it should always have been. The managerial boost should take Barcelona back to at least Europa League spots (hahaha, yes, cheap shot…).
On more serious matters, Xavi’s main challenge will be the huge expectations he’s generated by simply taking the job. Every single Barcelona fan envisions an unstoppable scoring machine, and the fact is that what the new coach has inherited is a team full of exciting promise and glorious past, but very scarce reality.
This Espanyol led by RdT is the kind of team that can upset any title challenger, but as has been the case for many years, I guess they will play the role of the polite guest. The Xavi effect is here, let’s see how much of it is champagne in the next few weeks.
By the way, Pedri injured for another month. Those 75 matches last season were obviously foolish.
6. Getafe (20th) vs Cádiz (16th): 1. (21/11, 14:00)
Cadiz’s win at San Mamés last weekend, the first in their history, will make them feel good for another month. It was huge indeed. And it was so big that I see them losing miserably to Getafe, now that coach Quique has enjoyed some time with the team. Maksimovic, Aleñá and Arambarri should start getting some traction with the ball, as the squad evolves towards a more elaborate approach. If you happen to watch this one (I know, this is cult LaLiga), pay attention to those three gents from Getafe and also keep an eye on Haroyan and Alex Fernandez from Cádiz. Coach Alvaro Cervera singled them out in his last press conference and they’re really doing well this season.
7. Granada (17th) vs Real Madrid (2nd): 2. (21/11, 16:15)
Granada sound intimidating. For instance, coach Robert Moreno: “We approach this match with a winning mindset”. Or keeper Maximiano: “It’s not intimidating to face Benzema or Vinicius”. Well, that’s the right way to face Real Madrid. Even if the hosts sound very focused and motivated, Granada is a pitch on which Real Madrid tend to play well. And I expect Ancelotti to give some playing time to his second unit, which in some cases works better against tough, defensive sides.
Yes, Bale is injured again and the news about Hazard’s form is quite concerning too. Nothing new there. Could you imagine if just one member of this duo had played decent football during the last two seasons?
8. Elche (18th) vs Betis (5th): 1. (21/11, 18:30)
Still on Elche’s bandwagon. Pellegrini’s side is still high in the standings, but the defeat to Sevilla showed their flaws. The Argentinean Elche will exploit them well.
9. Real Sociedad (1st) vs Valencia (10th): 1. (21/11, 21:00)
Follow the leader! Every weekend I believe that Real Sociedad are going to drop points, and every weekend they manage to keep the top position, no matter the rival or their own injury list. My main concern is when all the extra matches are going to show: Europa League, national team… This was not a group of players used to all those matches every year, but yes, at least they’re young.
After their miraculous comeback against Atletico, Valencia need to put together a few wins in a row if they want to climb to the top 6. Bordalas’s tough style has always brought problems to Real Sociedad, but I can’t see Valencia being as physical as Getafe used to be… yet. Tight home win.
10. Rayo Vallecano (6th) vs Mallorca (13th): 1. (22/11, 21:00)
Rayo are great. And I’m not talking about all the romanticisation of their roots, their fans, the neighbourhood. This is a very good football team, fun to watch and full of tactical nuances. Mallorca aren’t quite there yet, despite having a handful of very talented players. Another win for the hosts to keep dreaming about Europe.
1. Levante (19th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (8th):
2. Celta (15th) vs Villarreal (12th):
3. Sevilla (3rd) vs Alavés (14th):
4. Atlético de Madrid (4th) vs Osasuna (7th):
5. Barcelona (9th) vs Espanyol (11th):
6. Getafe (20th) vs Cádiz (16th):
7. Granada (17th) vs Real Madrid (2nd):
8. Elche (18th) vs Betis (5th):
9. Real Sociedad (1st) vs Valencia (10th):
10. Rayo Vallecano (6th) vs Mallorca (13th):