Matchday 18

Omicron’s weekend

Really tough weekend for predictions, as Covid has weakened some teams more than others. Let’s keep an eye on the absentees. The last matchday before the end of the year is usually full of upsets and shocking results, as players’ minds are usually elsewhere already.

Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win. I’ve forfeited Celta vs Espanyol, as I delivered this after the final whistle.

2. Rayo Vallecano (6th) vs Alavés (17th): 1. (18/12, 14:00)

Alaves pulled a decent sequence of matches to leave the bottom of the table, but their last three (2L/1D) have taken them back to the trouble zone. And they visit the mighty Rayo, who keep performing as well as they possibly can with such a limited squad. This is an easy home win. Home team star Isi just extended his contract until 2025, which, despite their horror record in other areas, shows that the club management are not complete idiots after all.

3. Real Sociedad (5th) vs Villarreal (13th): 1. (18/12, 16:15)

These two teams should be contending for a top four finish, but while the hosts have found their “mala leche” (competitive mentality in slang Spanish), the visitors struggle to match their obvious quality with their less apparent balls. Silva and Merino are back to the side, so yes, I see Real Sociedad winning easily and finally getting Isak on the scoresheet. The Swedish forward needs some goals and so does his team.

4. Barcelona (8th) vs Elche (15th): 1. (18/12, 18:30)

“Some of our players don’t know how to play positional game. It’s shocking to say this about Barcelona players, but that’s where we are”. If you’re guessing that Ronald Koeman said that, you’re wrong. Xavi Hernandez just did his own version of Koeman’s “es lo que hay”, but the Catalan was even more direct than the Dutchman. The Xavi effect has quickly become the Xavi defect, and Barcelona have to react quickly if they want this season to be just a painful but short experience. Making the top 4 come May is absolutely essential, and that’s why Xavi also requested some reinforcements in the winter in his Friday presser.

And here comes the twist: who can Barcelona realistically hire? If you take a look at the Catalan media during the last week or so, the list of players they’ve related to Barcelona is staggering: Baghdad Bounedjah (Al-Sadd), Ferran Torres (Manchester City), Julián Alvarez (River Plate), Agustín Álvarez (Peñarol), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech (Chelsea again), Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), Arthur Cabral (Basel), Pierre Aubameyang (Arsenal), Alexis Sanchez (Inter Milan), Adeyemi (RB Salzburg), Januzaj (Real Sociedad), Edinson Cavani (Manchester United), Bernardeschi (Juventus), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United). And if you think I’m exaggerating, just check this thread. But the situation is dire: whoever arrives will have to come almost for free and with a very tight salary. Not many candidates in top football who can fit that profile, and of course, pretty much none of those mentioned in the list.

Needed back soon

At this point I do believe that pretty much any team can realistically get a point at the Camp Nou, but we’re also bound to see some sort of reaction from the handful of players who want to fight for Xavi. Hopefully he’ll stop throwing the team under the bus sometime soon, that’d help his case too.

By now you already know that I have a soft spot for Elche, but this is clearly a “1”. Any other result would start to cast doubts not only on Xavi’s ability to turn this around, but especially on Laporta’s second tenure at the helm of the club.

5. Sevilla (2nd) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th): 2. (18/12, 21:00)

Not that either team will make you drool with their football, but this is indeed the match of the weekend. Both in the top four, plenty of stars to watch, two coaches who thrive on defensive tactics… Yes, it is a must watch despite Sevilla’s likely absentees (Ocampos, Acosta, En-Nesyri, Óliver), and of course leaving aside Simeone’s struggle to get the most out of a loaded side. Judging by the Argentinean’s presser, João Félix won’t start again this weekend, even though Antoine Griezmann is out injured. The Portuguese forward played extremely well in the second half of the Madrid derby, but Simeone wants more. He usually does.

Injured and probably thinking what has gone wrong

Atletico, more relaxed after the CL classification and the Madrid derby defeat, can take advantage of Sevilla’s absentees. To add a bit of exhaustion, the hosts also played a Copa del Rey thriller in midweek that almost saw them out of the competition, so I guess Atleti should win this one.

6. Granada (15th) vs Mallorca (12th): X. (19/12, 14:00)

I’ve been tipping Granada’s coach to be one of the first fired coaches in Spain, but it’s almost mid season and he’s still there. That said, in midweek they were eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Mancha Real (literally translated “Royal Stain”), who play in the fourth tier of Spanish football. The embarrassment could have repercussions if they don’t get all three points on Sunday, but I guess the starters will want to show that job is theirs. Mallorca did solve their Copa del Rey tie convincingly (6-0 vs Llanera), so I can see a draw here.  

7. Athletic de Bilbao (11th) vs Betis (3rd): 1. (19/12, 16:15)

I know, this sounds counter intuitive, but I do believe that at some point Athletic must start converting their chances, and Betis sounds like the kind of team that would have an off game at this point, after such an outstanding sequence of positive results. The visitors had to spend more energy than what they expected in their midweek Copa del Rey tie in Talavera, as they had to go to extra time to defeat the hosts with a very nice cameo from their Mexican forward Lainez, one to watch in the future.

About time you score, Iñaki

Athletic will miss Iñigo Martinez and Unai Simon – two absolutely key players – to Covid, so their defensive system will be compromised. But again, at some point Williams, García and co must find the net, no?

8. Getafe (19th) vs Osasuna (10th): 2. (19/12, 18:30)

Right now, Osasuna are what Getafe would like to be: strong, disciplined, organised, coordinated. Getafe have improved under Quique Sanchez Flores, but there’s still a lot of effort required for them to be able to compete the way Osasuna do – and we saw that last weekend against Barcelona. On top of that, the visitors are excellent travellers – four wins and two draws in eight matches, so I can only see a “2” here…

9. Real Madrid (1st) vs Cádiz (18th): 1. (19/12, 21:00)

Covid has taken over the Real Madrid dressing room after a couple of Atleti players played the derby with fever. It’s unbelievable that this took place, but that’s where we’re at. It’s time for Carlo to finally rotate to the maximum: a handful of starters won’t be available and they face one of the worst teams of the tournament in the final match of the year. I hope to see young talent on the pitch and a lot of goals. Should be fun to watch, but it won’t give too much away in terms of the Real Madrid we’ll see in 2022.

10. Levante (20th) vs Valencia (7th): X. (20/12, 21:00)

If you’ve read this space before you already know that Levante haven’t won a LaLiga match since April. A local derby does not seem what the doctor ordered, and even less when Valencia (six matches undefeated and two consecutive wins) appear to have found some kind of momentum under Bordalás, and already look at the right section of the standings. I do expect a hypermotivated Levante and that should get them a point, but that’s all.

Join us! Copy the list of the weekend matches included below and add your own predictions in the comments’ section.

1. Celta (14th) vs Espanyol (9th):

2. Rayo Vallecano (6th) vs Alavés (17th):

3. Real Sociedad (5th) vs Villarreal (13th):

4. Barcelona (8th) vs Elche (15th):

5. Sevilla (2nd) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th):

6. Granada (15th) vs Mallorca (12th):

7. Athletic de Bilbao (11th) vs Betis (3rd):

8. Getafe (19th) vs Osasuna (10th):

9. Real Madrid (1st) vs Cádiz (18th):

10. Levante (20th) vs Valencia (7th):

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