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.
As Julius Caesar said – a coward dies a thousand deaths but a valiant man tastes death only once. I’ll try to be as valiant as possible here, but we do need to improve on Eduardo’s score of 3/10 last week. It’s one thing being valiant, but sometimes you need to get it right. I’ve stepped in this week because Ed (who is generally valiant in his predictions) is on a long-haul flight as I write. So let’s see if this week’s fixtures are any easier to predict.
Things tend to go slightly awry after a midweek’s European fare, for reasons of fatigue, morale or both. Talking of morale, Seville and Barcelona both travel to tricky away games when they desperately need a booster, and the Madrid derby on Sunday might also be conditioned by the teams’ corresponding results (or distance of travel) in midweek. Betis and Real Sociedad, who also meet on Sunday evening, were both in action on Thursday in the Europa League, and Villarreal’s Champion’s League game in Italy was postponed until Thursday because of snow. They won – which will be good for morale, but the loss of a day may complicate their game against Rayo on Sunday. In conclusion – a good weekend for the lower echelons? We shall see.
Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
1. Mallorca (12th) vs Celta (14th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
The island-based hosts had gone seven games without a win before last week’s surprise smash n’ grab at the Wanda, but despite an unassuming start to the season they haven’t fared too badly in general, and have only lost once at home. Their opponents are of course the infamous Celta, who despite all the encouragement that Eduardo has been giving them this season have failed to acknowledge his generosity. But again, they’ve only lost twice in the last six games (glass kind of half-full) and with the squad they have you do rather think that they’ll eventually pull up the league. It could go either way, but let’s go for a Friday-night scoring draw.
2. Espanyol (11th) vs Levante (20th): 2. (Sab, 14:00)
The focus here is on the visitors, obviously. Nobody had quite predicted the car-crash that this season has so far become for them, and with zero wins in sixteen the obvious point to make is that they will win at some point. Only two of their paltry eight points have been picked up on their travels, but I still don’t think they’re as bad as they look, statistically speaking. They scored three at Sevilla (ok – they conceded 5) and drew 2-2 at home to Atlético, and football-wise they’re better than several above them. Besides, I’m not so sure about Espanyol. They were very fortunate to beat Real Sociedad (thanks to Mateu Lahoz) and despite that win at home to Real Madrid, for me they flatter to deceive, and I’m not sure they’d be where they are if it weren’t for their excellent old goalie, Diego López. Mourinho was right about him, all those years ago. Nevertheless – it’s an away win.
3. Alavés (17th) vs Getafe (19th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
This one’s a bit of a dog-eat-dog, on what will be a foul afternoon up in Vitoria (known as ‘Siberia’ by the locals). The visitors have recovered a little since Michel departed and the mysterious Quique Sánchez Flores turned up again, sporting a bird’s-nest beard and those Dr House eyes that give him the look of an intellectual serial killer. That obviously suits Getafe better (it’s in their DNA) but they’re still in trouble, despite not losing in the last three. Apparently their game last week against Athletic was one of the worst in living memory, so this one ain’t going to be for the aesthetes. Alavés haven’t won in three, but are even more used to Siberian conditions than Getafe. Home win.
4. Valencia (8th) vs Elche (16th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
Elche are another side that the LaLiga media cannot make up their minds about – whether they’re relegation fodder or mid-table safe-boys, but Valencia can’t afford not to beat them if they really aspire (at least) to those Europa League places. Despite all their Bordalás-infused malevolence, they have some classy players. I can’t see them blowing this one, which is of course a ‘derbi’ of the Comunidad Valenciana, and is in fact the most-disputed derby of the region, given Villarreal’s relatively late arrival on the scene. Elche can be a tough opponent, but I’m going for a home win.
5. Athletic (9th) vs Sevilla (2nd): 1. (Sat- 21:00)
Interesting game this, with the draw specialists Athletic (9 draws from 16) and their fans drooping their heads after several poor showings, with the self-flagellation whips appearing on the Bilbao horizon. When Athletic get down, they get really down – but then they always get up again. It’s in their genes, and they also tend to play better against the bigger sides. Sevilla won’t be happy after their poor showing in midweek (losing to Salzburg), and some of the euphoria garnered from their win at Betis last month is beginning to fade. Tricky one to predict this, but I’m going to do a Caesar. Home win.
6. Villarreal (13th) vs Rayo (6th): X. (Sun- 14:00)
That was an amazing win in Italy in midweek, and the hosts will have been given a massive boost of confidence because of it. You could argue that they got lucky in Atalanta, and that everything went right, but as everyone has been saying this season, when this side gets all the cylinders firing they will be pretty scary. It’s just a wonder that so far they’ve been a damp squib. But….Rayo are the season’s revelation, with coach Andoni Iraola proving that he’s one for the future, and perhaps the not-so-distant one. What he gave Mirandés (organization) he’s given Rayo, plus some shrewd signings, of course. But their success so far has been founded largely on their home form.
Villarreal can be scary, but they’ll be tired. I also thought they were a tad lucky on Thursday, although their storming start was amazing. I think they’ll be brought back down to earth. Draw.
7. Osasuna (10th) vs Barcelona (7th): X. (Sun – 16:15)
Osasuna will be looking forward to this one, but Barcelona will be anticipating it rather as one anticipates a visit to the dentist. It’s going to be cold up in Pamplona, hostile and noisy. Barça just don’t look in the mood for this sort of game. It could all go tragically wrong, or it could be the making of them. Xavi’s powers of motivation will be on the line here. However….Osasuna haven’t won in the last seven games, and seem to have lost a little of their shine too. If they win they’ll go above Barça, but I can’t quite see it. I think I’ll sit on the fence and settle for a draw, and Barça will too.
8. Betis (3rd) vs Real Sociedad (5th): X. (Sun – 18:30)
This might be the game of the weekend, unless they’re both so knackered from their games on Thursday that the whole thing falls flat and ends 0-0. I don’t think so somehow. Despite recent league results, Real Sociedad haven’t been playing badly. It was only in the 2nd half against an excellent Real Madrid that they appeared to be losing their touch, but the barnstorming 3-0 win over PSV will have made them considerably happier. Betis lost to Celtic in a kind of non-aggression pact on Thursday night, but it does show the side’s weakness – that they’re better going forward. Sometimes you look at Betis and think they’re the best side in Spain – which is when they tend to confound. But hey – they’re not third for nothing, and they’re playing some great stuff, with Canales on fire. It’s a tricky one to predict, but I’m going for a scoring draw.
9. Real Madrid (1st) vs Atlético (4th): X. (Sun – 21:00)
It’s always an interesting derby, and in recent years it’s always had some bearing on each team’s eventual position, but at 10 points behind Real the current champion’s only hope is to win this one, then win their game in hand and hope that their neighbours will begin to lose their mojo. Not much sign of that so far, and the efficient win over Inter last Tuesday lent more substance to the theory that this is their season – a final shout for the old guard before the Mbappés and Haalands allegedly fly in. Atlético are suffering from inconsistency so far – not a quality often associated with them, but their remarkable win in midweek, faced by a tough situation at Oporto, means that they’ll be up for it on Sunday. I’m certainly looking forward to it, and Benzema might play (fitness test on Sunday)….but the result? No idea. Another draw for me.
10. Cádiz (18th) vs Granada (15th): 2. (Mon – 21:00)
Another derby to close the weekend’s fixtures (on Monday night), and Cádiz really need to win this one, if they’re to reverse their bad form of late. After their surprise win at Bilbao, they’ve been turkey stuffed in their last three, conceding elven goals in the process – but to Getafe and Elche (as well as Atlético, ok). Granada have recovered a little after their big home reverse to Real Madrid. Away win.
Is Carlo making the same mistakes as iin that 14/15 season?
Do you remember the 2014/15 season? If you root for Barcelona, it’s an unforgettable one: the club conquered the treble under Luis Enrique, with Messi, Neymar and Suárez firing on all cylinders. But if you’re a Real Madrid fan, it’s a huge “what if” season: what if Modric hadn’t lost half of the season injured? What if Carletto had rotated the team during the magical months of October and November, when Real Madrid were flying?
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.
This is great news. We get to add a new romantic element to all the existing narrative about Barcelona’s thoroughbred DNA, Cruyff, Pep, Dream Teams, heritage, percentage possession wins, positional football… Now Xavi’s comeback from his long exile suffering in Qatar also becomes a part of the story.
This is going to have to be a quickie, said the actor to the whomsoever. That’s because I’m in a hotel room in Tallin (Estonia) and they’re going to kick me out in about an hour. Don’t worry – there’s no actor in the room, but a sleepy Whatsapp from Eduardo as I munched on my brekkies this morning was pleading with me to do this….so I will, before the flight to Spain this afternoon.
Barcelona: too much responsibility on the shoulders of the young?
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.
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.
Assume you’re Ronald Koeman. You’ve lost your best player the very last day of the transfer window, and he wasn’t just a great player. Messi is arguably the most influential playmaker in decades, which is important because the rest of the team had grown accustomed to playing FOR him, to following his flow. It’s not like losing a fantastic centre-forward or an insistent full back. Barcelona’s approach to playing football during the last decade was Messi, what he wanted to do or could do, much more than it was Guardiola, Cruyff or positional play.
The weekend after a set of fixtures in the European competitions is always ripe for upsets. And if you throw in the fact that the traditional top three (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico) haven’t looked themselves since the season started, this could be the first matchday in which all three fail to win their games. That is indeed a rare combination, however one which this column believes will happen several times this campaign.