MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from matchday 12 from La Liga.
We’re now over a quarter of the way into the La Liga season and it finally feels like we have a large enough sample size to really have a feel for where the majority of teams are at right now.
Here are five conclusions we can draw from the first quarter:
A decline in quality but an overall more competitive league
It is clear that the Big 3 in Spain are a long way from the teams of 3-5 years ago, as evidenced in last season’s Champions League, and a pretty unconvincing start on the domestic front this season.
Moreover, teams like Valencia and Sevilla continue to be solid units overall but miss that real quality in the final third of the pitch. Having said that, La Liga has been extremely competitive this season and this is being reflected in the betting prices.
It was only a few weeks ago when the shortest favourite of the weekend in Spain was Sevilla at 8/11 to beat Real Sociedad. So far this season we have seen Granada beat Barcelona, Mallorca shock Real Madrid, Real Sociedad steamroll Atletico, and Eibar coming from two goals down to defeat Sevilla.
This past week high-flying Real Sociedad, Villarreal and Granada were all brought back down to earth after impressive wins the weekend before and its’ clear that the gap between “the rest” has closed considerably since last season – long may it continue.
Atletico continue to stutter on the road
When it comes to games away from the Wanda Metropolitano, Diego Simeone’s men have pretty much picked up from where they left off last season. With 10 wins in their last 25 away league games, averaging 1.12 goals per-game in this stretch, it’s obvious Atleti have zero chance of a title challenge if they can’t improve on the road.
The only real noteworthy win in this run was at Anoeta last March where they beat Real Sociedad 2-0. This lack of creativity puts a huge pressure on the defence to continuously keep clean sheets and it feels like an impossible task to turn around a game when los rojiblancos do concede the first goal of the game.
9th April 2016 was the last time Atletico came from behind in La Liga to win a game.
The newbies are good
As outlined in our season preview, since La Liga reverted back to a 20-team league in 1999, at least one promoted team has managed to avoid relegation. Moreover, in four of the last 10 La Liga campaigns all three promoted teams have survived and this crop of promoted teams are as strong as any in recent years.
Granada have been arguably the story of the season while Osasuna continue to use their fortress as the springboard for their success. Mallorca, as they should be, have proven to be the weakest of the three promoted teams but have been boosted recently with home wins over Real Madrid and Espanyol.
Having lost their four away games, drawing a blank in three, it is Mallorca’s away form which will largely dictate whether Son Moix will continue to host Primera football next season.
The Celta hype has failed to materialise
As previously mentioned in this column, there is not much to like about Celta Vigo this season. Much had been made of Celta’s drive to invest in home-grown canteranos and those who already had a connection with the club like Denis Suarez, Rafinha and Santi Mina but there’s something missing from this side which is preventing a team of clearly talented individuals from thriving.
Celta lack an identity in defence and midfield and there is no apparent foundation on which to build an attack. It all looks disjointed and dependent on moments of magic from Iago Aspas to decide games and this is not a sustainable model over a 38-game season.
It’s quite amazing, really, that Fran Escribá has lasted this long. Something radical has to change in Vigo or they are in for another really difficult season, one which captain Aspas might not be able to turn around solo this time.
Villarreal are the most entertaining team in La Liga
Real Sociedad have rightly received plaudits for their free-flowing, fast-paced football, underpinned by the brilliant Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Odegaard but, for me, it is the Yellow Submarine who have been the most entertaining team to watch as a neutral in Spain thus far.
Villarreal’s 11 league games have yielded a total of 41 goals (25 for/16 against). Including the latter half of last season, Javi Calleja’s men have scored in their last 24 league games, dating all the way back to February.
Already this season they have scored four v Granada, three v Leganes, five v Betis and four v Alaves and I am a big fan of how they have continued to go for the jugular late-on, especially at home, rather than defending a lead.
They have incredible attacking depth with the likes of Gerard Moreno, Ekambi, Bacca, Chukwueze and Ontiveros, and It has precisely been this versatility, energy and explosiveness off the bench which has yielded dividends for Calleja’s men this season, with 56% of their goals coming in the final 30 minutes of games.
Villarreal still fail to convince in this defence and this only serves to add to the entertainment for us neutrals. In our season preview, we highlighted the Yellow Submarine as one to watch and, so far, they haven’t disappointed.
Levante v Barcelona | Saturday 2nd November 2019, 15:00
When it comes to Levante, nobody really has a clue.
So far this season: they came agonizingly close to a miraculous 3-3 draw at the Bernabéu; they have scored one goal in their last three home games (against Eibar, Osasuna and Espanyol – not exactly the league’s most formidable defences), and this past week they went to the home of the form-team in the league in Real Sociedad and returned with three valuable points, having secured a very impressive 2-1 win.
This weekend Barcelona roll into town on the back of seven consecutive victories, not bad for a team shrouded by doubt since the start of the season. Lionel Messi is finding his rhythm and when he plays like he did against Valladolid midweek, everything becomes much easier for Ernesto Valverde’s men.
With the exception of May 2018 when Levante ended Barcelona’s quest for an unbeaten season, Barca usually enjoy their trips to the Estadio Ciudad de Valencia, winning three of their last four, scoring 16 in the process.
Barca have been iffy on the road this season but have won their last three away from Camp Nou and should have too much for los granotes. Levante are at their best when games are a bit mad and frenetic, and Barca will look to establish more control than they have in recent away games.
This should be a relatively routine win for the Catalans and a correct score of 2-0 or 3-0 feels about right. We can back the Catalans to win 2-0 at 17/2 (10BET) and 3-0 at 10/1 with the same firm – with a proper staking plan in place, should either selection we’ll be paid out at odds of at least 4/1.
Real Madrid v Real Betis | Saturday 2nd November 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports
We are all collectively trying to figure out where exactly this Real Madrid team is. Since their home draw against Clube Brugge in the Champions League, their domestic form has been indifferent and almost impossible to analyse.
Los Blancos steamrolled Granada before being made to sweat later on, they limped to a 1-0 defeat at Mallorca and, on Wednesday night, they hammered a Leganes team who had more than one eye on Sunday’s clash with Eibar.
During the week, Marca were trying to analyse whether this Madrid side is good or bad. ‘Ni carne ni pescado,' they concluded. Neither meat nor fish, neither one nor the other. Sounds about right.
Zinedine Zidane’s men host Betis on Saturday night, a team who have actually won the last two meetings at the Bernabéu. This is usually one of the livelier fixtures of the La Liga calendar, with 11 of the last 15 meetings seeing Over 2.5 Goals.
Under-fire Betis boss Rubi was dealt a lifeline with a late, late goal to beat Celta Vigo midweek but their away form has been atrocious, dating back to last season. Betis last 10 away games in La Liga has seen eight defeats, 24 goals conceded – not good.
Friday’s AS claims that “Zidane now has a team,” having apparently settled on a midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Fede Valverde. Kroos looks to be getting back to somewhere near where a player of his calibre should be, Valverde offers much needed mobility and utility, while Casemiro continues to be Madrid’s most important player after Karim Benzema.
Madrid will of course give you chances because, quite simply, they always do and, with the likes of Borja Iglesias, Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Loren Moron, Betis have the quality to take advantage.
Madrid should end Betis’ recent winning run at the Bernabéu and we should see an open game, with Over 2.5 Goals looking likely. A Madrid win with both sides finding the back of the net also looks like having a good chance of clicking.
Levante v Barcelona – Barcelona to win 2-0 (17/2 10BET)
Levante v Barcelona – Barcelona to win 3-0 (10/1 10BET)
Real Madrid v Real Betis – Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score (7/5 Boylesports)
Real Madrid v Real Betis – Real Madrid to win 3-1 (10/1 10BET)
Week 12 Predictions:
Espanyol v Valencia X
Levante v Barcelona 2
Sevilla v Atlético Madrid X
Real Madrid v Real Betis 1
Valladolid v Mallorca X
Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao 1
Osasuna v Alavés X
Celta Vigo v Getafe 2
Leganés v Eibar X
Granada v Real Sociedad X
1 = home win, 2 = away win, x = draw
Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) is an Irish journalist living and working in Madrid. A season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Majadahonda, he covers all things football in the Spanish capital, from Estadio Butarque to the Wanda Metropolitano.