La Liga: Eibar may suffer at fortress El Sadar

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MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) shares his thoughts on the opening round of La Liga action, as well as pointing us towards his favourite fancies from matchday two.

La Liga MD1: What we learned

A week is a long time in La Liga. Gareth Bale plays for Real Madrid again and, of course, after weeks of pre-season hysteria in the wake of worrying defeats, supposed failure in the transfer market, and Zidane showing signs of creaking under the pressure, Madrid come along and bat away Celta Vigo 3-1 in Balaídos with 10 men, putting them ahead of champions Barcelona in the league for the first time in 818 days.

The night previous, Ernesto Valverde’s men lost their opening game at Athletic Bilbao and the Barca coach faces a very different type of problem in attack. Last week he would have been mulling over how to balance an attack which contained Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé and Philippe Coutinho.

Now, as Barcelona prepare for a must-win (and it is must-win), first home of the season against Real Betis they find themselves with Griezmann as the only fully-fit attacker out of the five. A failure to win on Sunday night and alarm bells really will sound which could see the trigger being pulled on a certain last-minute panic signing. As they say here, ¡ojo! (look out).

Villarreal will entertain this season

A goal, an assist and an assist for the assist against new boys Granada in a wild 4-4 draw once again illustrates the importance of Santi Cazorla to the Yellow Submarine, which is great to see but perhaps a little worrying if you’re a Villarreal fan; it is unrealistic to expect the magician to carry them once again across an entire campaign.

Villarreal look extremely exciting in attack but tightening up at the back was a key objective in the summer and as the scoreline v Granada suggests, there is still a lot of work to be done. At least they still have Alberto Moreno to be integrated into the team…

Lots of fresh faces, same old Atletico

Sticking with the tried-and-trusted throughout the spine of his team, it was fitting really that the Diego Simeone 2.0 era began with a 1-0 win, with Kieran Trippier impressing and Joao Felix producing that run which had me, and the rest of the Wanda Metropolitano off our seats. Puro talento.

New season, same old problems for Valencia

After an astonishing 16 draws last season, the curse has seemingly returned to Mestalla as Valencia returned to being the team of late 2018. Kevin Gameiro gave the home side the lead, then missed a penalty in the 95th minute before a Francis Coquelin handball in the 100th minute gave Mikel Oyarzabal the opportunity to equalise from the spot which he duly did.

Valencia simply have to improve their efficiency in front of goal.

Good start for the new boys

In four of the last 10 years in La Liga, all three promoted teams have stayed up, and this season’s newbies have got off to a great start.

Osasuna survived a Leganes bombardment (including three disallowed goals) to sneak a hugely impressive win at Butarque; Granada showed fantastic spirit to battle back from behind on three occasions to secure a vital point at the Ceramic Stadium, and Mallorca beat Eibar 2-1 in their return to the Primera after successive promotions.

Based on initial appearances the newly promoted teams will put up a sterner challenge than Rayo Vallecano and Huesca did last term.

MD2 Focus: Osasuna v Eibar | Saturday 24th August 2019, 16:00

You have to feel sorry for Eibar with how the fixtures have fallen. Playing the first three games of the season away from home due to stadium renovation, the Basque minnows learned that they would be beginning the season with trips to newly-promoted Mallorca and Osasuna, followed by a visit to the Wanda Metropolitano to take on the formidable and now rejuvenated Atletico Madrid.

No one really wants to visit the newly promoted teams in the opening weeks as they arrive with energy, enthusiasm and momentum from the previous campaign and nobody ever wants to take on Diego Simeone in his own patch.

Jose Luis Mendilibar’s troops went down 2-1 at San Moix on Saturday and he now has to get his team ready for an absolutely massive physical and mental test this weekend as they make the short (for Spain) journey to Pamplona.

Considered by many as the most intimidating stadium in Spain and given the fact it will be their first home game since returning to the Primera, a ferocious atmosphere should be expected at El Sadar. Anyone who followed me last season will be well aware of how strong Osasuna were at home in the Segunda, cruising to the league title thanks to a truly phenomenal SEVENTEEN (17) match winning-run in their fortress to end the campaign, while going the entire season unbeaten on their own turf.

Miraculously, Eibar – a town with less than 28,000 inhabitants – are now a relatively established side in the Primera as they begin their fifth campaign in the top-flight of Spanish football; last season they had a budget of €49m compared to Osasuna’s €21.2m, but in this fixture Eibar are still very much the minnow and the Pamplona locals will have this one circled in the calendar as a fixture they will be expecting to win.

I was at Butarque for Osasuna’s undeserved win at Leganes on Saturday night and while they did not impress hugely overall, they did show great mental toughness to withstand Leganes’ aerial bombardment, while they had Chimy Avila in attack to pop up with a real moment of magic.

Osasuna did in their return to La Liga something which Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Real Betis, Sevilla and Valencia failed to do last season: win at Leganes. Luis Suarez-esque in stature and style, 25-year-old Avila could well prove to be one of the signings of the summer among teams in the bottom half of La Liga and his form will be key to Osasuna’s chances at survival.

In April, the men from Navarra became the first team since Real Betis in 1993/94 to win 14 consecutive games in the Segunda and they carried on to round off the season with three more wins. This run was built on solid foundations, rather than flamboyant football with 12 of the 17 wins coming without conceding a goal. Jagoba Arrasate’s men scored more than two goals on only two occasions so a tight game should be expected at a boisterous El Sadar. Its capacity is less than 20,000 but the steep stands and the proximity of the fervent locals to the pitch makes for a fabulously claustrophobic atmosphere.

When Arrasate first arrived in Pamplona, he made it clear that he wanted to turn El Sadar into fortress again, a place where nobody looked forward to visiting, something which he has clearly achieved and they will be hugely motivated to carry this sensational run to the Primera.

Eibar are still adjusting to life without three of their best players from last season in Joan Jordán, Marc Cucurella and Rubén Peña and, thus, it seems am opportune time for Osasuna to host the Basque minnows.

It’s going to be boiling in Pamplona on Saturday, not just in the stands, with temperatures around the 30-degree mark expected at kick-off which should mean a slightly slower game which should suit the more solid, functional home team. Eibar have won only two of their last 21 away games in La Liga, losing 10, but on only four occasions were they beaten by more than one goal – they are no mugs and should be respected.

It won’t be pretty and I don’t envisage many goals (even if it is Eibar) but if there is to be a winner, I’m taking Osasuna to extend their winning home run into the Primera as they look to build upon their momentum and ride the wave of emotion and noise in El Sadar, one of Spain’s great stadiums.

Best Bets

Osasuna v Eibar – Osasuna draw no bet (5/6 Unibet)

Osasuna v Eibar – Osasuna to win and Under 3.5 Goals (23/10 Paddy Power)

Back Goals at: Levante v Villarreal, Mallorca v Real Sociedad

Take Unders and Cards at: Getafe v Athletic Bilbao

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.

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