La Liga: Entertainment aplenty in San Sebastian


MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from matchday nine from La Liga.

It feels like a rather unspectacular weekend in Spain as we return to domestic action after yet another international break but, given the fact that a mere three points separate the top three, nobody can afford to be sluggish as La Liga resumes.

A lot has happened here in Spain since our last piece so before we look ahead to this weekend’s action, let’s do a quick refresher.

Where were we?

Real Madrid – the only remaining unbeaten team in La Liga – now find themselves at the top of the standings having steamrolled Granada early doors before their now customary suffering late on. Eden Hazard is slowly – very slowly – trundling into gear and I had visions of 2014 Michael Owen as he skipped through the lines and scored his first league goal in white with a beautiful clipped finish.

Barcelona finally found a place in the team for Antoine Griezmann against Sevilla – on the bench – as they blitzed Sevilla with three goals in eight minutes to make it look like an easy win, when it really wasn’t. Barca still do not convince and still resemble a team of individuals who rely on moments from Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

After a bright start to the season, Atlético Madrid have floundered badly in attack in recent weeks, failing to register a single goal in four of their last five games and it looks like, once again, that their really poor away form is going to hinder a serious title challenge. In the last two and bit seasons, Diego Simeone’s men have dropped points at: Valladolid, Celta Vigo, Leganés x 2, Espanyol x 2, Levante, Girona x 2 – not good.

For the first time under Gaizka Garitano, Athletic Bilbao have lost back-to-back league games and it was cruelly predictable that they were to lose to Valencia in San Mames, a game which would have seen them go a whole calendar year unbeaten in the league had they avoided defeat.

Over the road in San Sebastian, the league’s in vogue team, Real Sociedad, have also recorded consecutive defeats and it will be intriguing to see how they react to two tough blows; they were completely blown away by Sevilla, losing 3-2 when on another night or, if Sevilla actually had a competent striker, could have ended 6-2, while they also let a lead slip against Getafe who took full advantage of a Diego Llorente red card to come from behind to win.

Osasuna are still unbeaten in fortress El Sadar – their home league defeat came in April 2018 – and, as expected, it is their home form which is really going to be the foundation of any success this season.

As mentioned in our last piece, managerial change was on the horizon and it has, indeed, materialised at Espanyol with Pablo Machín replacing David Gallego, who looked out of his depth at the top level. He wasn’t helped by the departure of key players but we should see a marked improvement at RCDE Stadium in the coming weeks and months.

Eibar v Barcelona | Saturday 19th October 2019, 12:00 | Premier Sports

Trailing 2-0 at half-time against Sevilla, Eibar looked done. They had failed to win any of their opening five games, losing three and, at that moment, there was a real sinking feeling that perhaps this was finally going to be the year where the fairytale would end.  A little over an hour and a gigantic Sevilla implosion later, we were all collectively rubbing our eyes when the final result came through: 3-2.

Eibar haven’t looked back since; they were deserved winners at home to Celta Vigo in the following game and followed that up with a point at Real Betis. They, at last, resemble the Eibar we know in terms of a united intensity and a collective press and will cause this current Barca team plenty of problems.

Eibar will always give you chances and that’s why we should see a lively encounter on Saturday morning with a few goals. The Azulgrana giants have played the Azulgrana minnows 10 times in the Primera and the form line is as you’d expect: nine wins for Barca, one draw – 33 goals for, 6 against.

We should expect an away win but given Barca will be without the suspended Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembélé, who join the injured Samuel Umtiti and Junior on the unavailable list, it might be a little trickier than previous years.

Getafe v Leganés | Saturday 19th October 2019, 17:30 | Premier Sports

Getafe continue to gather momentum after an uneasy start and look to have found their touch in the final third, scoring three at Valencia and finding the back of the net twice in very impressive away wins at Krasnodar and Real Sociedad. They have been uncharacteristically leaky in defence but they are coming up against a poor Leganés side who are still to record their first win of the season and really look in dire straits.

The Cucumbers won the derby at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez last season but they look far from that robust, well-functioning unit of last March. Geographically they may only be four kilometres apart but there appears to be quite a distance between the two teams on the field and Getafe look far the likelier winners here and their price looks a little generous.

Atlético Madrid v Valencia | Saturday 19th October 2019, 15:00

Atlético are coming off back to back scoreless league draws at the new Wanda Metropolitano for the first time since its inauguration in September 2017. In fact, the last time they drew consecutive blanks in La Liga in front of their own fans was in December 1998!

Since 1993/94, Los Rojiblancos have never failed to register three consecutive scoreless draws at home but there is a distinct possibility we might witness a bit of history this weekend.

Valencia are a curious team right now under new boss Albert Celades and nobody has really figured them out yet. They were predictably demolished by Barcelona in his debut but three days later they beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. This was followed by uninspiring home draws against Leganes and Getafe before becoming the first team to beat Athletic Club at San Mamés since last October. To complete the cycle of volatility, they were hammered 3-0 by Ajax at Mestalla three days after their Basque Country triumph.

We should expect a reaction from Atlético, especially in the attacking department where Diego Simeone has publicly called on Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata to step up. Atleti have scored a paltry seven league goals to-date and, if they are to have any serious title aspirations, they simply need to score more goals.

While many teams will have virtually entire squads arriving back to camp after the international break, Simeone has been able to work with a number of key squad players, including Costa and Morata, who were not called up to their respective national teams. This list also features Thomas Partey, Koke, Santiago Arias, Felipe, Marcos Llorente and Mario Hermoso so we should see a bit of extra freshness on Saturday.

Atléti have won six of the last seven meetings in this particular fixture and, given Valencia’s unpredictability, the smart choice would be to trust in someone we usually can trust: Diego Simeone.

Mallorca v Real Madrid | Saturday 19th October 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports

A lot has changed in the world since Real Madrid last visited the island of Mallorca in October 2012, a time when we were listening to Gangnam Style while watching Manchester United charge to what looks to be their final title for quite some time. Los blancos strolled to a 5-0 victory that night but, all things considered, Zinedine Zidane’s men should face a stiffer test this time around.

As Real prepare for their trip to the Balearic Island, there are injury doubts about Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, while Thibaut Courtois and Marcelo are expected to return.

Mallorca will be buoyed by their recent home win against a woeful Espanyol, but they failed to score when hosting teams of a higher standard, namely Athletic Bilabo, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid. If they approach the game in the same timid and conservative manner like they did when Diego Simeone’s men came to town a few weeks back, they will be beaten and beaten well.

However, if they are able to generate a performance in front of a packed Son Moix which finds the balance between energy and aggression, and are able to force errors in the right areas of the pitch, they can create problems for Madrid. It does, however, look a big ask and we should expect an away win.

Real Sociedad v Real Betis | Sunday 20th October 2019, 13:00 | Premier Sports

Both teams arrive without a win in their previous two league games but the mood around either club could hardly be more different.

Betis have conceded 16 goals in eight games, shipping TEN in their visits to Barcelona and Villarreal. Things haven’t been much better at the Benito Villamarín either where they continue to sleepwalk into games. There have been moments of real quality by Rubi’s men but all too often they have been undone due to mindless lapses in concentration.

On the other side, Real Sociedad like this fixture, having won four of the last five league meetings at Anoeta. The last time Betis won in San Sebastián in the league was December 2003. La Real will be looking to bounce back after their own consecutive defeats and, in Martin Odegaard, Mikel Oyarzabal and Portu, they have the tools to expose the visitors’ leaky defence.

This fixture has seen both teams find the net in six of the last seven league meetings and we should see a lively encounter and a home win.

Week 9 Predictions:

Granada v Osasuna X

Eibar v Barcelona 2

Atlético Madrid v Valencia 1

Getafe v Leganes 1

Mallorca v Real Madrid 2

Alavés v Celta Vigo 2

Real Sociedad v Real Betis 1

Espanyol v Villarreal X

Athletic Club v Real Valladolid X

Sevilla v Levante 1

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.

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