La Liga: Exciting Balaidos battle expected


MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from matchday 10 from La Liga.

This week’s piece was due to a be a bumper Clásico preview but, given the game has since been moved to 18th December due to security fears surrounding the recent disturbances in Catalonia, we now have the extremely rare opportunity to enjoy a weekend of Spanish football where the claustrophobic media attention towards Madrid and Barcelona will cool down a tad, for a day or so at least.

Having said that, they usually always find a way to grab the headlines, for better or worse.

The week that was

Granada recorded their fifth win of the season – more than Atlético Madrid, Villarreal, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao – and have scored 16 goals, double the amount registered by Diego Simeone’s men. Ordinarily, it would be foolish to suggest that any team could secure top-flight survival by mid-October but that is exactly what I am suggesting: newly-promoted Granada are not going down.

Mallorca have also given their survival chances a huge boost with a famous 1-0 win over a pretty faint-hearted Real Madrid who never really showed up and never really looked like scoring. We haven’t even reached November yet and the mood at the Bernabéu continues to change at a rate of knots and I don’t envisage this turbulence calming any time soon.

As Atletico continue to struggle in attack, league leaders Barcelona seem to be finding their rhythm as their three stars in attack combined to rip Eibar to shreds. Eibar are always a good match-up for Barca given the space allowed beyond their press so it will be interesting to see how the MSG (that’s now a thing) combination functions against more defensively disciplined, deeper-lying outfits.

Frenkie de Jong continues to grow into his role and the signs are positive for the Catalans for the coming weeks.

Celta v Real Sociedad | Sunday 27th October 2019, 11:00 | Premier Sports

All the pressure is on Fran Escribá in this one. He seems to be running out of credit, as they say here in Spain, despite the (dreaded) public vote of confidence from club president Carlos Mouriño. A lot was made of Celta’s summer acquisitions as a number of Galician sons returned to their roots but this batch of Gallegos has yet to ignite and thrill the locals in Vigo as hoped.

With a base including Iago Aspas, Rafinha, Santi Mina, Denis Suarez and Brais Mendez, a goal tally of five after nine games is totally unacceptable. This lack of cutting edge will continue to hinder a team who are generally pretty leaky at home: Celta have kept a clean sheet in 11 of their last 36 La Liga games in Balaídos.

Despite this, Escriba’s men did record impressive win-to-nil victories over Valencia and Athletic Bilbao, but these are not exactly two of the most incisive teams in La Liga.

La Real, meanwhile, continue to play some of the most entertaining, care-free football in Europe and they will be confident of a positive result in Vigo. They have scored at least once in four of their five away games this season, the only blank coming in the Basque derby when they were blown away, but it’s fair to assume that Celta will not pose any such physical challenge.

Despite their stunning football, Imanol Aguacil’s men do give you chances at the other end and they have conceded at least once in four of the last five league games and, given the home side’s urgency and the visitor’s counter-attacking prowess, it is fair to expect an open game with a fair helping of goals at Balaídos on Sunday morning.

Each of the last five meetings have seen both teams score (8/11 William Hill) and this is the angle I like here despite Celta’s recent impotency.

Villarreal v Alavés | Friday 20th October 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports

Curiously, since returning to the Primera, Alavés have won all three visits to Villarreal (1-2, 1-2, 0-2) and have won five of their six league meetings in this time.

All things considered, the recent form line between the two teams is now essentially redundant given the Yellow Submarine’s rejuvenation while Alavés look a long way from the team who were in a Champions League position this time last season.

Asier Garitano’s men have had a tough opening schedule on the road; they managed to pick up a point from their opening away game at Getafe, but have since suffered three consecutive defeats at Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Valencia.

In this run they have conceded seven, scored one and things don’t look to be getting any easier anytime soon as they travel to the Valencian Community this weekend where the Yellow Submarine have scored 13 goals in four games and are yet to suffer defeat in front of their own fans.

We have alluded to Villarreal’s defensive frailties in previous pieces this season but given Alavés’ conservatism away from Mendizorroza, it is unlikely they will cause Javier Calleja’s side too many problems. Instead, they will be coming to frustrate the locals and are in for a busy night.

In Gerard Moreno, Toko Ekambi, Samu Chukwueze, Javi Ontiveros, Carlos Bacca and Moi Gomez, Villarreal have one of the most versatile, multi-skilled and flexible attacking units in the league, and are able to adjust and rotate according to the opposition in front of them. It has precisely been this versatility, energy and explosiveness off the bench which has yielded dividends for Calleja’s men this season, with 30% of their goals coming in the final quarter of games.

Moreover, when faced with deep-lying defensive banks, they are also able to deploy the vision and intricate passing of Santi Cazorla along with the direct, physical presence of Vicente Iborra to unlock the opposition. The pace of Ekambi and Chukwueze has been a fundamental part of how Villarreal have sought to drag opponents out of their defensive shape to free up space inside, and Ontiveros continues to be a real threat from anywhere near the edge of the box when afforded space.

In brief, Villarreal (8/15 Bet365) look to have too many strings to their bow for Alavés to withstand on Friday night and we should, at last, see a win for the men in yellow in the fixture

Other things to watch

  • This has the feel of a draw-fest jornada with games like Leganes v Mallorca, Valladolid v Eibar, Levante v Espanyol, Sevilla v Getafe, Granada v Real Betis and Osasuna v Valencia, so it could be a weekend for a small dabble on draw multiples.
  • Osasuna’s prowess at El Sadar has been well-documented; they are unbeaten in front of their own fans since 1st April 2018, but the run could be under threat this weekend when Valencia come to town. Osasuna have not won this fixture since May 2011 and they will struggle to impose themselves on a strong, physical Valencia team as they have done to other visitors in recent weeks. The draw looks the most likely result here but Valencia will be waiting for their moments to catch Jagoba Arrasate’s men on the counter and may just do so. The Chimy Avila v Gabriel Paulista battle should be fun.
  • We have another final at Butarque this weekend as Leganes continue to search for a new manager, following the resignation of Mauricio Pellegrino. With a mere two points after nine games, los pepineros will have to somehow find between 35-37 points from their remaining 29 games to have a chance at staying up. They still have Barcelona x 2, Real Madrid x 2, Atletico Madrid away, Sevilla away, Villarreal away, Athletic Club away, Osasuna away to come and, despite the fact we are a week out from Halloween, Leganes already look in the horrors and beyond salvation.

Week 10 Predictions:

Villarreal v Alavés 1

Leganés v Mallorca X

Valladolid v Eibar 1

Atlético Madrid v Athletic Club X

Celta Vigo v Real Sociedad X

Granada v Real Betis 2

Levante v Espanyol 1

Sevilla v Getafe X

Osasuna v Valencia 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.

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