La Liga: Real can reign at the Wanda


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

Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid | Saturday 28th September 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports

In his pre-game press conference last season, Diego Simeone remarked how ‘A derby against Madrid is a derby of emotions and men.’ However, it is clear that if Atlético are to have any chance of improving their recent miserable form at home in the Madrid derby, they will require much more than just passion and high testosterone levels.

Away days – happy days

The form line in this fixture is really curious: los rojiblancos have not lost a league game in their last six visits to the Santiago Bernabéu, winning three times. If we look at Real Madrid’s last 15 trips across town for the reverse fixture, the men in white have won an incredibly impressive 10 times, only losing once. Six of those 10 wins would also have clicked for those who backed the away team -1 in the handicap market.

Madrid’s last league defeat in this fixture came back in February 2015 in the old Vicente Calderón where, on a freezing Saturday afternoon, Carlo Ancelotti’s troops were completely overwhelmed by a rampant Atletico who ran out 4-0 winners.

Before that famous win, Atlético had not won both league derbies of the campaign for 64 years! That particular team was built upon a wily core of Diego Godin, Juanfran, Gabi, Tiago, Miranda, Raúl Garcia and underpinned by the guile of Arda Turan, Koke and Antoine Griezmann. Essentially, they were able to impose themselves physically, work harder than their opponents and take their chances when they eventually arrived.

Looking at Saturday night’s game, and despite being favourites with bookmakers, it still seems that Atlético are quite a bit away from where they need to be – physically, mentally and footballistically – in order to really go toe to toe and overcome their eternal rivals.

Given the huge summer turnover at the Wanda Metropolitano, it is only natural that this team is still extremely far from being the best it can be and this is another point in the favour of Real Madrid who, despite a mass influx of new talent themselves, are a relatively settled unit and they are all too familiar about what the Madrid derby entails. That experience is invaluable.

ZZ top – a week is a long time in La Liga

From being on the verge of crisis last weekend, Zinedine Zidane’s men enter this weekend as league leaders, which illustrates the sheer fickleness of Spanish football. Of course, a heavy derby defeat would see a new wave of pressure piled right back on the Frenchman – c’est la vie!

On the back of consecutive clean sheets for only the second time this calendar year and having the luxury of an incredibly talented support cast who were able to overcome Osasuna with relative ease, Los Vikingos arrive fresh and ready for another really tough test on the road, after overcoming a toothless Sevilla in the ever-boisterous Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.

Marca also note that Madrid recorded these back-to-back wins without allowing a single shot on-target, something which they had not achieved since the 2009/10 season.

Madrid did not play particularly well in Seville but they finally demonstrated some pride after a truly pathetic showing in Paris, while Karim Benzema did as Karim Benzema now does: head the ball into the net. The movement of the Frechman paired with Eden Hazard’s dribbling and ball-carrying ability is really going to test this new-look Atleti defence.

The Wanda Metropolitano – Still hasn’t found what it’s looking for

Despite leaving the southwest for the northeast of the Spanish capital, the move from the Vicente Calderon to the Wanda Metropolitano has, all in all, been a great success and the club continues to grow exponentially off the pitch by the day as socio numbers continue to rocket, while new state-of-the-art academies continue to pop up around Madrid.

The attendance at the recent home thriller v Eibar was almost 2,000 greater than the capacity of the famous old ground along the banks of the Manzanares. Moreover, the club has just announced that its budget for the year will be €515m, slightly higher than the €120m in 2012/13!

The Wanda Metropolitano itself is a stunning arena, and the club and fans have done a magnificent job of finding space for the passion and atmosphere of the old stadium in the removal trucks along with the office furniture and trophies.

The stadium has already lived some memorable moments (comeback wins v Athletic Bilbao and Eibar, Diego Simeone grabbing his crotch during last season’s win over Juventus), but it is still lacking that one thing: a win over one of the big boys.

Atlético are now in their third season in the Wanda and have yet to record a victory over either Madrid or Barcelona, recording three draws (two scoreless) and suffering a 3-1 defeat to this weekend’s visitors and it’s difficult to see that changing this weekend.

Simeone’s men were very impressive during the first 45 minutes of their win at Mallorca on Wednesday night and everything was going swimmingly until Alvaro Morata decided it would be a good idea to earn himself two yellow cards in the space of 20 seconds, less than 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute – he will be a really big loss, as mentioned in these pieces in previous weeks.

Atlético did well to fight back from 2-0 down v Juventus in the opening Champions League group game but their faults in attack and defence were evident for all to see when up against opposition of real quality. Still very much a team in transition, los colchoneros lack that manic aggression and energy of yesteryear and are still finding their feet in attack.

Simeone will be focusing hugely on set-pieces for this one and the return of Kieran Trippier, dubbed by Marca during the week as Atletico’s best summer signing, will ensure delivery of real quality from dead-ball situations. Keep an eye on new signing Felipe if he gets the nod; the Brazilian centre-back looks a real towering presence in the opposition area.

Another Atlético worth highlighting is Thomas Partey, who continues to develop at an incredible rate and the Ghana international is quickly becoming one of the most complete midfielders in La Liga. His battle with Casemiro on the other side will have a huge say in how this game plays out.

It just seems that too much has to go right for Atlético Madrid and so much has to go wrong for Sergio Ramos and co. for us to see a home win on Saturday night. We might see another big-game stalemate in the Wanda but if there is to be a winner, it is far more likely going to be Real Madrid. The guests are favoured in the Draw No Bet market at 123/100 (Marathon).

Talking Points

Matchday seven in Spain kicks-off on Friday night as Real Betis travel to Villarreal and, with no favourite shorter than 4/5, we might not see as evenly-matched a weekend all season.

Getafe grinding into gear

It has taken a bit of time but, at last, we are seeing the Getafe of last season and Jose Bordalás’ men are showing signs that they might actually be a better, more complete unit than that which finished fifth in La Liga last season.

After a very disappointing home draw against Alavés at the end of August, Getafe have won their two home games against Trabzonspor in the Europa League and Mallorca, while earning very impressive draws at Real Betis and Valencia. With a little more luck one of those away draws could easily have been three points but, nonetheless, Getafe are on the right path again and look set to push on in the coming weeks.

Marc Cucurella is proving to be a really top signing and the likes of Jaime Mata, Jorge Molina and Angel in attack do not mess around in front of goals. Curiously, they have leaked five goals in their last two games but Bordalás will whip his boys at the back into shape in the coming weeks.

Never a dull moment with Betis

Rubi’s men have played four league games at the wonderful Benito Villamarín this season and have conceded the first goal in each encounter. Earning seven points in four games from losing positions is, indeed, impressive and noteworthy but Betis really need to snap out of this habit of sleepwalking into games before serious opposition come to town.

Not great for the blood pressure of the locals, los verdiblancos are great to watch for us neutrals and at times play some really beautiful football. Thirty-eight-year-old Joaquin continues to reel in the years and provide moments of magic and alegría – he contributed a hat-trick of assists midweek v Levante!

Valladolid home (dis)comforts

It’s amazing really to think that Real Valladolid survived relegation last season despite winning a mere five games at home, but that is exactly what they did.

They, along with Girona, were the only two teams in La Liga during the 2018/19 campaign who earned more points on the road than in their own stadium and it seems that, once again, Valladolid look better equipped due to their defensive solidity and compactness to enjoy more productive away days than back in Pucela, where the emphasis and pressure is on them to attack.

It’s never ideal hosting the energetic new boys in the opening weeks of the season and Sergio’s men were only able to muster a pair of 1-1 draws against Osasuna and Granada.

As mentioned in recent weeks, the promoted teams this season look far more competitive than the likes of Huesca and Rayo Vallecano which means that five or six home wins might not be anywhere near good enough to avoid relegation this time around – a long season ahead for sure.

Martin Odegaard MVP – La Real look the real deal

A stunning, newly-renovated stadium, second place in the league with 13 points after six games and boasting one of the most entertaining attacks in Spain – the good times are back at Real Sociedad, and there is real optimism about what this young team can achieve.

Led by a manager which virtually nobody outside of the Basque Country knew much about before this season, let alone his name, La Real were touted as ones to watch before the season kicked off and they have since exceeded expectations thanks to the exceptional performances of local hero Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Odegaard.

The Norwegian has already featured in four of Marca’s first six editions of ‘Team of the Week’ and has been the revelation of the season in Spain to-date. Mobile, technically excellent, and combining class with hard-work, Odegaard has adapted very quickly to life in Donostia, not totally surprising given La Real’s style of play under Imanol Alguacil.

The only fear is that Florentino Peréz’s finger could begin to hover above the ‘recall’ button and cut short his two-year loan, which would be a real shame. However, locals and neutrals alike should enjoy this Real Sociedad team – they are a lot of fun.

The Sack Race blues

It looks like we might see our first results-based managerial casualty in the coming weeks and two names stand out above all the rest.

Espanyol were minutes away from their first win in Vigo in eight visits on Thursday evening until a late, late Santi Mina goal dealt them yet another blow and it seems that manager David Gallego is a couple (at most) of bad results away from being the first manager sacked because of performances on the pitch (Marcelino and Valencia was due to internal conflict).

They host Valladolid in the early Sunday game before travelling to Mallorca and, essentially, Gallego has 180 minutes to save his job – perhaps he won’t even be on the plane to the Balearic Island if things go awry on Sunday.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the novice coach of a team who sold two of its key pieces from last season: defensive leader Mario Hermoso and their main goalscorer Borja Iglesias, but that was the hand he was dealt. Espanyol are in the bottom three and have scored four goals in six games – not good.

Alavés, a team WLB tipped outright for relegation, are another side who really look clueless and have had their limitations ruthlessly exposed in the past week against their big Basque brothers, losing an aggregate 5-0 at San Mamés and Anoeta, while showing little resistance.

Asier Garitano has set out his team to be extremely hard to beat but has seemingly neglected the other fundamental aspect of the game of football: putting the ball in the opponents net. Alavés have scored a pitiful two goals in six La Liga games and it’s little wonder when you have a midfield core of Mubarak Wakaso, Tomás Pina and Manu García.

Alaves look a team devoid with any sort of creativity – again, another team who lost a key player from last season in Jonny, but Garitano is on borrowed time if his team continue to limp to dull, uninspiring defeats.

Mauricio Pellegrino at Leganés and José Luis Mendilibar at Eibar would ordinarily be under a bit of early pressure but they have the fortune at being at two stable, well-run clubs who will stand by their men unless things get totally out of hand. Lucky them!

Best Bets

Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid – Real Madrid draw no bet (123/100 Marathon)

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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