Granada v Real Madrid, Saturday 3pm
Joaquin Caparrós is generally a manager who’ll keep a team in a league position above expectations, who isn’t shy about using youth team products and whose work methods are demanding enough that, often, the coaches who come after him at a given club can benefit greatly from a properly-run and motivated environment.
However, if he’s the guy you are looking for to regularly giant-kill Madrid or Barcelona then probably better look elsewhere.
Even at Sevilla and Athletic in eras when, arguably, they might have taken more scalps Madrid would regularly put four or give past his sides and only lose once in a blue moon.
It is sad to say but the impression has grown, over the seasons, that he lacks belief in his own (or his squad’s) capacity to knock over the big guys. Like he’s a little lost in admiration.
Not an impression diminished yesterday when he admitted: “The problem is that Madrid arrive at the top of their form and they are impressive. They’ve so many ways to beat you – via all-out attack, counter-attack, strategic tactics, set plays or individual brilliance. All I ask is that we don’t let them walk all over us.”
- Madrid have 11 different scorers this season. Ronaldo’s scored more on his own than most decent teams have this term and the tale of the tape reads: Madrid – Scored 33, Granada – Scored 6.
You do the arithmetic. Rested players like Ronaldo, Kroos, Modric Iker, Pepe and Sergio Ramos all return and there’s little to suggest they won’t return from Andalucia with three points and, likely, three more goals. With Liverpool on the horizon you can bet Ancelotti will use all three subs and Chicharito’s goals-to-minutes ratio is very good.
Atlético Madrid v Córdoba – Saturday 5pm
Los de Córdoba got a point last week, the equaliser handled into the Real Sociedad net by Newcastle flop Xisco. The goal came with three minutes left and it marked new coach Miroslav Djukic’s debut in charge after succeeding the dreadfully treated Albert Ferrer.
You could cook up an idea that this was a breakthrough moment, if you really, really tried. But the moment will be broken this weekend.
Not only are Córdoba away to the Spanish champions, they catch Atleti in that ‘bear with sore paw’ mood. The Spanish league awards were announced about 12 hours before the Ballon D’Or long lists and los Colchoneros were not only badly ignored, they were treated humiliatingly. Thibaut Courtois, Diego Godin, Miranda, Filipe Luis, Koke, Gabi, Diego Costa – were all completely ignored in the domestic awards and only Courtois, Costa and Diego Simeone are on the FIFA long-lists.
Bet your bottom dollar the ‘we’ll show all of them’ mentality has been stoked up to ramming speed over the last couple of days.
- Atleti are being branded ‘violent’ and the fact that 90% + of their goals come from set plays is being mocked and diminished as an achievement. That, too, will fuel their anger.
Djukic likes his team to defend as a block, he’s an intense coach in the very same style as Simeone. But Atleti are beginning to find their tempo, Antoine Griezmann has the monkey off his back via a goal last week, both Godin and Miranda remain good set-piece bets to score and the champions should put Cordoba firmly in place.
Barcelona v Celta Vigo – Saturday 7pm
The last time Celta won away to Barcelona it was two months before the attack on Pearl Harbour, the US hadn’t entered World War II and the Camp Nou was 16 years away from hosting its first match.
Not all that encouraging if you are thinking of putting all your piggy bank savings on the Galicians to inflict only Barca’s second league defeat of the season.
But then there’s the ‘Football, bloody hell!’ factor (© Alex Ferguson)
Banana skins should be yellow-ish, not sky blue like the Celta jerseys – yet perhaps that’s precisely what Celta represent if there are any ‘we’re feeling sorry for ourselves’ feelings left over on the good ship Barcelona after the Clasico mauling.
For starters, this is the club Luis Enrique coached to 9th place last season before answering the calll ‘home’. How traditional it would be for Eduardo ‘Toto’ Berizzo to inspire his squad with: ‘HE thinks he’s too good for you all… YOUR work got him to the Camp Nou and a big fat salary. ‘And he didn’t take any of you with him!! ‘Well, we’ll show that git!!’
It’s the stuff of a thousand team talks. But occasionally it works.
For those who look for ‘signs’ before a shock Barcelona’s apocalyptic horseman in that scenario would be Nolito (4/1 anytime). Raised and trained at the Camp Nou, always promising but almost never given a chance, the striker has been one of those glorious late bloomers.
After joining Benfica he found his goal boots. Now at Celta it was under Luis Enrique that he kicked on again.
- Nolito got 14 in 35 last season, he has five in nine this term and Spain’s assistant manager Toni Grande recently admitted that he and Vicente del Bosque are tempted to pick him for the national team when it faces World Champions Germany in Vigo in a couple of weeks’ time.
“We won’t change our style which is to pressure high up the pitch, to try to ‘own’ possession and to attack,” Berizzo promises. “Try to defend at the Camp Nou and the game can feel like it’s eternal.”
No Iniesta for Barcelona, injured, but perhaps the up-side is Luis Suárez’ Camp Nou competitive debut. His stats currently read: two goals, two goal assists in his three matches for his new club. What odds on him hitting the net just to spice up his already extraordinary story?
Meanwhile, Neymar (above) has 11 goals in 11 starts this season – no reason he shouldn’t continue that run. But a risky, nerve-testing match for Barcelona should they be at anything less than their best against Toto’s team.
Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla – Sunday 11am
Speaking of the Ballon D’Or … surely the least excusable omission from the managerial long list, particularly as Jose Mourinho is there after a fallow year, is Sevilla boss Unai Emery.
Not only did he coach his side to the Europa League title last season, often playing thrillingly and eliminating 10 opponents to do so, if you take the Spanish league from February until this weekend then Emery’s Sevilla have won the highest points total (54) and currently sit equal top of the league – jointly with Barcelona.
What’s intriguing is that one of Sevilla’s few set backs, as they surged up the league last Spring, as they fell just short of making it into the Champions League was at Athletic.
The Basques were cooking by gas then and rather trampled on a tired Sevilla 3-1 with goals from Susaeta, Iker Muniain and the Manchester United-bound Ander Herrera.
Here’s the rub.
- Athletic have had a miserable term and their 1-0 win at Almeria last week was their first three-pointer since August. They’ve only scored six while in midweek Sevilla put out a second XI in the Copa and thrashed Sabadell 6-1 away.
Now Athletic are coached by Ernesto Valverde whose job should be well safe. But it’s an election year in Bilbao and president Urrutia was down watching training on Thursday. He needs to present a winning ticket to the voters in the summer. Unai Emery is a Basque. And successful. IF his Sevilla were to win at the new San Mames then the pressure Valverde is under will increase and the thoughts that Emery could be tempted to come back to the Basque country would too.
Bacca, Aduriz, Gameiro and Iturraspe shape up as worthwhile ‘anytime’ scorers.
Villarreal v Valencia – Sunday 4pm
Two sides who are huge fun to watch. For Villarreal, given that Castellón won’t come out to play (stuck in the 4th division) this is their local derby match. It’s also a meeting where there are goals – 40 in the last 12 times the Yellow Submarine have played Los Che.
Away wins are also rare, only two ever when Valencia travel the hour journey north, the last one seven years ago.
Valencia are buzzing. Takeover complete, Peter Lim finally in charge and Álvaro Negredo fully fit again. They scored all three goals from set plays last week, four of their last six came this way, and Pablo Piatti, their tiny Argentinian wide-boy, is on the form of his life. He’s created all four of them.
Perhaps given that Villarreal still are without their tremendous, powerful centre half, Mateo Musacchio, and Victor Ruiz won’t play becuase of the €300,000 clause which Valencia put in his contract when selling him to their neighbours, the set-play is something to have a tickle at.
- Otamendi, Paco Alcàcer, Dani Parejo and Mustafi all have headed goals for Los Che this season.
Between them the two sides have 23 different scorers this season so one could fancy both teams to score and Valencia to take home no worse than a point.
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