Atlético Madrid v Málaga, Saturday 3pm
This is the definition of an intriguing wee fixture carrying far more history, and ‘sizzle’ than is immediately apparent.
The reigning champions against a side which has been brutally asset-stripped since Manuel Pellegrini left.
Hold your horses. Since Málaga drew at home to Barcelona in late September (preventing Messi and Co from getting a single effort on target and making it seem like Javi Gracia’s mob had about 15 players on the pitch) they’ve played six times and won five. Fifteen points via five back-to-back victories – one short of the club’s all-time record. Interestingly, too, the Malagueños have only won away to Atlético three times in history – but two of them have been in the last five visits (since Jan 2010).
- In fact, in those last five matches at the Calderón, Málaga have two single-goal defeats (2-1 each time), two wins (0-2, 0-3) and last season’s 1-1 draw.
On which point, that draw should make this a grudge match for Diego Simeone’s lads. On the penultimate day of the season Málaga had nothing to play for, bar pride, but led 1-0 until relatively late and battled like it was for their lives. Barça drew at Elche that weekend so a win for Atlético would have meant the title and an ability to rest key players (particularly the injured Diego Costa) at the Camp Nou and get them fit and fresh for the Champions League final against Madrid which they failed to win by a handful of seconds before collapsing, exhausted, in extra time. NB the Spanish for revenge is ‘revancha’.
— Samuel Garcia (@samuel7garcia) October 19, 2014
Nordin Amrabat, Málaga’s leading scorer (three) is out injured and although he’s not prolific I like Samuel Garcia as an anytime goalscorer at 11/2. Scored a brilliant goal at Atlético in that 1-1 draw last May, and two crackers in Málaga’s last four wins. P.S. Málaga’s last two away wins have cost the opposition coaches their jobs – Albert ‘Chapi’ Ferrer at Córdoba and Jagoba Arrasate at Real Sociedad. But if Paddy offers you odds on Diego Simeone to complete the hat-trick – politely refuse to invest your money, okay?
Eibar v Real Madrid, Saturday 5pm
Spanish football does many things well but has made a real botch-up of the Copa Del Rey. Cup ties (coming to a Sky Sports 5 midweek soon) are now home and away, ensuring that giant-killing is now as rare as finding a genuine, full-blooded, club-wielding, 15ft giant with a long beard and a stroppy attitude. So treasure this game. It’s as close to the magic of the FA Cup 3rd round as the Spanish game has.
The world’s best-known club, against one from a Basque town of 27,000 inhabitants. Played in a stadium which houses fewer than 6000 spectators, with several hundred watching from the terraces of tower blocks which surround the partially-open Ipurúa ground. This is Eibar’s first time in the top league in 74 years but they’ve played Madrid at home once before, in the Cup 10 years ago. A bonkers night which finished 1-1 but during which Iker Casillas had to excel.
The even better story, beyond the kitsch, is that Gaizka Garitano has got his side playing confidently, with great order and a dash of daring. The fact that Luka Modric is absent injured and Madrid’s central midfield needs re-jigging, will probably be better tested on bigger pitches than this. But elite coaches hate, just hate, that post International break threat of players having ‘relaxed’ and not yet being back in their club mindsets.
VULNERABILITY is the word which makes them lose sleep and snap irritably at the missus. Is this the moment to recommend that you back the total underdogs? I’m not certain Madrid (read Ronaldo) won’t cope. However if you wanted to favour Eibar then when they’ve had two weeks of planning, concentrated tactics and training, when Modric is out, when the game’s at Ipurúa and the referee has a record of Madrid only winning 17 of 31 games when he’s been in charge …. then there won’t be a better moment I’d venture.
If the improbable is to happen Eibar would need their ‘pichichi’ Mikel Arruabarrena to score but not only should Madrid bring home the bacon, I’m sure they’ll score no matter how the game goes. Thus to win the Basques, who play in ‘Barça’ colours, would need a special ‘jack-in-the-box- goal’. Who better than Catalan, ex Barça B Abraham who scores once in a blue moon but hit an absolute pearler at Atlético this season?
Barcelona v Sevilla, Saturday 7pm
I suggested a couple of weeks ago that Celta might win at the Camp Nou, and they did. When Barça failed to score that day it was the first time that had happened since Sevilla drew 0-0 there in October 2011.
That day the now pretty-much-forgotten Javi Varas seemed to have a personal grudge against Messi capped by saving his 90th min penalty.
Now it’s Unai Emery’s Sevilla who visit the Camp Nou and, like Celta, they have the pace, the technique, the attitude and the counter attack to win. Particularly following an international fortnight which can leave elite players sloppy and sluggish in its aftermath.
Messi will face Beto for the second time in 5 days pic.twitter.com/KEIsNnbQ8s
— Hzz. (@fcbtitto) November 22, 2014
Perhaps the best reason to suggest that won’t happen this time is, again, the Messi/Sevilla goalkeeper situation. Emery (who’s never beaten Barça as a coach) suddenly has doubts about the hero of last season, Beto, and the keeper has looked gaffe-prone. Messi keeps missing chances which he’d normally bury but he’s still getting goals and assists thus when he re-calibrates by a few millimetres and overtakes the all-time La Liga scoring record (two goals to overtake Zarra) then you’d guess a splurge of hitting the net will follow such a pressure release. More, Luis Suárez utterly changed Barcelona two weeks ago when they played poorly at Almeria but won. You’d take both teams to score, perhaps an M’Bia header for Sevilla but both Messi and Suárez to save some Catalan blushes.
Deportivo v Real Sociedad, Saturday 9pm
Hail to the Scotia Nostra in Spain. Jack Harper, a talented young striker at Real Madrid, Ian Cathro, assistant coach at Valencia and now David Moyes in charge of Royalty. La Real have shown this season that when they play with pace and confidence they’ll give anyone a game. Fortunate beyond belief to squeeze past Aberdeen the effort absolutely knackered them and they’ve only managed to beat the Russian Cup finalists, the Spanish Champions and the European champions since.
All week Moyes has worked hardest on two things – winning the ball back aggressively and quickly when it’s lost and the strategy of set plays.
- La Real go to a ground where they’ve won just six times in 36 visits, just twice in the last 10.
Depo, in the hands of a talented coach in Victor Fernández (do the names Nayim, David Seaman, Paris and 1995 help remind you who he is) are short of goals, short of talent, really, but they whipped Valencia 3-0 when Los Ché turned up lacking in intensity and concentration.
Can a foreign coach who has had to work through an interpreter and has only really been in charge for eight or so sessions impose his wishes, conquer La Real’s notoriously fragile confidence away from home and squeeze goals out of the under-performing Carlos Vela, Imanol Agirretxe or Alfred Finnbogason? Yes, by jove, yes he can! No worse than a score draw, Vela and Agirretxe to help out there and possibly even a 1-2 away beginning. Go on, Moysie.