Elche v Atlético Saturday 3pm
Like the seasick passenger on a cruise liner who has accidentally swallowed too many laxatives, Elche are in trouble at both ends.
Their 27 goals conceded make them the second most defensively incontinent side in La Liga – and they’ve only scored 12 times in 13 matches.
At the Martínez Valero, where they are La Liga’s ninth best supported club with an average of over 22,000 fans turning up to back them, it’s been torture – in six home matches this season they’ve only led once.
But there’s a stand-out. Up front they have the physically imposing, terrifically quick Jonathas.
— Claudia Ropero (@ClaudiaRopero) November 24, 2014
He’ll be 26 in March and perhaps at this age he’s not going to be absolutely top, top class. But the Brazilian is a handful and to score six in 12 in this team [three in his last two home games] is no small achievement.
Coach Fran Escribá doesn’t need the added problem of one of his other stand-out players, David Lombán, suffering family problems which have prevented him training this week and hint that he might not play against the champions. A full-on competitor at centre-half he’s also author of a couple of Elche’s other goals.
Tipped Griezmann to get us a goal last weekend but he saved it until the midweek Copa win over Hospitalet – merci pour rien mon brave!
That said, his form is good and his only Liga hat-trick so far was for Real Sociedad against Elche last season. A pair of 2-0 wins for Atleti against this mob while winning the title, a couple of penalties awarded to them in those games – a win, a two-goal margin and, in all likelihood, another successful set-piece for Cholo Simeone’s team this weekend (Atleti -1.0 at 17/10).
Real Madrid v Celta Saturday 7pm
Perhaps this is where we get another hint about who’ll win the title. The Galicians have taken a draw and a win away from visits to Atlético and Barcelona already this season – but profile as much, much longer odds to escape without a doing here.
Okay, before I get bullish here’s the cautionary note. Of Celta’s last seven league visits to the daunting Bernabéu [admittedly dating back to 2001] they’ve only lost three. The other results include 1-2 and 2-3 wins plus a pair of 1-1 draws. Moreover, coached by Luis Enrique,
Celta beat los Blancos 2-0 up at the Balaidos last season in a result which confirmed that Madrid couldn’t win the title, thus robbing them of the first treble in their history. Put all of those factors together and no way Celta look like mugs here. But they are in the middle of a vertigo attack, poor dears.
Having won 1-0 at the Camp Nou on the first day of November they’ve not scored a league goal since, they’ve taken a single point, against lowly Granada, losing to Rayo and Eibar. It was Toto Berizzo’s front three which was separating Celta from the pack – at least while they were scoring. Nolito hasn’t got one since mid October, Joaquin Larrivey hasn’t scored since that Camp Nou goal and Fabián Orellana is the most culpable.
No net-bulging since mid September. Albeit using an experimental XI, that run of form hit its logical conclusion in the cup this week with a poor defeat away to second division leaders Las Palmas.
- The front-of-house picture for Madrid is that they have just made history with 16 straight wins, everyone’s teeth are white and shiny like a US chat-show host and if you ask them nicely they’ll probably lend you a fiver till next weekend.
Away from the surface-glare the play has shaded just a touch.
Toni Kroos (above, for Germany) was rested for the cup game and won’t play midweek against Ludogorets because his systems are on overload [aka knackered] – Luka Modric is gonna be missed.
But it’s very hard to see beyond a three goal win for Madrid (-3.0 at around 6/4), more booty for James and Ronaldo and perhaps a little something for Chicharito (5/1 first goalscorer) whose game time is limited but whose form is sparkling.
Madrid have appealed Isco’s second yellow at Málaga last weekend. If rescinded he starts in a James-Kroos-Isco midfield. If not it’ll read James-Illarramendi-Kroos
NB: Ref Undiano has sent Ramos off three times in his career.
Rayo v Sevilla Sunday 12pm
That Sevilla don’t particularly like the Vallecas visit and might lose here is established – five defeats, two draws and just two wins since 1993.
However things have slightly fallen into their laps in terms of the build-up to what could be a stand-out game for attractive football.
Unai Emery’s side have Bob Beamon-ed their way out of a mini crisis with 10 goals in their last two wins.
Ahead of this testing trip to Madrid their last league game was over 24 hours earlier than Rayo’s [Sunday afternoon compared to Monday night] and at home to Granada rather than away in Almeria.
Then their Copa del Rey win over Sabadell was Wednesday, not
Thursday unlike Rayo who lost at home, 1-2, to Valencia.
It all meant that from Sunday evening onwards key figures like Carlos Bacca, Beto, Stéphene M’Bia, Dani Carriço, Nico Pareja, Éver Banega, Aleix Vidal and Vitolo could mix time-off with recuperative training and miss the 5-1 win over Sabadell.
How much faith do you put in that?
Los máximos goleadores de ambos clubes son Leo Baptistao con 6 goles y por parte del almeria Edgar con dos goles. pic.twitter.com/D9eRDuKZpb
— Rayo Vallecano (@BollRayo) December 1, 2014
Don’t forget that because of the Uefa Supercup and Europa League guys like Carriço, Bacca and Pareja have 1700, 1400 and 1300 minutes game-time respectively this season.
Throw in the travel time involved in Europe and that’s a significant difference to Rayo’s most used player, Tito, with 1142 Liga minutes, star strikers Baptistão (above) or Bueno with 944 and 966 respectively.
Sevilla have scored the same number of goals as Rayo have conceded, 24 and in the 26 Liga matches the sides have played this season there’ve only been four draws. In theory it should favour Sevilla. It’s 14 games since they drew an away match – all wins or defeats.
Emery likes counter-attack, his team is confident and in-form and unless they leave their cojones behind them, and wilt, there’s the chance of a rare there points here for them. Even if they have to win it late on, should Rayo wilt.
Barcelona v Espanyol Sunday 4pm
Even if you pay intermittent attention to Spanish football you’ll know of Luis ‘Lucho’ Enrique. He crossed the divide from Madrid to Barça, played for Bobby Robson, won copious amounts of trophies and matured into a Camp Nou great. But Sergio González?
I’d wager you might struggle with the Espanyol coach. Until I remind you that with Super-Depor he won at Arsenal, scored in a win at Old Trafford, beat Bayern Munich home and away, beat Juventus, thrashed European Champions AC Milan 4-0 and scored in the 2002 Copa Del Rey final defeat of Real Madrid. At the Bernabéu. On the 100th anniversary of Madrid’s foundation.
Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Valencia was a fair result, according to coach Luis Enrique. pic.twitter.com/h2cGbmkrje
— Purely Football (@PurelyFootball) December 1, 2014
As a side note, he scored, too, on his Espanyol-Barcelona derby debut back in April 1998 when [as on many occasions] he was up against Luis Enrique.
Does any of that influence who’ll win on Sunday? No, but allow a man to set the scene.
Lucho and Sergio represent precisely what this Derby-lite lacks.
The city doesn’t shudder to a stop as in Madrid, Milan, Manchester, Liverpool.
At the Camp Nou there will be a mere trickle of away fans. Next to no noise – even should they win.
But, regularly, there’s intensity bordering on nastiness on the pitch, and the two coaches represent ‘this is my club’ spirit – the types for whom there’s a significant ‘edge’ to a game like this. If the fans felt the same way about it we’d have a spectacle on our hands.
Right now Barcelona are Jekyll and Hyde. Stormingly good in much of their attacking play at Ajax and Apoel, dozy in the first half against Sevilla then devastating thereafter. Then dopy and slower than sludge for 80 minutes last week against Valencia only to grimly keep plugging away until they hit an added time winner.
- It’s worth paying attention to the fact that not since Mauricio Pochettino took last-placed Espanyol to the Camp Nou during Pep Guardiola’s treble-season and won 1-2 in February 2009 have Los Periquitos even scored on a visit to Barça.
The plain fact is that Sergio doesn’t have a single player, with the possible exception of the excellent Sergio Garcia, of his class and sustained excellence.
It’s hard not to back Leo Messi, six goals and an assist in his last three games, and hard to explain why Luis Suárez’s form went backwards last weekend after he’d broken his duck in Cyprus.
Those who admire the Uruguayan will bet on him making Espanyol pay. Andrés Iniesta is back, looking in decent form, which isn’t necessarily a hint he’ll score but definitely a supply of better ammunition for Neymar, Messi and co. Barcelona by three (at about 7/4).
- Atletico -1.0 (17/10)
- Barcelona -3.0 (7/4)
- Sevilla to win (6/5)
- Real Madrid -3.0 (6/4)
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