You’d be hard-pressed to find any Real Sociedad supporters who call this their ‘lucky’ season, or regard the last few months with much affection at all.
However the Guinness Book of Records stat that they’ve beaten Real Madrid, Atlético and Barcelona using three different coaches can show up a wee four-leaved clover effect if you look a little closer.
In the second game of the Liga season La Real went 2-0 down at home to Madrid before winning 4-2 – in a match where Cristiano Ronaldo was missing, injured.
By the time Asier Santana succeeded Jagoba Arrasate it was Spanish champions Atlético who were beaten – 2-1 having been behind by a goal.
Further examination is that La Real beat a ten-man team thanks to Guilherme Siquiera’s red card five minutes after half time.
Then, finally, Barcelona are put to the sword. The 1-0 win is David Moyes “happiest day” in football.
But, again, fate intervenes. Luis Enrique drops Leo Messi, Neymar, Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic and Gerard Piqué all of whom you’d call automatic first team certainties.
Now it’s Madrid away and Ronaldo gets himself sent off so he’ll be missing the return fixture at the Santiago Bernabéu.
A wee hint that La Real are fated to pull off another almighty shock? Compared to all the other wins this would be the earth-shaker.
The Basques haven’t won at the Bernabéu since 2004 and the only player or sub on either of the team sheets from that day who’s even still at his club is Xabi Prieto. In fact the man who won last week’s Basque derbi against Eibar with that bizarre looping header also scored that day.
I suggest backing the 31 year old now if for no other reason than one of the more remarkable statistical scoring anomalies I’ve ever seen. Not prolific, Prieto has nevertheless scored at least three times as many goals against Madrid as against any other team in his long career.
A maximum of three against anyone else, nine [in 14 games] against what is theoretically his most difficult opponent in Spain. Ronaldo has tended to be the missing element in Madrid’s defeats this season. Absent for the loss to La Real, benched for two defeats against Atlético. Whether him being out is sufficient to make a slightly tired-looking Madrid lose at home to a side which isn’t capable of many goals needs to be treated with skepticism.
Geronimo Rulli has been an absolute diamond for David Moyes since he promoted the young Argentinian keeper but he’ll need to be superb if La Real are to pinch a draw. As will Iñigo Martínez who I suspect is playing for a move to Madrid at the end of the season. Odds against it but football’s a funny old game. 3-1 the European Champions. Benzema [4 in 7 and every one of them at the Bernabéu] loves a goal against the Txuri-Urdin.
- Graham’s Bet: Real Madrid to win 3-1 at 9/1
I’d say that Diego Simeone likes a moan … but he knows where I live.
Still, perhaps he has a case. This trip to the hostile Basque country will be Atlético’s ninth game in January having played eight, won five, lost three [to Barcelona], scored 11 and conceded nine. But I reckon there are other stats which are of equal concern to that narrow +goals tally.
Last season Atleti only saw two reds and 100 yellows in 46 League and Copa matches.
This season, in only 26 League and Copa matches they’ve seen five reds and 89 yellows. Vastly worse discipline.
Gabi [sent off in midweek] is already suspended this weekend for his fifth booking. Diego Godín, suspended for the last two games, returns against Eibar. But, here’s the rub.
At half time against Barcelona Diego Simeone opted not to chase the tie, not to chase the three goals they required in order to save his team’s legs, lungs and potentially save them more disciplinary problems. [The last bit didn’t work].
Why? Because he had to now give priority to the upcoming chances of retaining the league and reaching the Champions League final once again. He knows his players are flagging – mentally and physically. So, what will he do here selection-wise? Next weekend is the Madrid derbi our sixth of the season [Atleti winning 3 so far].
It’s at the Calderón and it’s imperative they win to close the gap at the top. But he has several players one booking away from a suspension against Madrid – Arda, Juanfran, Miranda and Raúl Garcia. It must worry Atleti fans and Atleti backers that their discipline has gone to pot.
So, back to his moans. The defeat to Barcelona finished at about 11pm on Wednesday this match kicks off 6pm Saturday. The Argentinian genuinely thought that if it were played on Sunday the extra recuperation for his players could be vital. So, to put faith in them or to back them to drop points?
Mandzukic didn’t play midweek so he must start. Griezmann was withdrawn at half time so ditto. Back either one for a goal. Both teams to score I reckon but Eibar …
This is virgin territory for them. There’s never been a Primera Division meeting between Eibar and Atlético at Ipurua. Two second division meetings yielded a win each – the first for Eibar robbing Atleti of a chance to get back to the top division, the second a 3-0 win starring Luis Aragonés as Atleti coach, Mono Burgos in goal and a very young Fernando Torres up front.
Gaizka Garitano, now their coach, played for the Basques that day. Eibar don’t bend down for anyone and even made it tough for Atleti at the Calderón earlier in the season. Manu Del Moral has found the net easily in recent weeks. Worth a look. Okay, the champions might well win this, but it’s a banana-skin fixture.
- Graham’s Bet: Both teams to score at 6/5
Memories, memories. This has become one of Spain’s great fixtures. Overflowing with football. And the threat that the fluorescent boys will outshine the Blaugrana boys. From spring 2003 to spring 2005 across five matches Villarreal won three times and Barça managed two points out of fifteen. From April 2007 until January 2010, across six meetings, Villarreal won three and Barça only managed five points out of a possible eighteen. However not since mid 2008 when Jon Dahl Tomasson scored the winner have Villarreal taken three points at the Camp Nou. Those are all the stone-cold facts. Now for the coulda-woulda-shoulda.
At the start of the season the Yellow Submarine did everything but torpedo Barcelona. They made more, better quality chances and Luis Enrique’s fledgling team got off the hook – particularly when Messi made the late winner for young Sandro.
Lumps were kicked out of some Barcelona players in midweek so you’d expect Xavi to start [might well be worth an anytime goal], perhaps Pedro too. Villarreal play such quick, attacking football that them scoring should be no shock – perm from Cheyshev, Musacchio and Vietto. But Barcelona to win … just. 2-1
- Graham’s Bet: Barcelona to win 2-1 at 8/1
The seaside team against the see-saw team. Following their barnstorming win over Sevilla last week [as predicted] the emphasis is on Valencia to rid themselves of their biggest current flaw. Particularly away from home a step forward always seems to be followed by two backwards. For example, Valencia dismantle Spanish champions Atlético then lose, heavily, to Deportivo La Coruña who’ve recently shipped in eight goals at home to Madrid.
They give the the excellent Villarreal a bit of a doing but then take one point out of nine against Athletic, Levante and Barcelona. Even before crashing out of the Cup, Valencia win at Rayo but then concede four at home to the same team and only just manage to claw their way back into the tie having trailed 5-3 at home. Is it their mentality? Is it the fact that this is an almost wholly new team constructed at high speed this summer? They, unlike Cup quarter finalists Málaga, have had a free week to prepare and should be firing on all cylinders. As for other business, things could barely be better.
Getafe have stumped up the €600k they owed Los Che, Antonio Barragán and Pablo Piatti are both nearly fit again and Paco Alcácer just signed a new deal until 2020. This is a tie they simply must win and they have fourteen Liga scorers to choose from. But look to Parejo in the best scoring form of his career, Alcácer and Negredo to assure that.
As for Málaga their elimination at Athletic in the Cup leaves a clear stat emerging. Having scored in every single match since September Javi Gracia’s team have now failed to score in three of their last four matches. In La Liga Samuel Garcia and Amrabat are joint top scorers with just four. Gracia’s team look skilled, as if they have an ‘identity’ but they also look flat and short on gas.
This is a match which won’t be easy for Los Che, particularly given their weak away record, but it’s also one they MUST win if they are to remain credible challengers to quality for the Champions League next seasons. I take them to do that. 0-2