REAL MADRID over Málaga
I mentioned before the international break that Real Madrid is a team stuck in between tactics. There are still some remnants of Mourihno's counter-attack style, and also of Ancelotti's passing-oriented 4-4-2 system. Which, by the way, no matter how many times Ancelotti says it, I have a hell of a hard time seeing any semblance of a 4-4-2 when Real Madrid play. If there is an internet tactics guy for Real Madrid, show yourself. Because I don't see it. But clearly this is a team still discovering itself. When it comes together, they can beat anyone in the world. But when, and if that happens, remains to be seen.
Then there is the Garreth Bale situation. Reports are now that Bale could be available for the Málaga match. This is only days after MARCA revealed Bale had suffered a slipped disc, and would require surgery. Real Madrid, in response, denied any such injury, and stated the player was fine, excluding his other ongoing hamstring problems. Not sure what I believe. But someone on my Twitter rather astutely pointed out that for as much as we identify MARCA with Real Madrid, the publication itself is not much respected by Florentino Perez. Perez wasn't happy that MARCA came out with the slipped disc story -- which still very well might be true. And he wasn't happy with how the Özil situation was handled. But it is MARCA's responsibility to cover these stories. Sport and MD are no different in their biased coverage of Barcelona, so I won't criticize MARCA for doing the same. But Perez would do well to return the favor.
Real Madrid 3 Málaga 1
VALENCIA over Real Sociedad
In my previous two posts, I picked Real Sociedad to win -- both times. Against Levante, they were held scoreless in a 0-0 draw. Against Rayo, they lost after conceding an injury-time penalty, handing Paco Jémez his first victory since Jornada 1. So I refuse to pick La Real hereon until they start playing better. No more benefit of the doubt. Jocoba Arrasate has a lot to prove right now. Injuries to Carlos Martinez, Mikel Gonzalez, Esteban Granero, and Xabi Prieto haven't helped what is an already thin squad. But there are some tactical issues that Arrasate needs to work out. Namely in central midfield, and their inability to link with the forward line. Griezmann and Vela are fantastic players. But they need better service. Of their top 8 players in key passes per game, only one is a midfielder -- Xabi Prieto. That needs to change.
Interestingly, Real Sociedad have beaten Valencia in 4 consecutive matches, including a 5-2 beat down at the Mestalla just last December. But how the tides have turned. Valencia find themselves in good form, unbeaten in their last 4 matches. Real Sociedad, contrarily, are now winless in 8 consecutive matches, including Champion's League. With Postiga back, I'm going for a home win. But it's all part of my superstition to get La Real back on track. ¡Goazen Erreala!
Valencia 2 Real Sociedad 1
Barcelona over OSASUNA
Surely this is a no-brainer. Except that Barcelona have a history of hard-fought matches in Pamplona. Excluding 2010-2011, in which Barça won 3-0, the aggregate scoreline in OSA-BAR matches is 7-8, including a 3-2 loss for the Catalans two seasons ago. El Sadar is just one of those places. As you probably know, Osasuna is one of four Spanish clubs (along with Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletic Bilbao) that is not a sports corporation. As a result, El Sadar exists as sort of a family-based hub for all-things-Osasuna. With retail outlets, restaurants, and various other activities and enterprises, El Sadar is the total football fan experience. It is a historically well-run club, and, like the Camp Nou, very fan-oriented. And Osasuna have always thrived off it.
But despite that, Los Rojijos are just not very good right now, mainly due to one incompetant sporting director. They did, however, pick up a well-earned 3 points against Málaga right before the break. They were very aggressive, and created a good number of chances, despite only 42% possession. I still think Mendilibar was hard-done, but what do I know? Since Javi Gracia was hired, Osasuna is 2-3, with only 6 goals conceded in 5 games, compared to 8 goals in 3 games under Mendilibar. Against the Blaugrana, at home, this could be tight. But Martino has his side scoring 3.5 goals per game, highest in La Liga. And coming away from the international break relatively unscathed, Barça will be looking to pick up their 9th Liga win in as many games, equalling Real Madrid's best-ever start to a season. After that, it's El Clásico. Tell me Tata Martino doesn't want that record, especially in a Clásico. He does.
Barcelona 2 Osasuna 0
Atlético Madrid over ESPANYOL
Héctor Moreno recently came out stating his desire to challenge for a European position. And, to be honest, I actually like this Espanyol squad quite a bit. Aguirre is mostly known for his motivational talents and defensive wits, and it's showing on the pitch. They are top 8 in nearly every defensive category including clearance percentage, average duels won, and interceptions. Part of their success is the stellar play of defensive midfielders Víctor Sánchez and David Lopez. Sánchez in particular who leads the team with 5.1 tackles per game. He breaks up attacks exceptionally well, and is also, rather bizarrely, joint top goal scorer with Thievy. If you haven't already seen it, his golazo against Athletic Bilbao is a must-see. Candidate for goal of the season.
Now, this is an odd time to praise Los Periquitos, considering they've lost 3 straight, and could very well lose a 4th against Atlético. Underwhelming performances against Villarreal, Getafe, and Elche have them in 8th position on 11 points. But the make-up of Aguirre's squad is not bad, despite losing Verdu, Baena, etc. They have the look of a team that can be an outside challenger for a Europa position -- think Getafe last season. But they have to be consistent. Especially against teams lower on the table. If Thievy, Lanzarote, and Sergio Garcia can continue they're good play in attack, and with that excellent double pivot and back line, Moreno's wish might just come true. Against Atlético, they'll probably slip down again. But they get Levante the following week, and Málaga after that, before the Catalan derby. Good opportunity to pick up some points.
Atlético Madrid 2 Espanyol 1
GRANADA draw with Getafe
There is a good article on Inside Spanish Football on Javier Tebas' recent inquiries into the dealings of Granada president Quique Pina. As you may know, Granada follow a similar sporting model to Serie A club, Udinese, with both clubs being owned by Italian businessman Giampalo Pozzo. The model is simple: develop an extensive, world-wide scouting network, and don't spend beyond your means. Udinese are widely known for buying foreign players cheap, developing them, and then selling them for a profit. The Italian club often loans players to Granada, who similarily, loan players to Udinese. But this loan emphasis goes way beyond the Granada-Udinese partnership. Granada have over 60 players on their books, who either play for Granada, or are loaned to various domestic and foreign clubs. Segunda side Hércules in particular have taken up 4 of those Granada players, not to mention 2 Udinese players. This has caught the attention of the LFP who find such a relationship curious.
As noted by Heath Chester, Tebas, despite seemingly genuine attempts to address match-fixing and corruption in Spanish football, often takes a 'guilty before innocent' approach to these issues. What it has resulted in is a number of puzzling investigations that don't go anywhere. Hércules have been at the center of Tebas' obsessions since last summer, after rumors spread the Valencian club were involved in a match-fixing scandal with Racing Santander. An official LFP investigation was launched, but eventually both sides were absolved due to a lack of any real evidence. But Tebas has his sights set once again, this time in relation to Quique Pina -- you know, one of the few people in Spanish football doings things the right way. Finding cost-effective ways to improve his own club, as well as others in equal need. But that is the LFP for you. Misguided and delusional. What else is new?
Granada 1 Getafe 1