I'd like to make this into a weekly feature. Whether I not I find the time, I can't really say. But here are my picks, along with a write-up on each match up. Note: club in capitalized letters denotes home club.
ATLETICO MADRID over Almería
If you would told me Almería would be leading after the 87th minute in all of their first three matches, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we here. Jornada 4. And Almería have done just that. The problem: only 2 points in three matches. They can’t finish games. Not yet at least. Late equalizers to Getafe and Elche, and one heartbreaking go-ahead late goal conceded to Villareal, see the newly promoted Andalusian side with two draws, and one loss through three games. If Almería can sort out their defensive problems and late-game focus, they might just be all right. Only Barcelona, Villarreal, and Atlético have scored more goals than Almería so far. NO ONE saw that coming.
A trip to the Vicente Calderon, however, will be no easy task. Atlético look to be a very strong side once again. Two brutal, ugly matches against Barcelona proved Simeone’s side can get down and dirty with the best of them. That style of football might not win Los Rojiblancos any Most Exciting Team awards, but it certainly gets results. Third-place is theirs to lose.
Side note to Liverpool fans: If Suso at any point comes up limping in this one, you better hope Francisco has already seen this. Or even this. When Godin smells blood, it’s like Shark Week at the Calderon. Fine player, but damn.
Atlético Madrid 3 - Almería 1
Real Sociedad over LEVANTE
Well, I picked Levante to get relegated. But they somehow managed to get 4 points in three games, and find themselves dead-middle-of-the-table. After an agonizing 7-0 loss at the Camp Nou, The Granotes played through a 0-0 snooze fest against Sevilla, and then miraculously pulled out 3 points in Vallecas after a 93rd minute goal by new signing Andreas Ivanshitz. Maybe I underestimated Joaquín Caparrós. He’s been around a long time, and knows how to get results. But this Levante side is so utterly depleted. Just don’t see it. Prove me wrong, Levante. Prove me wrong.
As for La Real, I think balancing Champion’s League with La Liga is going to be difficult. They have the talent. But not the depth. We saw some fitness problems against Elche. And after a lackluster first half against Atlético, I’m convinced that will be Real Sociedad’s biggest obstacle this year. Is Arrasate the right guy for the job? Time will tell. In the meantime, GOAZEN ERREALA. And don’t lose to Levante. Just don’t.
Real Sociedad 2 Levante 0
BARCELONA over Sevilla
Despite after what I deemed the best transfer season in La Liga, it’s hard to see Sevilla getting points out of this. Why? For starters, they haven’t won a La Liga away match since September 24th, 2012. That’s right, it’s been almost a full calendar year since the Sevillstas won outside the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. To their credit, they did manage to pick up a preseason win at Old Trafford against Manchester United. But after a draw against Levante it seems the Unai Emery-led squad have picked up right where they left off. And not in a good way.
To make matter worse, their schedule is not going to get easier. After Barcelona, they have Valencia and Real Sociedad away, and Rayo Vallecano at home. That Valencia match is dated for September 22nd. If Rakitic and co. don’t want to make it a full 365 days, they HAVE to win at the Mestalla. Unless they beat Barcelona, which seems unlikely. But you never know. I expect the Catalan side to rotate players this week with Champion’s League coming up. Montoya, Bartra, and Tello might all be seeing first-team action. Can Sevilla shake the voodoo? Only this guy, could cast a spell like that.
Barcelona 3 Sevilla 1
Real Madrid over VILLARREAL
Will Gareth Bale start in what will be his first official game as a member of Real Madrid? We’d all like him to, of course; however, Ancelotti might feel differently. I expect the €100m Welsh superstar to sit this one out at El Madrigal. At most, he could feature as a sub. But I suspect we will have to wait another week for a full 90 minutes of Bale-time. First couple of rounds haven’t been easy for Los Blancos. Hard-fought victories against Betis and Granada, and a 3-1 win against Athletic see Real Madrid tied top of the table with 9 points in three matches. Barcelona, Atlético, and yes, Villarreal also sit on 9 points going into Jornada 4. Even if we don’t get to see what Ray Hudson has already called The Great White $$$hark, I expect this one to be a thriller.
Also, in case anyone missed it, here’s Gareth Bale’s somewhat heartwarming introduction at the Santiago Bernabeu. Bale called it his sueño to be a Real Madrid player. If I wasn’t a culé, I’d actually be rooting for the guy. Seems genuinely committed and humbled to be part of such a historic club. Despite the record-breaking sum, it doesn’t quite feel like a Galactico signing. Something is different about it. But with only three La Liga titles since 2004, and zero Champion's Leagues, Madristas around the world are hoping $$$hark is the answer. I'm not, though. Hala Bale, pero la muerte de Madrid.
Real Madrid 3 Villareal 2
GRANADA over Espanyol
A lot was made of Granada’s summer transfer window. Piti and Riki have been brought in to bolster the attack, and Brahimi was signed permanently from his loan deal. But it’s been their defense keeping them in games. Three games, and three goals conceded, including a grind-it-out 1-0 loss against Real Madrid. Center-back Diego Mainz, as you’d probably expect, continues to anchor a very strong back line. But with the match being played at Los Cármenes, look for El Graná to go for some goals.
On the other side of things, Espanyol have really impressed so far—that is, minus that 0-0 draw with Betis. New signings Lanzarotte, Thievy, and David Lopez are all playing well. With Verdu and Baena absent in midfield, many expected Los Periquitos to struggle a bit. Contrarily, they’ve looked steady in possession, and even better in attack—especially in transition. Lanzarote and Thievy in particular, both very pacey, have made a huge impact off the bench. Away from home though, I expect this one to be a bit tougher.
Granada 2 Espanyol 1
GETAFE draw with Osasuna
Poor Mendilibar. First firing of the new Liga campaign. And only three weeks in. He’s not a bad manager, really. Was largely successful at Valladolid, leading them to top flight promotion in his first season. He helped retain first division status for the next two years, before getting sacked after the club was relegated in 2009. Landed at Osasuna one year later, and nearly took the Pamplona club to Europa League in his first season. Kind of hard-done if you ask me. If anyone is to blame, it’s the Osasuna board for failing to put together anything that resembles a first division roster. Mendilibar did the best he could with a limited squad. Just surviving last season was impressive in itself. The sporting department offered no support when Mendilibar made requests for players. Michu and Javi Fuego in particular were well-known Mendilibar targets. Michu, after leaving Celta, would have came on a free transfer. And Fuego’s estimated value at the time was under €1m. Is Osasuna a bad team? Yes, probably. Is it Mendilibar’s fault? Not a chance.
Newly appointed manager Javi Gracia will be looking to get off to a good start. However Getafe is a team in desperate need of a good performance. They are lucky to have a point, to be honest. If Almería don’t concede that 85th minute penalty, Getafe would be sitting on zero points right now. The defense looks poor and unorganized. The midfield looks severely weakened with no Xavi Torres. And with Barrada's absence in attack, there’s virtually no creativity coming from anywhere. Sarabia and Pedro Leon are both talented players, but still very young. If Getafe want to get out of this season alive, they’re going to have to have the U21 players step up. And in a big way.
Getafe 1 Osasuna 1
Rayo Vallecano over MALAGA
I don’t really understand Jonathan Viera’s loan move. From Valencia’s standpoint, at least. Most expected him to play a role this year. He had a stellar preseason, and looked to challenge Guardado, Canales, and Jonas for a first XI position. Out of nowhere it was announced Viera would be joining Rayo on loan for the 2013-14 season. No option to buy. Wages paid in full by the loan club. This was seemingly against the wishes of Miroslav Djukic who saw Viera as an important player this season. The sporting department felt differently. If Viera had a future at Valencia, he needed regular first team minutes right now. In my view, he could have contributed. Valencia’s other wide left options are Guardado (inconsistent), Bernat (converted to left back), Canales (extensive injury history) and Jonas (plays better centrally). Seems obvious Viera had a role. But I don’t make the decisions.
From Rayo’s standpoint, this is a fantastic signing. Viera is very pacey, and good with the ball. Makes hard runs, often cutting inside from that left flank. Look for him to fit in nicely on the wing opposite Lass. A forward line of Viera, Bueno, and Lass is pretty exciting. Unpredictable. But exciting.. Not to mention the Paco Jémez factor. Viera played, and excelled under Jémez at Las Palmas three seasons ago, and really came into his own. Both eventually went on to bigger clubs. Viera to Valenica. Jémez to Rayo. Personally I expect big things from the Canary Island kid. Here’s to hoping we get see Viera’s official debut.
It won’t be easy against that disciplined Málaga defense. But I just devoted this entire write-up to Jonathan Viera. It would be kind of contradictory if I predicted anything less then an away win here. Vamos Rayo.
Rayo Vallecano 2 Malaga 1
REAL BETIS draw with Valencia
This is surely the game of the week. Both clubs desperately need wins here. Betis are coming off two abysmal performances against Celta and Espanyol. They played well in Jornada 1 against Real Madrid, and really deserved a point, if not three. But an utterly embarrassing second half performance in Vigo, and a 0-0 draw with Los Periquitos has Betis on 1 point after three games. Not what Pepe Mel had in mind coming into the year. Los Béticos are expected to challenge for at least Europa League, if not Champion’s League. If they want to compete in Europe for a second consecutive year, they’re going to turn it around. Their biggest obstacle thus far has been putting the ball in the net. Ruben Castro is still not 100%, but they have other options. Molina and Verdu especially need to step it up. If their attack is truly this one-dimensional, this might be a more serious problem than we think. I expect Pepe Mel to sort it out, though. It’s what he does.
For Valencia, another loss would look really bad here. But it wouldn’t be dire. Many allude to Valenica’s seemingly impatient fan base as evidence that Djukic could find himself in the same position as Pellegrini last season. I couldn’t disagree more. For one, Llorente is no longer the president. Pellegrini was in large part a casualty of an apprehensive president very aware of his dwindling support. Despite getting off to a slow start in the league, Pellegrini led Valenica right into the round of 16 of Champion’s League, before getting the boot. Unfair? Probably. But that’s life for a manger in Spain.
I expect this one to be exciting. A lot of good attacking players on both sides. Ruben Castro will be looking to settle in after a longer-than-expected injury spell. Cedrick has been a revelation on the right wing, and signed for €1.20, is unquestionably the signing of the summer. How newly converted left back Juan Bernat deals with Cedrick, Castro, and Juanfran will be key. Valencia’s traditionally leaky defense could have problems. Not that Betis are much better in that area. Should be high scoring.
Real Betis 2 Valencia 2
ELCHE draw with Valladolid
Biggest question going into Jornada 4 between Elche and Valladolid is the fitness and recovery of Patrick Ebert. It’s been a difficult summer for Valladolid’s star left winger. It seemed almost imminent at one point he’d be making a summer move to the Vicente Calderon. And, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why it never happened. Surely at this point Atléti have given up on Adrián. Ebert would have been a major acquisition. But regardless, he’s still a Valladolid player, and a very important one at that. Still recovering from some muscular problems that have kept him sidelined since Jornada 1, Ebert is a game-changer and the key to this match. It would be an understatement to say the Castilla y Léon side have missed the German international. With only two goals in open play, Valladolid really miss Ebert’s dynamism on the left flank. Oscar and Javi Guera have largely been contained without the threat of Ebert. If he plays, and he’s fit, it changes everything. But at the Martínez Valero, I’m going with a draw. Elche’s tough defense is enough against an Ebert-less attack.
Elche 1 Valladolid 1
ATHLETIC BILBAO over Celta Vigo
For this, I’d like to direct everyone to some amazing photos of the new San Mamés. There is some speculation this wonderful new stadium could be the setting of the Euro 2020 finals. And I’d like to formerly pledge my support. What an atmosphere that would be. And for Celta, quite the intimidating task, being the first club to feature in Athletic’s new home. But also an honor, I'm sure. I know Barça fans would LOVE to see Rafhina open the scoring in this one. What a moment that would be, for the youngest Alcântara kid. But I suspect this is going to be Athletic’s game to lose. For one, Los Leones are the better team. Secondly, Ander Herrera will be looking to have a good game in his first appearance since all the deadline day United stuff. And thirdly, well, it’s the first match at the new San Mamés. Goes without saying how historic this day will be. GOAZEN ATHLETIC. 2020 EUROS EKARRI DU SAN MAMES.
I hope I got that right. Probably not.
Athletic 2 Celta Vigo 0