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La Liga Picks - Jornada 8

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Match-round previews for Jornada 8 in Spain.

Denis Doyle

GRANADA over Rayo Vallecano

Rayo have actually beaten Granada in two of their last three visits to Cármenes. However, after going unbeaten through four match-rounds, Caparrós' side have lost three straight, and should be keen to return to their winnings ways. With a full squad available to him (barring Daniel Larsson, who's still training separately), it will be interesting to see who Caparrós chooses to partner El-Arabi. In their seven league games, Granada have used five different forward-line combinations in Caparrós' 4-4-2 . Interestingly, 18 year-old Nigerian international, Isaac Success, has gotten as many starts (4) as El-Arabi, but that's mostly due to the Moroccan's injuries. Local media suggest that Success or Jhon Córdoba (who started against Málaga) will start on Friday. Whatever the case, it is imperative that Caparrós settle on a first-choice eleven, especially in attack, else these inconsistencies are bound to continue.

Granada 1 Rayo Vallecano 0

Real Madrid over LEVANTE

Historically, this is a difficult fixture for Real Madrid, but Levante have one win through seven games with a -12 goal differential. This is hardly the pragmatic, disciplined Granote teams of the JIM/Caparrós era. The club did, however, make an admirable attempt to increase away attendance by paying for transportation to Ipurua. Mendilibar's side responded by producing three goals en route to a draw against Eibar in what was the most bizarre, head-turning result of Jornada 7. Prior to that, the two sides had combined for six goals in twelve matches, so to equal that output in one 90 minute period is uncanny to say the least. Real Madrid's defense, criticized heavily early on, have only allowed one goal in their last three, so I somehow doubt we'll witness another Messi-like performance from Casadesús or David Barral. To Mendilibar's credit, in two of three matches that he's used a 4-4-2 (of which this Levante side are familiar with) they've achieved a positive result. While he may now see the advantage to that, I don't expect much from Levante here barring a surprise appearance from Pepe's mortal enemy, Sergio Ballesteros.

Levante 0 Real Madrid 2

ATHLETIC CLUB over Celta de Vigo

With Gustavo Cabral and Andreu Fontás doubtful, this could serve as an opportunity for Athletic to pick up their first win since Jornada 2 against Levante. Athletic are not without their own injury concerns, however, as Iker Muniain and Gorka Irazoiz remain absent from training, the former of whom had to leave Spain's under-21 game against Serbia with a shoulder injury. If Muniain is unable to play, Ibai Gomez is likely to start in his place, which is not much of a downgrade, to be honest. More significant is who Valverde opts to use as central playmaker, but with recent revelations that Beñat has been given ten games to prove himself, it appears the former Betis man remains first-choice. At this point, I don't expect a resurgence from Beñat, but with so many injuries to Celta's defense (not to mention an abysmal all-time record of 4-9-41 at San Mamés), I like Athletic here.

Athletic Club 2 Celta de Vigo 1

BARCELONA over Eibar

Abraham Minero, Eibar's standout left-back, recently said in a presser that they will be "going to Camp Nou with a knife between [they're] teeth." I quite admire their tenaciousness. Who would have thought that by Jornada 8 Eibar would be the Basque side highest on the La Liga table? It's impossible not to marvel at what they've accomplished under Gaizka Garitano. In fact, this is the best start of any debut Primera club in over 20 years. Prior to their match against Levante (which was more of an anomaly), Eibar had only conceded four goals in six games, which was the third-best defensive record in Spain's top flight (it still is but they're now tied with four other clubs). Abraham, by the way, played under Luis Enrique at Barcelona B in 2010-2011, and has remained good friends with the likes of Marc Bartra and Sergi Roberto. Which is why I find his comment so striking. Eibar aren't a Cindarella story, at least in terms of "rags-to-riches" type connotations, but are rather a very good team, and have been for the duration of this consecutive promotion period. Garitano's side have an Atlético-like chip on their shoulder, and may prove to be a more long-lasting force in La Liga than any of us thought.

Barcelona 2 Eibar 0

CORDOBA over Málaga

For what it's worth, Málaga have only won once at Córdoba's ground, and that was in 1967 at the old Arcángel. Pressure is beginning to mount on "Chappy" Ferrer to obtain a win, as Córdoba' remain the only side in the Primera Division without one. The former Barcelona man said after their draw against Getafe that "a point is better than none," but with matches against Real Sociedad and Atlético Madrid approaching, it's important that he get a positive result here, else his security at the club could be compromised, if it's not already. Málaga, meanwhile, finally scored their first goal in open play against Granada, and are a prototypical midtable side, albeit with greater potential than others. They will be 100% focused on containing Fede Cartabia, who continues to be Córdoba's only contributor in attack, as 42% of their final-third play goes through Fede's flank. If the Valencia loan-out is neutralized, it's difficult to see Córdoba getting anything from this, but with Antunes in and out of form, I think Málaga can be exploited there. I like Córdoba here in what would be their first La Liga win in forty-three years.

Córdoba 1 Málaga 0

ATLETICO DE MADRID over Espanyol

Antoine Griezmann is in the midst of a 711-minute scoring-drought in domestic play. The last time the Frenchman scored a goal in La Liga was in April of last season with Real Sociedad. While he's featured in all seven of Atlético's league games, he's yet to play a full 90 minutes. His high-profile move to Atlético (which, at €30m, was the second-most expensive transfer in the club's history) has been undermined by his slow adaptation to Diego Simeone's system, which requires a significant increase in work-rate, as well as the versatility to drift into a central position. If there's one thing we know about Simeone, it's that he won't be pressured into playing Griezmann for political reasons. Many, including myself, thought Griezmann's transfer would be a game-changer in the La Liga title race, but the club's enormous spending (at least in the context of a non-Big Two Spanish club) has yet to reap it's rewards.

One additional thing to keep an eye out for in this fixture is possession totals. Espanyol average the least amount of possession in La Liga. Atlético, also inclined to counter-attack, often struggle against deep blocks. Atlético have been defeated in two of the three games in which they've had superior possession. Simeone's intricate defensive system has won him accolades all across Europe, but he is yet to show an ability to break down a "parked bus," as they call it. The more Atlético have the ball, the more they struggle.

Atlético de Madrid 2 Espanyol 0

Valencia over DEPORTIVO DE LA CORUNA

If you weren't convinced of the new Lim-owned Valencia before, you probably are now after that tremendous 1-3 win at Vicente Calderón. Nuno's side scored three in the first fifteen minutes, which should come as no surprise, as Valencia have scored more than half of their goals in the first half this season. Los Che are also the most effective goal-scoring team in the Primera with a 62% conversion rate. To put that into perspective, the average conversion rate of the remaining nineteen clubs in La Liga is 30% (Real Madrid are second-highest at 42%). That's an incredible 17 goals in 27 total shots. Furthermore, through seven match-rounds, they've only trailed once, and that was to Sevilla in Jornada 1 when Aleix Vidal scored the opener. To expand upon the astonishment of these numbers, it should be mentioned that Valencia are the youngest team in La Liga, with an average age of 23.9. I don't think even the most optimistic of Che fans could have anticipated such an immense start to the season.

Deportivo de La Coruña 0 Valencia 2

ELCHE draw with Sevilla

Elche is not a city that Sevilla perform particularly well in. In fact, in nineteen matches all-time (including at both Martínez Valero and the former Campo de Altabix), Sevilla have only won four times. To be fair, most of these matches occurred prior to the 1980's, as Elche spent 33 of 35 seasons from 1978 to 2013 in the Spanish lower divisions. Emery's side, though, arrive in excellent form, coming off a 4-1 win over Depor, and now find themselves in third place, ahead of both Madrid sides. Despite this, Sevilla have a tendency to drop points when you least expect it. A lot is made of Martínez Valero's fortress-like qualities, and while Elche haven't particularly lived up to their home standards, I like Escribá's side in a draw here.

Elche 1 Sevilla 1

VILLARREAL over Almería

Almería sit in a respectable tenth place after seven match-rounds. The Andalusian side have been particularly impressive away from Mediterráneos, picking up six out of a possible nine points, which is the fifth-best away record in La Liga. Though they have never won at El Madrigal, this fixture could certainly be more closely contested than you'd think otherwise. Both sides like to play on the counter (despite Francisco's continued insistence that he wants more ball possession), and have excellent defenses with only seven goals conceded each -- which is tied for third-best with Málaga, Eibar, and Atlético. Marcelino's side tend to struggle against compact defensive teams (see their draws against Granada and Eibar). If Almería can stay disciplined at the back, and not allow Villarreal attackers spaces in between the lines, they could pull off a surprise result here. But with Villarreal at full health (barring Mateo Musacchio), and coming off their best performance of the season against Celta, I like the Valencians in a narrow home win.

Villarreal 2 Almería 1

REAL SOCIEDAD over Getafe

It doesn't take a genius to know that five points out of a possible 21 is not good enough if your Jagoba Arrasate. But Real Sociedad have a horrid history of slow starts. In 2012-2013, in which they qualified for Champion's League, the Basque side under Phillipe Montanier had a mere three wins through their first 10 games (10 points overall out of 30), but then only lost twice in the next 28 matches en route to their fourth-place finish. Last season, La Real had one win through their first eight (7 points out of 24), but pulled it together to finish in a Europa League position. There are circumstances that would indicate a similar outcome is not likely to happen again, namely, the departures of Antoine Griezmann and Claudio Bravo, though Arrasate's side certainly have the talent to reinvigorate themselves. Getafe have never won at Anoeta, and have only mustered three goals in seven matches in San San Sebastián, so this should serve as an opportunity to regroup following a dismal one month period in which La Real went winless in five matches.

Real Sociedad 3 Getafe 1