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La Liga Picks: Jornada 7

Match-round previews for Jornada 7 in Spain.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

GETAFE draw with Córdoba

I'd like to give Córdoba the benefit of the doubt, but with zero wins in six matches, and only three goals scored, it's hard to justify anything more than a draw at the Coliseum. Ferrer's side had their chances against Espanyol last week, but couldn't convert any of their four shots on target, and finished up 0-0 at Nuevo Arcángel. Ferrer said after the game that "a point is better than nothing," but as other bottom-table sides start obtaining results, Córdoba has to pull out a win sooner than later. Interesting, Ferrer used new tactics against Espanyol, deploying Juventus loan-out Fausto Rossi in a more advanced role. Ultimately, until Córdoba start to get production from the striker position, it doesn't matter much what tactics Ferrer uses. Mike Havenaar was acquired to be a Manucho/Larrivey-type, but in his first La Liga season, the Dutch-Japanese striker has been utterly ineffective.

Getafe 0 Córdoba 0

Atlético de Madrid over VALENCIA

Atlético were back to their best against Sevilla last week. Some questioned whether Atlético were in fact still league contenders, as their form had dropped considerably in Simeone's absence. But the Madrid side did well reaffirm their place in La Liga's new "Big Three." Simeone's system is dependent on three things: A) their ability to control space B) horizontal pressing C) quick and wide transitions. In what was their most well-rounded performance of the season (perhaps barring the third Madrid derby), Atlético returned to the basics of Simeone's ideas, and came away with an important three points.

Valencia, meanwhile, dropped points at Anoeta, a ground in which they've only won once in their last five matches dating back to 2010. Some argue that Nuno's side are on an Atlético-like trajectory to further break up Spain's notorious duopoly. While I myself have tipped Valencia as possible challengers to the La Liga title, there will be inevitable bumps in the road, and that trip to San Sebastián was likely the first. I still somewhat doubt Atlético's ability to execute their attack in open play, but with Simeone back on the touchline, I like an away win here.

Valencia 1 Atlético de Madrid 2

Barcelona over RAYO VALLECANO

El juego bonito. Paco Jémez vs. Luis Enrique. Doesn't get much better, does it? As most La Liga fans know, Rayo play a very attractive possession-based style of football. Despite an appalling lack of resources (Rayo's entire squad consists of loans, free transfers, and one canterano--Lass Bangoura), the Madrid side have found a tremendous amount of success under their Canarian manager, Paco Jémez. Following their loss to Villarreal, I criticized Jémez for his inability to make in-game adjustments. In the ensuing two games, however, Rayo managed a home win against Athletic, and an away win against Levante, and now find themselves 10th on the table with eight points through six match-rounds. Barcelona, coming off a 6-0 win over Granada (and also a 3-2 loss to PSG in Champion's League) have actually never lost in Vallekas, but in this fixture, history doesn't much matter. This is for the purists, the romantics, the style-starved Cruyffistas. Barcelona will probably win 0-3, but it's not really about that, is it?

Rayo Vallecano 0 Barcelona 3

EIBAR draw with Levante

Eibar, quite simply, look like a better team than Levante. In fact, Garitano's side somewhat resemble the Luis García-led Levante teams from 2008 to 2011. The Basques, while limited in attack, boast a very organized, disciplined defense. Having registered their third clean sheet of the season against Athletic, Eibar have only allowed four goals all season -- only Valencia (3) and Barcelona (0) have conceded less. At the Ipurua, I'd be inclined to go with Eibar here, but Levante just announced an initiative to get their fans up to Basque Country on Saturday. In collaboration with local peñas, Levante will pay for Granote fans to make the trip to show their support. Having praised the Catalán administration in the past, this comes as no surprise to me, as I believe Levante are one of the most well-run clubs in Spain. Though it hasn't quite translated on the pitch this season, what Catalán has accomplished since the club's bankruptcy in 2008 shoudn't be overstated.

Eibar 0 Levante 0

MALAGA draw with Granada

Since their return to the Primera División in 2011, Granada have conceded twelve goals at La Rosaleda in three matches. Overall, El Graná have only won once at Málaga's home ground and that was in 1942 (one year after La Rosaleda's inauguration) in the defunct Copa de S.E. El Generalísimo. So, as you can imagine, this is not exactly an Andaluz derby Granadismos are keen on. This year, however, Granada look quite good (barring that 6-0 outlier at Camp Nou). Before their loss to Barcelona, Granada had only conceded three goals all season, which was third best in La Liga at the time. Málaga, despite their seemingly good form (which is perhaps the result of my incessant praise of Mario Husillos), have only forced three goals on the season, zero of which have come in open play. Despite plenty of historical analysis that goes against such a prediction, I like a draw here, which would be Granada's first in the Costa del Sol since 1975.

Málaga 1 Granada 1

ALMERIA over Elche

I don't know how many times I've read since early preseason that Francisco was keen on increased control, but reports have surfaced once again that the Almería manager has been preparing for Elche with shot creation and possession exercises, as well as various set-piece strategies. I'm starting to think Francisco simply doesn't have the players he needs to execute his system, and thus reverts to more conservative tactics, as the Andaluz side average a mere 47% possession, which ranks 13th in La Liga. Whatever the case, Almería are coming off a dramatic 0-1 at Riazor, thanks to an injury-time winner from Édgar Méndez. I quite like Édgar, by the way, who had never played in the first division until this year, but is now Almería's top goal-scorer, and has in large part fulfilled the role of Aleix Vidal as a wide playmaker who can feature on either flank. Additionally, going somewhat unmentioned, is that Almería have the fifth best defense in La Liga, which only five goals allowed in six games. Former Rayo keeper, Rubén Martínez, has been immense, with an 80% save percentage. Considering Elche's ineffectiveness in final-third play (a recurring problem for Escribá), I like the red-and-whites here.

Almería 1 Elche 0

SEVILLA over Deportivo de La Coruña

Sevilla have only won once at the Pizjuán in their last four against Depor, but arrive in pretty good form, despite their 0-4 loss to Atlético last week. That result more than anything reflected Emery's tendency to over-analyze certain situations; namely, how to set up against a given opposition, and what tactics to employ. Against Atlético, Emery tried to out-muscle Simeone's side, a tactic of which backfired spectacularly. Quickly realizing his mistake, Emery brought on Denis Suárez and Éver Banega, but to no avail really, as Atlético had already gone two goals up. I criticized Emery a lot last season for his over-experimentation, especially in his deployment of Ivan Rakitić. While he's done well to resist those urges this season, it is an inevitability that comes with having Unai Emery as your manager. As I've said more than once, no one toes the line between genius and foolishness better than Emery.

Sevilla 2 Deportivo de La Coruña 1

CELTA DE VIGO over Villarreal

In nine total matches, Villarreal have never won at Balaídos. In fact, they've been outscored 15-5 in this fixture, which dates back to the 1998-1999 season. Villarreal, coming off a 4-0 win over Apollon in Europa League, will be without Mateo Musacchio and Jaume Costa. This could prove to be an obstacle against Celta's dynamic front three. It remains to be seen who Marcelino will opt for in Costa's absence. He's used three different left-backs in the last three games. With Musacchio out, Gabriel Paulista will likely be forced into central-defense. This leaves Antonio Rukavina, whose natural position is right-back, and 17 year-old "B" teamer, Adrián Marín. Whoever Marcelino chooses will be key, as they will be responsible for the containment of Fabián Orellana, who's in terrific form, as Celta look to continue their best start in over a decade.

Side-note: Celta president, Carlos Mouriño recently said the team's goal is to secure survival, not challenge for Europa. I'm sure Mouriño is aware, however, that since the three-points-for-a-win system was introduced 19 years ago, every time Celta have exceeded ten points through six games (which has happened on five occasions), they've qualified for Europe. While they may undertake a partido a partido "we can't challenge for Europe"  Simeone-type philosophy, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic in Vigo.

Celta de Vigo 2 Villarreal 0

Real Sociedad over ESPANYOL

Real Sociedad have only won once at Cornellà-El Prat (now Power8 Stadium) in their last eight matches dating back to 2002. Arrasate's side have one win through six games, and look destined for mid-table, unless something spectacular happens, in the way of their 21-game unbeaten run in 2012-2013. Arrasate perhaps saved his job last week with an important 1-1 draw against Valencia, but has a long way to prove that he's the right manager for this La Real team. We all knew La Real strength lied in midfield, but few anticipated that it would be David Zurutuza that would become indispensable in Arrasate's scheme. The French-born 28 year-old leads Real Sociedad in goals, and is versatile enough to play in a variety of midfield roles, with excellent passing ability and positional play. If Zurutuza is the reason Rubén Pardo can't get a game I can accept that, as at the moment Zurutuza can't be left off the pitch. I'm going for an away win here, despite La Real's struggles in Catalunya, as Arrasate needs to prove last week's result was not a mirage.

Espanyol 1 Real Sociedad 2

REAL MADRID over Athletic Club

I'm very tempted to pick a draw here in Cristiano Ronaldo's absence, but Athletic have lost eighteen of their past twenty meetings against Real Madrid, and are in pretty poor form right now. As I keep saying, Athletic will either rise with Unai López (or Iker Muniain if Valverde is willing to change his position) or fall with Beñat. There is no cohesion to this squad whatsoever, which is striking considering how well Athletic played last season as a collective unit. If Athletic lose, it will keep them on four points through seven games. To make matters more difficult, three of their next four after Madrid are against European-challenging sides (Celta, Sevilla, Valencia). If Valverde can't get it together soon, the Basques risk falling completely out of contention for a European place. In all honesty, that may not be a bad thing, as they seem unable to balance so many competitions. With Ronaldo unlikely to feature in this one, there is a slight window of opportunity for Athletic to nick a point, as no one really expects it. But I like Real Madrid at home here.

Real Madrid 2 Athletic Club 1

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