Almería over GETAFE
Through the first five match-rounds of last season, had the game ended after the 75th minute, Almería would have been fifth of the La Liga table. However due to a flurry of late-minute goals, Francisco's side were unable to capitalize on their early leads, and it nearly cost them permanence. You'd think Francisco would be inclined to not that happen again, yet in the 95th minute Sergio Garcia fired a shot past Rubén to salvage a point for Espanyol, who played a man down for the entire second half. Francisco said after that "it was difficult to analyze" and chalked it up to lethargy after a 12-minute power outage. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Jagoba Arrasate will be fired by December, making Francisco La Liga's youngest manager. I hope he doesn't continue to express such naivety, though. This team has focus issues. Almería have never won at the Coliseum, but regular readers of this feature know I don't exactly like Getafe, so...
Getafe 0 Almería 1
VALENCIA over Málaga
If you aren't privy to the work of Málaga sporting director, Mario Husillos, you may not anticipate what I expect to be a very good season for the Costa del Sol side. Husillos played intermittently with Málaga from 1985-1994, then went on to manage their "B" team, Atlético Malagueño, in 2006-2007, though did poorly, and got them relegated to Tercera. In 2012, however, he was appointed sporting director under Abdulluh Al-Thani, then left the club one year later due to contractual differences. Six months after that, in December of 2013, Husillos returned to Málaga, signed Nordin Amrabat, and pretty much saved their season.
To make a long story short, Husillos is a very intelligent football person, and one of the most competent sporting directors in Spain. While I don't particularly like the appointment of Javi Gracia, nor the sale of Jesús Gámez, I have immense faith in Husillos' ability to make this Málaga side an outside bet to finish in a Europa League position. A positive result at the Mestalla may be a tall-task, but Los Boquerones are certainly a team to keep an eye on.
Valencia 2 Málaga 1
Celta de Vigo over CORDOBA
In their 3-1 win over Getafe, Celta showed why fans are buzzing in Vigo. Berizzo's front-line trio of Nolito, Larrivey,and Orellana had Getafe's defense in shambles, combining for 14 shots (6 on target) and 8 key passes. Nolito, in particular, was immense, as the former Barcelona canterano provided a constant threat from Celta's left flank, whether cutting inside or making runs along the touch-line. Only Messi, Ronaldo, and Aduriz have scored more La Liga goals in 2014 than the Celta left-winger. The Galician side are winless at Nuevo El Arcángel in their last three matches, and are going up against a Ferrer-led side who looked half-decent against Real Madrid. But I like an away win here for Berizzo, who should be keen to take six points into a big Jornada 3 match-up with Real Sociedad.
Córdoba 0 Celta de Vigo 1
ATHLETIC CLUB over Levante
Athletic's lackluster showing in Jornada 1 ended with a disallowed goal from Gorka Irazoiz, resulting in the perpetual ire of La Liga fans everywhere, who clamor for improved officiating. I've watched the replay multiple times now, and I can say with conviction that it was the wrong decision. Such is life in Spain, though. Levante arrive at San Mamés fresh off their own 0-2 loss to Villarreal. Surprisingly, Los Granotes finished with 53% possession, though to no avail, really. Denis Cheryshev (who I don't even rate) tore Levante's defense to pieces, a feat Iker Muniain should be keen to replicate, who led all players in Jornada 1 with 10 dribbles won.
Athletic Club 3 Levante 0
ATLETICO DE MADRID over Eibar
It's difficult to know how to focus my write-up for this one. Atlético's loss, I think, can be chalked up to two things: A) LFP scheduling incompetence B) the absence of Diego Simeone. The former reason of which I'd consider more significant. Two brutal Supercopa matches against Real Madrid in five days, followed by a trip to Vallekas two days later is hardly ideal. Simeone's absence, by comparison, surely impacted Atlético's inability to self-motivate, but that's not to say Simeone is the only reason Atlético are what they are. This is a very good team with or without El Cholo, though what happens in these next four games will be telling.
Eibar, meanwhile, are coming off an historic La Liga debut, as the Gipuzkoa-based side got the best of Real Sociedad in our first Euskal derbia (Basque derby) of the season. Javi Lara, interestingly, has scored against Eibar in each of the last two seasons, with Ponferradina and Alcoyano, the latter of which occurring in Segunda B. But the Córdoba-born midfielder belongs to Eibar now, and what a performance he put in against La Real. Not only did Lara scored a jaw-dropping direct free-kick (Eibar's first ever in La Primera), but led all players in key passes, dribbles, shots on target, and accurate crosses. To say Eibar's debut, or Lara's for that matter, was a success would be an understatement.
Atlético de Madrid 2 Eibar 0
Sevilla over ESPANYOL
If there was something to take away from Sevilla's draw with Valencia last week (other than the patience required from yet another roster turnover), it was that Emery's side is vulnerable to high pressing. This was evident last season as well, and is probably why Emery used Rakitić in pivot, a tactic of which didn't go down well with Sevillstas. I would furthermore speculate that this is why Éver Banega was signed. Without a deep, controlling midfielder, Sevilla struggle to dictate play, evidenced by their poor first-half performance. Against Espanyol, Sevilla's wide players (Vitolo, Aleix Vidal, Deulofeu, etc) should look to exploit certain vulnerabilities; namely, Espanyol's poor defense in wide areas. That is unless Sergio González learns that playing Anaitz Arbilla is never, never a good idea...
Espanyol 0 Sevilla 1
Barcelona over VILLARREAL
I'd be inclined to pick a draw here, with Villarreal in midweek Europa action, I'm going (rather cautiously) for an away win. In 16 matches at El Madrigal, Barcelona have a record of 7-3-6. Last season, Villarreal dominated this fixture, but fell 2-3 after own goals from Gabriel and Musacchio. Expect the Catalan side to be superior in possession. Villarreal, in fact, conceded the majority of the ball to Levante last week, who are Spain's version of Stoke City. Enrique will likely attempt to neutralize Bruno Soriano, Villarreal's most important player in the transition phase. The former Spanish international was immense against Levante, as he dictated play from deep, setting up counter-attacks and distributing to Villarreal's wide players, Denis Cheryshev and Cani. The former of which had a MOTM performance. Culés may not be keen on this viewpoint, but I'd consider starting Montoya over Alves, who is more apt defensively.
Villarreal 2 Barcelona 3
Rayo Vallecano over DEPORTIVO DE LA CORUNA
Even though Rayo have never won at the Riazor (in nine matches), Jémez' side are full of confidence following their 0-0 draw with Atlético last week. Jémez' system is dependent on two things: 1) a deep-lying midfielder organizer 2) constant vertical movements from wide players. The first of which is a requirement fulfilled by Roberto Trashorras, one of the most under appreciated midfielders in Spain. Without the former Celta man, Jémez' system would fall apart. Related to Trashorras' role, however, is the positional play of Raul Baena. Baena covers space behind Trashorras, and fills in gaps left by Rayo's high defensive line. The two of them have been the mainstays of Paco's system, are arguably, the reason he's been such a success in Vallekas.
The second important aspect of Jémez' system is width. More specifically, wingers with intelligent but also dynamic movements. Last season, Rayo lacked such players, and as a result, struggled to remain mid-table. Sporting Director, Felipe Miñambres, addressed this weakness by acquiring a host of wide players, all of whom likely to play a role this season. Kakuta and Aquino, in particular, were immense against Atlético. If they can provide that same threat against Depor, not sure the Galician side stand a chance.
Deportivo de La Coruña 0 Rayo Vallecano 1
Real Madrid over REAL SOCIEDAD
In the last two seasons, La Real have gotten off to abysmal starts, but managed both times to kick it into gear by mid-season to finish in a European position. In large part, Real Sociedad's success (domestically, at least) is the result of a highly efficient youth academy. But the work put into the development of their cantera seems to always be undermined by managerial and front-office incompetence. Before going on a 21-game unbeaten run in 2012-2013, there were demands that former manager, Phillip Montanier, be dismissed. Montanier, though, sorted La Real's defensive problems, and implemented a less rigid counter-based system. The rewards were immediately reaped as the Basque side stormed into Champion's League.
Montanier then left the club due to administrative differences. Jagoba Arrasate, Montanier's second assistant, was then appointed ahead of the 2013-2014 season. Arrasate arrived as La Liga's youngest manager, but carried an immense reputation within Zubieta for his youth work and demanding approach. Since his appointment, however, Arrasate has exhibited nothing but general incompetence; most bizarrely, though, in relation to youth, and his reluctance to use players like Rubén Pardo and Joseba Zaldúa regularly. To cut this short, I think Arrasate will be the first somewhat high-profile manager sacked this season. Juarros will then appoint a stop-gap manager, before offering the job to Gaizka Garitano, Eibar's manager, and former Real Sociedad player from 2005-2008.
Real Sociedad 1 Real Madrid 2
ELCHE draw with Granada
Anyone who reads this feature regularly knows that I maintain certain proclivities toward Granada. I tend to hype the Andaluz side up any chance I get, often knowing I'm being a bit optimistic about it. Under Caparrós, though, I genuinely believe this Granada side has what it takes. Of course, there is a ceiling to what Granada can achieve. It's still a very small-market club, but one of which can replicate the achievements of Levante, for instance, who were in Europa League just two seasons ago. At the Martinez Valero, I like a draw though, as Granada have only won once there in their last nine matches.
Elche 0 Granada 0