Levante hosts Eibar 20:45
It’s a battle of minnows and relegation battlers alike this Friday evening in La Liga. Eibar continues to work around financial restraints, but they’ve lost six in a row and have not won in seven straight. After a defensive struggle where they were largely overmatched by fellow Basques Bilbao, they sit a mere five points off Levante, who are currently in 18th. Levante played one of the more exciting matches of the season, tying Granada in the 88th minute and then winning in the 93rd with a goal by David Barral. There were some serious suspicions of offisdes on the second, but it did not stop Levante from climbing slightly ahead Granada in the relegation battle.
Eibar will be missing Abraham, while Pedro Lopez is expected to be the only Levante player missing from the squad. Ivan Ramis will return from suspension for Levante, while they will look to keep the in-form pair of Barral and Kalu Uche up top. This fixture will go a long way to helping Levante stay in La Liga. While Eibar’s had a wonderful story this year, it looks more and more like they are headed to relegation. Levante have only lost one of the last 10 matches at home in Valencia, and Eibar haven’t scored on the road since almost 2014. I look for the hosts to win this one.
Deportivo La Coruna hosts Sevilla 16:00
The hosts finished up last week with an uninspired 0-0 draw against fellow relegation battler, Almeria. La Coruna probably deserved to win, holding 62% of the possession and taking 25 shots to Almeria’s 10, but less than half of those shots were on-target and they wasted good chances with poor finishing and being offsides. They sit in 15th place with 25 points.
Sevilla continues the rollercoaster ride with a 0-0 draw at home against Atletico. We were all ready for a Koke v. Coke battle, but the former was still injured and Atletico mostly just fended off ineffectual possession by Sevilla. They will be playing in Europe next year, but more than likely not in Champions League as Valencia now has a seven point lead and Villareal, who looks in better form, is only one point behind them. La Coruna had a positive run at the beginning of the year, but they don’t seem to beat any good teams. Sevilla is all over the place in La Liga (though doing very well in Europa League), but typically beat up on the smaller teams. I expect the away side to grab a win.
Athletic Club hosts Real Madrid 18:00
Athletic Club ground out a hard-fought defensive win in good Athletic form as discussed above. Real Madrid drew in a match against Villareal, a team that is showing it is neither scared of nor unable to challenge some of the best clubs in the world. I’d like to go on a tangent, if you will allow it. It has recently been posited that Di Maria was sold for being too ugly (generally upsetting news for fans of Di Maria and Franz Kafka), which wouldn't be the first time Real Madrid bought or sold a player based on their physical appearance, once again scientifically proving they are the worst football club in the world and are spearheading the wave of general awfulness that is spreading throughout Earth (or at least, aren't trying very hard to stop it). They also wouldn’t buy Ronaldinho because he was too ugly, so maybe their shallow and marketing based brand of football will ultimately bring about their downfall again. Then again, Pepe has been on this team for a surprisingly long time now. Maybe this policy only applies to attacking players. We can only hope.
In more immediate matters, they were essentially outplayed by a half healthy Villareal team last week. As was on full display with their almost 30 shots, half not finding their target, they are now relying heavily on individual talent to create anything, and are not playing team football. The back and forth nature of their matches has been exciting, but the wide open play is creating more headaches defensively than offensive fireworks as of late, and the players don’t seem to have defined roles, or to know them that well, anyway. There are also many questions of Ancelloti’s tactics and rotations, as well as selfishness within the ranks (Ronaldo’s selfishness is OK because he is very attractive in an objective sense, Bale’s not as much because his attractiveness is debatable) that is making the team’s attack and midfield sputter.
Modric, though he is not very attractive, is really the cog that makes this team click between defense and attack, and although James, Isco, and Kroos are reasonably attractive, or at least we can agree they are not totally unpleasant to look at, their creativity and technique is a dime a dozen on this team. They are really missing what Modric brings to the table (and in a different way, Xabi Alonso), and no Illaramendis, Silvas, or other young and less talented midfielder can provide. I don’t see it coming back, either, as Modric will not be in form for a while even if he is healthy. I predict that Fortuna’s wheel is slowly turning against the capital, and that you can’t just do step overs down the field with a bunch of really handsome and individually talented players and expect the more homely and less wealthy of us to roll out a red carpet from the team limo to the goal (though, the pictures would be fabulous!). Madrid will keep slipping. Going into Bilbao and trying to break down a defensive team like this will be difficult, especially after Villareal held them at bay and only drew because of a penalty and a heroic clearance from Carjaval. Players like Di Maria don’t fit in not because they aren’t attractive, but more so because they are selfless, altruistic, and don’t carry themselves with whatever you want to define as Galactico swagger. They aren’t as important to the brand, even if they contribute greatly to winning. Winning also doesn’t really fit when you run your club like a modeling agency. I am calling another draw here, which will begin a full on meltdown that peaks with an El Clasico beat down in a few weeks’ time.
A boy can dream, can’t he?
Elche hosts Almeria 20:00
Elche has been in decent form as of late, just recently drawing as the away side against a tough Celta Vigo club, but also grabbing wins against Eibar and Rayo, while only losing to Barca and Real Madrid. Almeria got a 0-0 draw that they probably should have lost against La Coruna while playing better than the 3-0 scoreline suggests against Atletico. These clubs have the same number of points at 24, and are both directly above the relegation fray. It’s a big match for each club for that reason alone. Elche has gotten better results as of late, though Almeria hasn’t been playing poorly. It could go either way, especially because Elche has been weaker than average at home while Almeria seems to get all their points on the road.
Granada hosts Malaga 22:00
Granada fought hard against Barcelona but could not overcome, while Malaga earned a 3-2 win in an exciting match against Getafe. Jeison Murillo is expected to start for Granada after a long injury spell, and Emanuel Insua will be back from suspension. Ignacio Camacho continues rehabbing for Malaga, but he will be in the lineup. Granada have played with passion, though they are on a four game winless run. Aside from, you know, winning at the Camp Nou, Malaga have struggled away from home this year. Both teams play a similar style, which, despite Malaga being well higher on the table, could lead to a draw.
Barcelona hosts Rayo Vallecano 12:00
The early game of the weekend sees Barcelona fresh off a CDR win against a great Villareal side (and a 3-1 victory over Granada that was more function than form, but worked well), looking to continue the attack on first place that is tentatively being grasped by Madrid at the moment. Rakitic put in what was likely his finest display this campaign, picking up a poke-in goal, an assist, and a lot of brilliant through balls and one touch passing all over the field. Rayo had an incredible day, specifically Alberto Bueno (his surname really led to some pun fun with the Spanish papers), who had a dream scenario scoring four goals in 15 minutes. It was more than enough to beat Levante. Rayo are a decent club, but they should not bother Barcelona as they cannot defend or press to a degree that would trouble the Blaugrana. The last six matches between the two have ended with a 27-1 scoreline in favor of FCB! Busquets injury will likely see Mascherano slide into the CDM position, while Mathieu will likely fill in at CB. Pique may not be available either, so that will have to be seen. Pedro is expected to start for the suspended Neymar, but we may even be treated to a Halilovic or Adama appearance (please?). Barcelona should not have a problem winning this contest at home.
The other Barcelona club beat lowly Cordoba last weekend, though flamed out of the CDR with a midweek loss to Athletic Club. The hosts will look to capitalize on any fatigue from the midweek match after losing to a very good Valencia side the week before. Some of RSD’s players took a few knocks over the last couple of weeks, but Moyes is expected to have his whole squad available. Espanyol will see Javi Lopez return from suspension with Jose Canas missing the game with card accumulation. RSD have now only lost one match of the last eight at the Anoeta, while Espanyol have picked up six points out of 15 on the road. Their position at ninth on the table was almost entirely earned at home, and I expect them to lose to RSD this week.
Villareal hosts Celta Vigo 19:00
Villareal have really shown their quality in the last week. They played Barcelona much better than the 3-1 scoreline suggests, and at the very least they played the match in an active way, not settling to park the bus and hope to nick a goal like most teams. They also earned a draw against Real Madrid that could have been a win. They have done all of this with constant rotation, as only three of the players in the Madrid match were typical to the starting XI. There was no Bruno and no Cheryshev, two of their best players, yet they still zipped the ball around with aplomb, and surely soon to leave striker Vietto came on with a good substitute performance. Celta Vigo have finally started playing up to their potential this year, becoming a tough team to beat as of late. They drew with Elche last week. Villareal should be too difficult to defeat at home here.
Atletico hosts Valencia 21:00
This is likely the biggest match of the weekend, featuring two teams that are highly talented and looking to secure Champions League over one another. Atletico looked content to draw with Sevilla last week, with Simeone basically admitting he was better served trying to get the last Champions League spot than he was trying to catch Real or Barca. They have struggled with injuries, as well, though Koke is expected to be back this week. If they are focused on third place, this is the match of the year for them, as Valencia will visit the Vicente Calderon sitting one point off of Atletico. Valencia are in sterling form with four straight wins, most recently winning 2-0 against a good RSD team. Miranda and Griezmann will miss the game from card accumulation, with Gimenez and Torres looking to replace them in the lineup. Nicolas Otamendi looks to be OK from an ankle sprain last week (hoping Busquets does the same), while Piatti continues his great play on the left flank. Valencia are surely in better form, but Atletico remain a very stern test at home. This match will go a long way in deciding the final Champions League spot, and should be a very intense game.
Have a great weekend!
Visca El Barca! Visca L’Espectacle!
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