Match of the Round
Sevilla v Real Madrid
While Sevilla aren’t the swash-buckling side of five years ago, vestiges of that style remain, with Jesus Navas and Jose Antonio Reyes keeping the threat from the flanks alive. The Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is still as intimidating as ever, and Real aren’t quite as convincing as we’re used to at the moment, so if Sevilla can get enough good service to their creative players they’ll be in with a chance.
They’ll have to be a great deal more effective in front of goal than they were in their last match if they’re to make the most of the chances that come their way though.
At Rayo they managed to squander two penalties in a goalless draw as they failed to take advantage of a red card which reduced their hosts to ten men. To miss one penalty may be regarded as a misfortune; to miss two looks like carelessness. If they are as careless in front of goal against Madrid they might have to wait a long time before the next opportunity presents itself.
Of course, they might perceive the fact that Real’s star player is sad as a potential advantage. However, ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’s misery is not the type that you or I might recognise or empathise with. Instead, it’s the sort of sadness which is designed to double his wages, and certainly didn’t stop him from scoring two goals on the day his trauma was revealed.
Indeed, Sevilla ought to be particularly cautious if a black cloud still follows the Portuguese superstar: with his stunt planned to coincide with the start of the international break in order to capitalise on the lack of football news to be chewed over in the following fortnight, he popped up with two goals to order to showcase his patented sulky non-celebration. If he’s scoring at will in order to expedite his contract negotiations, Sevilla had better hope he signs a new contract by the weekend!
With clean sheets proving hard to come by for Real – they’ve kept one in the last seven games- Alvaro Negredo must see this as an opportunity to show his quality. While Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Fernando Llorente and Roberto Soldado are the headline making goal scorers, Negredo has been keeping his head down and racking up the goals. He might not catch the eye as often as the aforementioned forwards, but the two goals in three games he’s managed so far this season mean he’s got 10 in his last 12 appearances. He’s scored in Sevilla’s last five home games too. Imagine how many he’d have if he wasn’t so useless from the spot!
Ivan Rakitic v Luka Modric
Rakitic seems to have regressed from rebellious wunderkind to workmanlike midfielder since his move to Sevilla. Perhaps that’s his natural place in the grand scheme of things, but it feels about time he started making an impact in high profile matches like this one.
If he can drive the Real midfield deep, forcing them to think about what he’s doing going forward rather than be allowed to express themselves, then a crucial battle will be won. If he can’t force Modric, whose level of freedom in Mourinho’s midfield has already been the subject of intense debate, to focus on his defensive responsibilities more than usual, then Sevilla will have a problem on their hands.
On the other hand, should Rakitic and Piotr Trochowski follow their instincts and push on whether taking care, then the redoubtable Gary Medel might find himself overrun as he performs the crucial defensive midfield role.
Osasuna v Real Mallorca
Joaquin Caparros’ Midnight Cowboys have reveled in their late night fixtures: now they get to kick off a bit sooner and show they’re not just effective when it’s way past their opponents’ bedtime.
Real Mallorca’s fast start isn’t a complete shock; they finished the season well and had a good summer. However, you expect teams like them who have a fast start to begin fading around this point, so this will be an interesting test against a side which desperately needs a result.
Damiá reminded everyone this week that “the season’s a marathon and we’re in the first few kilometres”, and he had to. Osasuna need to calm their nerves as things get edgy after their worst start in over fifty years.
They have no points, just one goal and stand at the bottom of the table. Their reliance on their home form is well known, of course, and having Barcelona visit Pamplona for their first home fixture was always likely to leave them looking to play catch-up after a couple of weeks.
Their away performances haven’t helped matters though: if they’d been able to match the quality of their brave display in defeat against Barca to any extent at Deportivo and Celta they’d be in a much better place. To counterbalance that nasty opening home game, Osasuna were given two fairly friendly-looking away games to start with against freshly promoted sides, but failed to really turn up either time.
The visit of Mallorca’s a crucial fixture: a fourth consecutive defeat and all of a sudden things will be looking uncomfortable in Navarra. In Roland Lamah, Alvaro Cejudo and Sisi, Osasuna have the players capable of causing problems in the gap between defence and midfield which Mallorca’s formation might leave, but the time has come for them to deliver. They need to convert promise into goals.
It promises to be a game which, in some senses, pays homage to the traditional style of Spanish play which is less well known abroad. While the world associates La Liga with the technical tica-taca stuff, there’s a grand tradition of the more robust stuff in Iberia. This match should offer intriguing traces of that style, and will feature some characteristics more regularly associated with the Premiership.
Osasuna will look to play at a high tempo and be aggressive, while Mallorca’s 4-4-2 relies on width; a shape which is fairly rare in La Liga. It should be aggressive, vertical and fun to watch, although the home fans might feel the need to observe through their fingers if things start going wrong.
Miguel Flaño v Tomer Hemed
Hemed got his first two goals for Mallorca at Osasuna and is looking forward to returning, although with three goals already this season he has the right to look forward to playing anywhere. Big, strong, positive in movement and made to profit from the crosses his wide men provide, Hemed is a real handful at the moment, and the responsibility to handle him will fall particularly to Flaño with Alejandro Arribas suspended following his red card in Vigo. With just one clean sheet in their last nine matches, Osasuna need to get their defence sorted, and soon.
Hemed might not have Victor alongside him as he’s struggling with an injury, but that might not offer respite to Osasuna as his absence might open the door for Caparros to give new man Giovanni Dos Santos a debut. The thought of the young Mexican feeding off Hemed’s endeavour is an intriguing one.
Perhaps Mallorca need to make the most of Hemed’s form though: last season he got off to a similar start, scoring 4 in his first 6 games, and then ran out of steam with 5 in his remaining 23 appearances.
Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao
Who wants to be this season’s crisis side? This might be the match help to settle that particular question.
At least Athletic might have Fernando Llorente up their sleeve as the season wears on: financially troubled Espanyol’s reliance on youthful loan signings looked admirable at times last season, but it’s now turning into something very different. Their squad looks threadbare and while youngsters might show flashes of promise, asking them to sustain their performances through the lenghth of a tough season is a leap in the dark.
Athletic, meanwhile, finally have their first win of the season under their belts, and while the absence of Llorente and Javi Martinez has made the agenda for them this season, it shouldn’t be forgotten that there’s some real talent still at Marcelo Bielsa’s disposal. While the liklihood still remains that Athletic Club will suffer a deflating campaign compared to last season, this feels like a match which offers a chance for them to build up a little bit of confidence.
Atletico Madrid v Rayo Vallecano
Another Madrid derby: there seems to be one every fortnight doesn’t there? With all four teams enjoying good starts, the capital’s the place to watch though, and this should be an interesting encounter with feisty Rayo fancying their chances of giving Atletico a bloody nose.
Getafe v Barcelona
Barsa’s win at Osasuna saw them grab three points from one of La Liga’s trickiest away trips, but the performance was more akin to how they performed in struggling at such venues last season. This match might give us a better idea of whether they’ve made progress in thi area, as Getafe are developing a reputation for being an awkward bunch to visit: just ask Jose Mourinho.
Valencia v Celta Vigo
After a horrible string of opening fixtures Valencia now need to settle down and start stringing some wins together. Despite the encouragement of a first win for the season in the last round, Celta look like perfect prey for Los Che.
Real Valladolid v Real Betis
With eleven goals at either end in their first two games, Betis are shaping up to be a fun side to watch. Valladolid, however, look like they can handle themselves and might punish a defence which is looking a little leaky.
Granada v Deportivo La Coruna
Deportivo are enjoying life back in the fast lane, while Granada don’t look too clever: an away win would make things rather interesting in both camps.
Malaga v Levante
Malaga are maintaining the fine Spanish football tradition of keeping going while the financial side of things falls apart: they probably have enough quality and momentum to see off a Levante side still settling into that difficult follow-up season.
Real Sociedad v Real Zaragoza
Two sides who are off to an unimpressive start. Whether Antoine Griezmann starts on the bench again might decide whether the home side have enough creativity to get the three points.