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September 20, 2019

Previewing La Liga Matchday 5: Real Madrid’s Trip to Sevilla Marks Early-Season Crossroads

Tyler Everett September 20, 2019

Sevilla +155 | Draw +275 | Real Madrid +150

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Real Madrid, fresh off an embarrassing Champions League trip to Paris on Wednesday, is in danger of being five points out first place by the conclusion of matchday 5 in La Liga.

Zinedine Zidane’s team’s clash with Sevilla is easily the biggest game of the weekend in Spain. We’ll also touch on Barcelona at (sixth-place!) Granada (Saturday, 3 p.m. Eastern) and Atleti vs. 16th-place Celta Vigo at Wanda Metropolitano (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.)

Make-or-break moment for Zidane

The stakes as Los Blancos (8 points) travel to first-place Sevilla’s (10 points) Sánchez Pijzuán for Sunday’s match at 3 p.m. Eastern are unusually high for mid-September. A win would allow RM to leapfrog their opponent and sit just one point behind Atleti (9 points), assuming Los Rojiblancos beat Celta Vigo.

A loss, though … and wow, at the risk of overreacting, Zidane’s seat would be getting warm. On second thought, that might be an understatement. The optics of his players’ enthusiasm isn’t helping either.

Two wins and two draws in domestic play would be nothing to worry about for most teams, but RM is obviously not your typical franchise. There are currently far more questions than answers for this squad after not only the score of Wednesday’s game (3-0, against a far-from-full-strength PSG), but also the listless attitude on display. Zidane and several players have admitted they were disappointed in their own lack of intensity against PSG. If the fact they did not record one shot on goal doesn’t illustrate how poor their current form is, then I don’t know what would.

And Wednesday was by no means a random bad afternoon. Under Zidane after his return to the locker room last March, the club won just five of its last 11 La Liga games. That finish, combined with this year’s start, adds up to seven wins from the club’s last 15 domestically. It’s a situation that already has José Mourinho rumors (which, IMO, seem far-fetched at the moment) swirling.

Looking ahead

If there’s a “silver lining,” it’s that a number of RM players are injured. This weekend, Luka Modric, Isco and Marcelo could be among the players unavailable due to injury. Once they are back in the mix, and if and when summer signings Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic and Ferland Mendy get fully integrated and start looking like the players their team hopes they are, things could change. But that’s a lot of way too many hypotheticals for September. And the upcoming schedule is unforgiving: back to the Bernabéu to take on Osasuna on Wednesday, before a trip to Atleti next week. No pressure!

Getting to know Sevilla

We probably should have looked at this from the Sevilla perspective much sooner, but better late than never, right? First of all, the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán is notoriously hostile to Real Madrid, who are 0-for-their-last-four there. More importantly, ex-Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui has his team playing impressive soccer both domestically – 10 points through four games, with just one goal allowed – and in the Europa League, where they just blew out Azerbaijani side Qarabag 3-0. That game marked recent signing Chicharito’s most extensive action yet, and appeared to indicate two things

    1. At 31, the Mexican striker still has something left in the tank.

  1. He could be the offensive spark his new team is missing. They’ve scored just five goals in four games this year in La Liga. That’s going to have to improve if they want to stay anywhere near the top of the table.

Despite traveling all the way to Azerbaijan just a few days ago, Sevilla promises to be fresh for Sunday afternoon, as Lopetegui rested a number of key pieces in that match and watched his backup-heavy lineup not miss a beat.

Despite all that, Sevilla (+155) is a slight underdog. It’s almost like Real Madrid’s (+150) brand influences the lines for their games.

Atleti-Celta Vigo & Barcelona-Granada

Los Rojiblancos (-245) should whip Celta Vigo (+800), while Barcelona (-315) is perhaps slightly more favored than they should be at Granada (+800).

I say that because while the talent gap between these two is massive, Granada, despite being in Spain’s second tier a year ago, is playing well. With 7 points through four games and a goal-differential of +4 — Barcelona’s is just +5 — on paper, they look like the real deal. It’s also worth mentioning that in their road games this season, the Catalans have lost to Athletic Bilbao and settled for draws at Osasuna and Borussia Dortmund. That being said, don’t be surprised if this is the first time in ’19-20 we’re reminded that Lionel Messi, who is expected to start, can sometimes tilt things ever so slightly in his team’s direction.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s LA Galaxy Will Have to Avoid Another Playoff Choke

Avatar September 20, 2019

Last year, the LA Galaxy went into Decision Day needing a home win over the woeful Houston Dynamo to make the playoffs. Real Salt Lake’s loss the week before had made the Galaxy’s objectives clear: win, and they’re in. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic starting up top and a relatively talented team surrounding him, there was no excuse for them to even be in that position. Making the playoffs should have been a minimum.

They went up 2-0 in the first half with two goals from Ola Kamara. It was seemingly a guarantee that they would survive and do their job. But Romell Quioto pulled one back for the Dynamo in the 57th-minute, and then Mauro Manotas scored twice in a six-minute span to put Houston ahead 3-2. LA couldn’t come back. RSL made the postseason and upset LAFC in the first round, with the Galaxy watching from home.

Thus the criticism of Ibrahimovic: in spite of the goals and the antics, he couldn’t get it done in that decisive game against a terrible team. He had zero goals, zero assists, and four shots against Houston, walking solemnly off with his team eliminated in the most humiliating of ways.

LA Galaxy’s playoff chances this season

This season, LA face a similar situation over their last four games, in which they will almost certainly qualify for the playoffs. They are in fifth right now (seven teams in each conference make the playoffs), and they’re two points ahead of eighth-place Portland. Both the Galaxy and the Timbers have a game in hand on seventh-place FC Dallas.

LA have an extremely easy schedule the rest of the way: home against Montreal, away at RSL, home against Vancouver, and away at Houston (deja vu). Traveling to Utah won’t be easy, but the other three games should be wins. FiveThirtyEight likes their chances too, pegging them at 95% to make the postseason.

I’d say they have an equal chance of making the playoffs now as they did heading into the second half on October 28 of last year, up 2-0 at home against ninth-place Houston. They have a better team now, and more margin of error. The defense has better personnel, though it has often struggled, and Cristian Pavon accompanies Zlatan in attack.

Galaxy (and Ibra) can be a threat if they make it in

Once they’re into the postseason, they are a threat. Their system (or lack thereof) is built to succeed in one-off games, as we’ve seen in their matchups with LAFC. Ibra gets up for important games, or at least those that interest him — clearly last year’s game against Houston wasn’t enough, though.

The Galaxy play through Zlatan more than any MLS team plays through any player in the league. They pass to him in build-up, and they cross the ball to him at high rates, probably more than they should. To an extent it works, but when Zlatan doesn’t do anything, they have no plan B, and their defense is not going to win them any games. Ibra is a huge minus on the defensive end, basically acting like a whiny traffic cone.

They are a massive wild-card in projecting the playoffs. It’s easy to see two completely different scenarios playing out: they continue playing the way they have in the regular season, meaning they get run over in midfield and make terrible defensive errors, or the attack comes together and Zlatan takes over, the way he did in a recent 7-2 victory over Sporting KC.

Their first-round opponent (probably Seattle, Minnesota, or RSL) would most likely prefer to avoid them. LAFC would certainly love to avoid them in the second round. Much of Zlatan’s MLS legacy will come down to how he and his team performs in this postseason, considering the flop last year and how much the Galaxy rely on him, for better or for worse.

Before anything else, they have to get through the regular season. Nothing is a guarantee with this team.

Champions League Podcast: Liverpool Are Just Fine, Real Madrid Are Not, and More UCL Takeaways from the High Press Soccer Podcast

High Press 10 September 20, 2019

Was the penalty call against Andy Robertson that gifted Napoli a Champions League win ridiculous? Yes. Will it ultimately determine if Liverpool advances out of Group E? No.

Is Real Madrid’s season under Zinedine Zidane really this big of a goat rodeo? Yes. Are they in danger of not advancing out of Group A? No.

Chops and Tyler Everett break down all of the major Champions League games from this week in the latest High Press Pod:

  • Atletico Madrid vs Juventus (1:00)
  • Tottenham is missing something. What? (4:30)
  • PSG looks LEGIT (6:45).
  • Real Madrid being nothing but drama and in trouble (9:00).
  • Liverpool vs Napoli and why Liverpool will still advance and Napoli won’t (13:30).
  • Napoli having the most annoying fans in Italy (18:00).
  • Ajax should be group favorites (28:00).

Listen to “High Press Pod Episode 26: Liverpool Is Just Fine, Real Madrid Is Not, and ERLING BRAUT HALAND” on Spreaker.

Of course, you can subscribe and get it on the Apple Podcenter as well.

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