Matchday 12 in La Liga pales in comparison to Matchday 11, which certainly lived up to the hype.
For anyone who didn’t tune in last weekend, Atleti gutted out a 1-0 win over Valencia, Barcelona lit up Osasuna and Villarreal drew first-place Real Sociedad. More importantly, Real Madrid yet again stumbled against a massive underdog, this time vs. Alavés.
On paper, this weekend offers fewer must-see matchups. But Matchday 12 makes up for what it lacks in quantity with the quality (or at least intrigue) of its marquee match-up: Real Madrid’s (+165) trip to Sevilla (+155) on Saturday at 10:15 a.m. Eastern.
There’s plenty more on that below, especially on RM, but here’s what’s in store elsewhere (home teams listed first):
- Cádiz (+700) vs. Barcelona (-275), Saturday, 3 p.m.: The Catalans have scored 16 goals in their last five (La Liga and Champions League). Remarkably, that includes a shutout loss vs. Atleti on November 21. The goals are pouring in at an impressive clip, regardless of the caliber of the opposition (which, with the exception of Atleti, has not been great over the last few week).
- Atlético Madrid (-265) vs. Valladolid (+850), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.: Atleti should have no problem here, with the return of Luis Suárez a welcome boost.
- Alavés (+390) vs. Real Sociedad (-127), Sunday, 3 p.m.: Real Sociedad has had a tough week, drawing Villarreal last weekend before drawing Rijeka (yes, that’s a real team, apparently) in the Europa League. The latter result means next Thursday’s trip to Napoli is a must-win if the club wants to reach UEL knockout play. Do they rest key pieces with that in mind? Considering where this game falls on the favorites’ schedule, give Alavés at +390 a long, hard look.
Real Madrid Facing Mounting Adversity
Yes, this game pits the ’19-20 league champ (Real Madrid) against Sevilla, which is one of the two Spanish teams — Barcelona is the other — guaranteed to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League. But that’s just the beginning of the appeal of this one.
After capturing just seven points through their first six matches of the season, Sevilla has won three in a row domestically. Despite that 4-0 loss to Chelsea on Wednesday, Julen Lopetegui’s team will also play in the UCL round of 16, no matter what happens on the final matchday of group play. So all is more or less well with one of the teams in this game.
Real Madrid, on the other hand … Well, how much time you got? You might have heard they had a less-than-ideal week, losing (again!) to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UCL. That result means they must win next week’s home meeting with Monchengladbach to secure a spot in the round of 16. You may recall the Bundesliga club led RM 2-0 after more than 80 minutes on Matchday 2 of group play.
Before we dig into everything ailing Real Madrid right now, the bottom line for this weekend is that a draw (+255) seems like the best bet. I just can’t see a veteran team like RM losing its third in a row. I don’t, however, think they will beat Sevilla, not with all eyes on that Monchengladbach match.
The other reason I have confidence, against my better judgment, in RM? A few short weeks ago – in late October, to be precise — they bounced back from a 1-0 loss to Cádiz followed by a UCL loss (the first one) to Shakhtar with a 3-1 win over Barcelona.
A Loooong Week For Real Madrid
It’s all happening right now for these guys, and none of the developments inspire a ton of optimism. Let’s check off all the telltale signs of a La Liga powerhouse in turmoil:
Speculation about the manager’s job security forcing him to swear he won’t resign? Check.
Spain’s top sports pages printing ominous covers with headlines like, “Situación Límite” (which basically means the opposite of “nothing to see here”)? Check.
🌞 ¡Buenos días!
— AS Fotografía (@FotografiAS_AS) December 2, 2020
Those same papers weighing in on Sergio Ramos’ contract renewal talks? Check.
And the kicker: the old players-only meeting? Check. With that in mind, maybe there really is nothing to see here, after all — or at least nothing a players-only meeting can’t fix.
What Has Gone Wrong For Real Madrid?
After their dominant finish to the season a year ago, if someone would have told you prior to this season that the manager of Atleti, Barcelona or RM would be on the hot seat in early December, Zinedine Zidane surely would not have been your first guess. Below is an attempted diagnosis of this team’s troubles, even if the betting angle for this weekend’s game is already fading out of sight in the rearview mirror.
We’re gonna focus on the defense here, because the offensive woes are nothing new.
As far as the attack, stop us if you’ve heard this before, but other than Karim Benzema, this team simply can’t create and/or finish enough opportunities. The veteran Frenchman has four goals and three assists in league play, but injured midfielder Federico Valverde is the only other player with more than two goals in La Liga. As you might have heard, Eden Hazard is unavailable, again. Hot take: He was not brought on to provide approximately one-tenth as much goal-scoring as Ramos.
Defensive Regression Proves Costly
The real problem – and the much bigger surprise – is that a defense that was impenetrable most of last season is now below-average, both in La Liga (12 goals allowed in 10 games) and the Champions League (9 goals allowed in 5 matches). The RM back line has been especially poor against Shakhtar Donetsk, which has scored on Los Blancos five times in two meetings.
With such an average (if we’re being generous) attack, regular defensive lapses become insurmountable. And suddenly, three losses in 38 league games — RM finished ’19-20 with a record of 26-9-3 — turns into the same number of losses at the 10-game mark in ’20-21.
When you consider the revolving door at right back, combined with Ramos missing time – he’s played in two of five Champions League games – the back line’s step back so far this season makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, that shakiness also makes it hard to see this team being a factor in the La Liga title race.
We were well aware of Ramos’ importance last season, but the way his team is playing in his absence is a huge testament to his value. The bad news for his team is that his return from the injury he suffered on international duty will probably not come until next week against Monchengladbach.