La Liga Matchday 13 Preview: First-Place Atleti Visits Rival Real Madrid

Posted By Tyler Everett on December 11, 2020

There’s plenty to talk about in Spain this weekend. Atletico Madrid gets a high-profile opportunity to strengthen its grip on first place against rival Real Madrid. Barcelona looks to get right against Levante. And Sevilla travels to flirting-with-relegation Getafe.

The lines for the top games (home teams first) are as follows:

  • Real Madrid (+138) vs. Atlético Madrid (+205) — huh?? (more to come on this later) — Saturday, 3 p.m. Eastern
  • Barcelona (-420) vs. Levante (+1,000) Sunday, 3 p.m.
  • Getafe (+270) vs. Sevilla (+115) Saturday, 10:15 a.m.

A Well-Timed Display Of La Liga’s Depth

We have to start, however, with all seven (!) Spanish teams in the Champions League and Europa League advancing in those competitions. The fact that Atleti and Real Madrid took care of business on Wednesday – both notched 2-0 victories in high-stakes battles – meant it was going to be a good week for Spanish soccer, regardless of what happened with the trio of Europa League teams.

Barcelona had a bad day against Juventus and failed to win the group, but still advanced comfortably, and Sevilla is through as well after a solid group play showing of their own.

But the week got even better on Thursday, as Real Sociedad’s last-minute draw at Napoli allowed them to advance at the last second. They’ll join Villarreal and Granada (which was in Spain’s second tier in ’18-19!) in the UEL round of 32.

It’s a good look for La Liga. That depth – of the league’s top nine teams, only fifth-place Cadiz and eighth-place Real Betis do not have a shot at a big continental trophy – is a bigger talking point for Spanish soccer apologists than ever considering the recent form of Barcelona and RM. It also could be the start of a promising trend, as the same number of teams advanced this far a year ago.

One other note via Twitter (from before Matchday 12 was in the books), and then we’ll dig into the main event between the Madrid rivals:

“Fabulously open” is right, as the gap between sixth-place Sevilla (16 points) and 18th-place, relegation zone, Osasuna (11) is just five!

Is Atleti At +205 Too Good To Be True?

So far this season, Atleti has been the best team in Spain. First of all, the defense that is almost always the class of the league is a bit better than usual, if anything (2 goals allowed in 10 games).

That, plus a legit attack – Los Rojiblancos have 21 goals in 10 games, one more than Barca through the same number of games, and one fewer than league-leading Real Sociedad through 12 games – has allowed Atleti to record eight wins and two draws, with no losses. Everyone else in the league has at least one loss. That includes Real Madrid (three losses) and Barcelona (four losses).

Oddsmakers have noticed, and currently respect Atleti when it comes to futures. Diego Simeone’s team is the favorite to win the league at -106 and is -3,335 to finish top-4.

No Respect, For This Weekend, For Atleti

And yet the line for Saturday will pay out more than double the wager for anyone who takes this team on the road vs. hated Real Madrid. Yes, RM has grinded out a couple quality results in a row in games they had to have.

But I don’t think beating Sevilla thanks to a shutout — and one lucky goal — last weekend, followed by their handling of Monchengladbach in UCL play on Wednesday, means Atleti should be priced anywhere near +200 here. If oddsmakers saw this as a coinflip because the better team is on the road, I would understand that a lot more.

Even if RM’s first-choice back line is in action, I like Atleti if I absolutely have to pick one of these teams to win, though a draw obviously shouldn’t shock anyone.

Real Madrid’s Back Line Back Intact?

The good news for Madridistas is that at the very least, Los Blancos should have left back Ferland Mendy and center backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, if not preferred right back Dani Carvajal as well. That foursome will make it tough to score on Thibaut Courtois, but Atleti finally has the firepower to test even a solid defense.

Every week, Yannick Carrasco (who notched a goal and an assist against RB Salzburg this week) and Marcos Llorente look more threatening on the wings. Atleti doesn’t quite boast an embarrassment of riches, but between those two, João Félix, Ángel Correa and Luis Suárez – not to mention Thomas Lemar, who scored the opener against Valladolid last week – this attack is no joke.

Jan Oblak Is Once Again Spain’s Top Keeper

The Slovenian has responded well to the challenge Courtois made last season. The ’19-20 campaign was the first one in a while when there was much of an argument against Oblak being the best keeper in Spain – though Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen isn’t bad, either.

But after Courtois was rightfully crowned as Spain’s best GK of ’19-20 thanks to his 18 clean sheets in 34 starts, he’s got just 4 through 11 this year. Oblak, on the other hand, already has an absurd eight through 10 games, atoning for his “disappointing”* ’19-20 haul of 17 clean sheets in 38 starts. Keep an eye on Oblak between the sticks moving forward, as he’s well on his way to breaking his personal record of 24 clean sheets in 38 starts, set in ’15-16.

*I hope it’s obvious that I don’t actually consider that disappointing.

Atleti won’t win this one easily, but Oblak will get another shutout. #boldprediction, I know. And one way or another, Atleti will get the goal it needs to add a 1-0 win over Real Madrid to the upset it sprung on Barcelona on Matchday 10.

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