On paper, none of La Liga’s big four have very compelling match-ups this weekend:
- Atlético Madrid (-480) vs. Elche (+1,700) Saturday, 8 a.m. Eastern
- Barcelona (-335) vs. Valencia (+800) Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
- Sevilla (-195) vs. Valladolid (+600) Saturday, 3 p.m.
- Eibar (+575) vs. Real Madrid (-195) Sunday, 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, second-place Real Sociedad (+110) visits Levante (+260) in a game oddsmakers expect to be tight. Fourth-place Villarreal is idle. So for the first weekend in a while, we get a slate devoid of blockbusters. And no, I don’t have anything more to say about lines as lopsided as the ones above.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to talk about. The top four race is evolving in a way
no one possibly could have seen coming that should come as no surprise. And both Barcelona, which beat Real Sociedad on Wednesday, and Real Madrid, which defeated Athletic Club, provided plenty to discuss in those victories.
Real Sociedad, Villarreal Coming Back To Earth
As recently as late November, it looked like the four Spanish teams currently in the Champions League might face some serious competition for first through fourth place in La Liga. I know, I know (at least I do now), sample size, who had they played, etc.
Note: I would say promise to avoid this trap when someone comes out of nowhere to take first place in October ’21, but we all know that would be a lie.
But when Real Sociedad met Villarreal on November 29 (Matchday 11), the teams were in first and third place.
Since their draw that day, Real Sociedad — with 23 points through 10 games at that time — and Villarreal (then on 19 points through 10 matches) have both struggled and are winless in their last four domestically. Several matchdays later (Real Sociedad has played 14 games, compared to 13 for Villarreal) the former has just 26 points, while the latter has 22.
While it was inevitable that Real Sociedad and Villarreal would cool off, it’s a shame — even if it’s completely understandable — that they’re starting to trend in the wrong direction well before reaching the halfway point (19 games) on the calendar.
Europa League Success A Silver Lining
The good news is that they’re both alive in the Europa League, but that’s part of the problem: that glut of games in October and November took a toll on their domestic form. Speaking of the Europa League, Real Sociedad drew Manchester United, while Villarreal will meet RB Salzburg in the round of 32.
Is it too early to start talking about those doozies for the right to advance to the UEL round of 16?? Definitely.
A Tough Stretch
Real Sociedad’s last four games in La Liga ended in three straight draws (vs. Cádiz, Villarreal and Alavés) before Wednesday’s loss to Barcelona. La Real are still “tied for first” with Atleti, as both teams have 26 points. It must be noted, though, that going into this weekend’s games, Real Sociedad’s 14 games played are three more than Atleti’s 11, while third-place Real Madrid (13 games), fourth-place Villarreal (13 games) and fifth-place Barcelona (12 games) also have games in hand. Real Sociedad is still considered a viable contender to finish top-four (currently at +110), but December has been a rough month.
Villarreal has struggled as well in recent weeks, recording four straight draws. That’s not nearly as discouraging as it sounds, however, when you consider that they got at least one point vs. both Real Madrid and Real Sociedad before drawing Elche and Real Betis. Still, their chances at securing a spot in next year’s Champions League have taken a hit, as they’re now +250 to finish top-four.
Expect The Expected In This Year’s Top 4
Based on the form of the “big four,” though – each have won three of four – it might not be too early (bold take ahead) to pencil in Atleti, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla for top-four finishes. While the top-four odds already massively favor Atleti (-2,000), RM (-2,500) and Barcelona (-1,430), Sevilla is still +110. That’s great value, as Sevilla seems better positioned than Real Sociedad and Villarreal to withstand the injuries and fatigue that are coming for everyone — especially the seven teams still involved in European play — in this league.
Looking Back At The Midweek Matches
Real Madrid Is Just Fine, For Now
We learned over Real Madrid’s last four matches that, in shocking news, the concerns we all had about this team in late November were ever so slightly overstated. Yes, injuries were causing problems, and this team still isn’t playing to its potential against weak opponents. But by beating Sevilla, Monchengladbach, Atleti and then Athletic Club, they gave us our latest reminder not to doubt Zinedine Zidane too much (as long as Ramos and Co. are healthy).
With an upcoming slate of Eibar, Granada, Elche, Celta Vigo and Osasuna, Los Blancos should be red-hot by mid-January ahead of UCL knockout play in February. I should add here that it’s been the underdogs, not the obvious threats, that have caused this team the most trouble to this point.
Barcelona Still Has Some Questions, But Should Be On A Roll By January
Barcelona Twitter was pleased for at least 45 minutes (trust me, that’s an eternity) Wednesday afternoon as the Catalans created a ton of good chances — at least by their recent standards — en route to their 2-0 win over Real Sociedad. The young back line of Sergiño Dest, Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza and (not-so-young) Jordi Alba held up well, and the attack looked solid, at least in spurts. Is that a back four we’re going to see more of??
Regardless of the answer to that question, the good news for Barcelona is that, like Real Madrid, the weeks ahead are crowded with league matches, but against teams they should beat. Ronald Koeman’s squad faces Valencia this weekend, Valladolid next Tuesday, Eibar on December 29 and Huesca on January 3.