La Liga Matchday 18 Preview: Can Barcelona Build On A Strong Midweek Win?

Posted By Tyler Everett on January 9, 2021

Another weekend, another slate full of seemingly predictable match-ups in Spain – though predictability is not really a thing this season. There’s no shortage of talking points this weekend, though.

Below are the match-ups of the week:

  • Sevilla (+120) vs. Real Sociedad (+270) Saturday, 8 a.m. Eastern
  • Atlético Madrid (-195) vs. Athletic Club (+650) Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
  • Granada (+525) vs. Barcelona (-225) Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
  • Osasuna (+600) vs. Real Madrid (-220) Saturday, 3 p.m.

Chaos In The Copa Del Rey

Before we go any further, what do we make of Atleti exiting the Copa del Rey in embarrassing fashion, again? A year ago, Los Rojiblancos were eliminated by Segunda B side (third division) Cultural Leonesa. This year, Diego Simeone’s team is out of the Copa after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Segunda B outfit Cornella.

Those upsets probably definitely have more to do with Atleti not taking the Copa seriously than anything, but wow. The list of Spanish clubs that have beaten the current La Liga favorite in the past calendar year is wild.

Want more reason to watch the early rounds of the Copa del Rey?* Two other Segunda B teams knocked off La Liga foes on Tuesday, as Cordoba shut out Getafe, 1-0, and Ibiza blew out Celta Vigo in a 5-2 win. This tournament either has an issue with top-flight teams not caring, or the best of Spain’s third tier is way better than people realize.

*I don’t care what your answer is.

Major Top-4 Implications In Sevilla-Real Sociedad

Sevilla-Real Sociedad should be the closest game involving a top-four club, but Sevilla at +120 is good value. This side hasn’t lost since December 5, as it has done a good job all year of beating the teams it should. The biggest concern is that a massive battle with Atleti looms next Tuesday (in a game that was originally scheduled to take place on Matchday 1).

While Julen Lopetegui seems like the type of manager whose team won’t be caught looking ahead, expect a close one in a game where Real Sociedad badly needs a result to remain in the top-4 race. La Real are currently +225, while Sevilla is -118, to qualify for the Champions League in ’21-22.

Barcelona Looks To Keep It Going At Granada

Granada, currently still alive in the Europa League, is a solid team, but if we see the Barcelona we saw at Athletic Club earlier this week, the Catalans will roll.

Barcelona Manager Ronald Koeman went with a 4-3-3 in his team’s 3-2 win, and we should see more of that going forward. Lionel Messi looked like he’s still the best player in the world (he wasn’t playing at that level early this season), and 18-year-old Pedri is making his case as Barcelona’s top teenager. Yes, that’s saying a lot. It might even seem like blasphemy considering what Ansu Fati was doing before his injury in the fall. But Pedri has been consistently sensational for a while now.

It’s still hard to wrap your head around a teenager being Messi’s go-to guy on a roster featuring Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, but it’s all about the Messi-Pedri combo right now.

If you’re unfamiliar with the clinic they put on Wednesday, here you go:

The buzz about Pedri is not limited to the Spanish press, either. Consider the following:

  • Here are his WhoScored ratings in his last four matches. He played at least 81 minutes in each one. Dec. 12 vs. Valladolid (7.6); Dec. 29 vs. Eibar (7.13) Jan. 3 vs. Huesca (7.11); Jan. 6 vs. Athletic Club (8.15 – with a goal and the filthy assist above).
  • More importantly, his transfer value, per Transfermarkt, has skyrocketed to €50M ($61.3M). Nine months ago, he was valued at just €7.2M ($8.8M), as Spanish newspaper As pointed out here.
  • As for his story, the best version I’ve seen of it (in English) is from The Athletic’s Dermot Corrigan: Pedri: The island boy with the world at his feet.

Tough Sledding Ahead For Athletic Club

The good news for the Basque side is that Marcelino is a proven manager whose firing at Valencia last year still makes no sense. Actually, it’s not complicated at all when you consider the Peter Lim thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

I bring up Athletic replacing Gaizka Garitano with Marcelino because I expect the latter to give his new team, which is currently ninth in the table, a boost.

But he couldn’t have a much tougher stretch to get started. His team’s difficult three-game run began with Barcelona at home earlier this week. The next two for Athletic Club are a trip to Atleti this weekend and a neutral-site date with Real Madrid in the Supercopa semifinals next Thursday. Yikes.

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