No one is calling the games scheduled for Matchday 19 in Spain the best of the season.
And by that I mean this might be the weakest slate of the year so far, as Athletic Club, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad all get a few days’ rest after the Supercopa last week.
Below are the lines on the three “games of the week.”
- Eibar (+525) vs. Atlético Madrid (-150) Thursday, 3:30 p.m. Eastern
- Alavés (+430) vs. Sevilla (-143) Tuesday, 3:30 p.m.
- Villarreal (-190) vs. Granada (+600) Wednesday, 3:30 p.m. (Including this one here since it’s 4th-place Villarreal vs. 7th-place Granada, giving it Europa League implications)
We’ll get to Athletic Club upsetting Barcelona in Sunday’s Supercopa final, but let’s start with the team with a record of 13-2-1. And no, I don’t see Atleti struggling at Eibar.
Should Atlético Be Among The UCL Favorites?
We’ve written for weeks now that Diego Simeone’s team not only has a shot to win La Liga, but possibly do so comfortably.
Neither Real Madrid’s loss to Athletic Club last week in the Supercopa semifinals nor Barcelona’s disappointment in the final will be reflected in the standings. Those outcomes were, however, the latest reminder of those clubs’ inability to avoid upsets. Here’s our weekly reminder of how oddsmakers see the title race – nothing has changed since last week:
- First-place Atleti (13-2-1): -200 to win La Liga
- Second-place RM (11-4-3): +300
- Third-place Barcelona (10-4-4): +500
Atleti Underestimated at +2,000 To Win UCL?
The question, with the top teams all over the continent regularly dropping points to massive underdogs — I don’t need to spell out the details, but even Bayern Munich has only captured 36/48 possible points in the Bundesliga — is whether Los Rojiblancos should be UCL favorites.
The answer, for Vegas at least, is apparently “absolutely not.” It makes sense that a team’s domestic play wouldn’t upend the hierarchy in a separate competition like the Champions League, but these guys are seventh-favorite at +2,000 (!!). I’m not saying they should be favored to win the thing ahead of Bayern and Manchester City, but I disagree that there are six teams more dangerous than Atleti right now.
The Case Against Them
They didn’t look great in group play, totaling just nine points in six games. And they were shut out by Real Madrid 2-0 on December 12 (but beat Barcelona 1-0 in November), which makes you question what they’re capable of against Europe’s best. One more reason to doubt them in the UCL: they’ve got a tough round-of-16 battle with Chelsea that’s considered a tossup – Atleti is actually the slight underdog at -105 to go through, while Chelsea is -118 to advance.
The Case For Them
All that being said, we’re talking about a defense that makes this team an annual UCL contender – and is on pace to give up 14.25 goals in 38 La Liga games this year – and an attack that is just fine, seriously! With Ángel Correa, Yannick Carrasco and Marcos Llorente complementing headliners João Félix and Luis Suárez, this is not the toothless offense fans are used to seeing. We’ll revisit this plenty when Champions League knockout play begins next month, but do yourself a favor and think about Atleti at +2,000 (especially when teams like fifth-place-in-Serie A Juventus are +1,100).
Moussa Dembele, Impact Signing??
No, I don’t think Atleti’s decision to terminate Diego Costa’s contract was terribly detrimental to his former squad’s hopes. But he did have a more important role than people realized as the only backup to Suárez, who’s … kinda fat? at the age where he needs a solid guy to fill in when he’s unavailable. No slander regarding the Uruguayan’s fitness from me!
Enter Dembele, previously with Lyon, who will reportedly cost Atleti just €1.5M for the rest of the season, which makes this a great deal. Say what you will about Ligue 1, but the guy is 24 years old and is coming off a 15-goal season in ’18-19 and a 16-goal season in ’19-20, domestically.
He also did this in last year’s Champions League quarterfinal, in case anyone’s forgotten.
Moussa Dembélé and Lyon catch Manchester City’s back line napping AGAIN and the Ligue 1 side is nearing a huge #UCL upset 😱
— Yahoo Soccer (@FCYahoo) August 15, 2020
So yeah, I doubt Atleti ends up missing that whopping €1.5M.
How About Athletic Club!
I’ll give myself credit for expecting them to push Barcelona in the Supercopa final. My only regret is that I didn’t sack up and call the upset. It’s old(ish) news now, but what a win for new manager Marcelino, whose second and third games with his new clubs were Supercopa wins over Real Madrid and then Barcelona.
His team is currently in 12th place in La Liga, 11 points behind 4th-place Villarreal. But based on Marcelino’s track record with Valencia (who came out of nowhere down the stretch to snag fourth place back in ’18-19), I wouldn’t rule out Athletic Club getting in that mix over the final 20 games of the season.
I say that not only because of their hot start to his tenure, but because of how unimpressive the teams after Atleti, Real Madrid and Barcelona (besides Sevilla) have been this season. A smarter, more practical man than me would see their top-4 odds of +10,000 and keep moving. I think it’s somewhat tempting, though. Let’s keep an eye on this team over its next three vs. Getafe, Barcelona and Valencia.