As the lines below indicate, Matchday 20, like Matchday 19 before it, is full of match-ups that look like easy wins for Spain’s best clubs.
- Sevilla (-215) vs. Cadiz (+700) Saturday, 10:15 a.m. Eastern
- Alavés (+650) vs. Real Madrid (-245) Saturday, 3 p.m.
- Elche (+700) vs. Barcelona (-278) Sunday, 10:15 a.m.
- Atletico Madrid (-265) vs. Valencia (+750) Sunday, 3 p.m.
Real Madrid has to be on upset alert considering Los Blancos’ form since late December. Otherwise, there’s not a whole lot to say about four games in which the odds on all four underdogs are +650 or longer.
Before we delve into the most recent edition of “Crisis at Real Madrid,” a bit of good news and bad news. The good news is that all year long, La Liga’s top clubs have suffered losses nobody saw coming. So maybe these games will be less predictable than oddsmakers expect.
The bad news is that we’ll be dependent on massive upsets providing intrigue throughout the rest of January and February. Champions League knockout play will offer interesting battles for Atleti, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, but the next top-four vs. top-four matchup in domestic play is a long way off. Sevilla-Barcelona will be a good one, but we’ll have to wait for it until Matchday 25, on February 28.
Really, Real Madrid?
Let me get this straight. Los Blancos, who comfortably won the title a year ago by being more dependable than anyone else in Spain post-pandemic, have losses in ’20-21 to Shakhtar Donetsk (Champions League, twice), Cádiz, Valencia and Alavés. That would have been an ugly list of inexplicable letdowns even if Real Madrid got its act together the rest of the way.
Instead, Zinedine Zidane’s team suffered its biggest embarrassment yet on Wednesday, bowing out of the Copa del Rey with a humiliating 2-1 loss to third-tier Alcoyano, who were down to 10 men when they scored the winner in the 115th minute. If all was well with RM, I’d find that result a lot less concerning. I did, after all, shrug off Atleti’s Copa exit last week as indicative of little more than the lack of value they place on the competition. But regardless of who was out there – and it certainly wasn’t a strong XI – that was a brutal loss.
A year after giving up 25 goals in 38 games in La Liga, RM has allowed 15 in 18 games this year, and that does not include the two they surrendered to Alcoyano. In Champions League group play, they allowed nine goals in six games.
Injuries have been a factor, and Thibaut Courtois was among a number of key players who didn’t play – or at least didn’t start – vs. Alcoyano. Overall, though, there have been way too many issues this season to trust this defense, especially with so little (STILL) happening offensively. The total of 30 goals in 18 La Liga games is not going to get it done for a team with (European and domestic) title ambitions.
The Answer Is … Fewer Options??
With his team struggling to score, just as it did a year ago, Zidane is, uh, going outside the box to solve the problem. That’s the most generous way to sum up what I’m about to describe. Luka Jovic certainly hasn’t been what RM was hoping for when it signed him, but loaning him back to Eintracht Frankfurt made little sense. Sure enough, he scored twice on his first game back with his old club.
After the promising immediate returns on the Jovic move, Zidane is now looking to ship out Martin Odegaard. The young Norwegian, who came back to the Spanish capital from his successful loan spell with Real Sociedad, could be headed back to the team where he excelled a year ago. Arsenal and Ajax could also be in the mix for his services.
Zidane’s won so much that we should probably defer to his judgment, but WTF? Your team can’t score, so you get rid of guys who couldn’t do much worse, offensively, than the players they’re sitting on the bench watching?? I just don’t get it, if I haven’t made that clear.
Zidane’s lack of interest in giving Jovic and Odegaard enough minutes to see whether they offer the offensive spark his team is sorely lacking shouldn’t shock us, though. He also recently passed on Sergio Reguilón (12 starts for Tottenham in ’20-21) and Achraf Hakimi (six goals and three assists in 12 starts for Inter Milan this year). I bring up those players because although Real Madrid got good money for them this summer, especially Hakimi, it’s impossible to understand why Zidane thought neither of them could make his squad better.
Revenge on Alavés?
The ability Real Madrid has to play its best when things look the most dire is the reason I like them to snap out of their funk this weekend. But Alavés has pushed Sevilla and Atleti in recent weeks — not to mention their win over Real Madrid on November 28 — and will make RM earn it. That said, I don’t quite recommend taking them at +650.