Somehow, Spain’s top clubs are once again almost all facing relegation candidates. This weekend, for what feels like the 10th matchday in a row, it would be a massive stretch to call anything on tap a “marquee match-up.”
- Granada (+430) vs. Atletico Madrid (-129) Saturday, 8 a.m. Eastern
- Sevilla (-200) vs. Huesca (+600) Saturday, 10:15 a.m.
- Barcelona (-335) vs. Alavés (+850) Saturday, 3 p.m.
- Real Madrid (-245) vs. Valencia (+650) Sunday, 10:15 a.m.
Matchday 24 next weekend also appears underwhelming. But between an excellent slate of Champions League Round of 16 match-ups over the next two weeks – four of which involve La Liga sides – and Barcelona-Sevilla on February 27 (Matchday 25), we’re entering an exciting stretch.
As for the games above, nothing screams likely upset, but below are a few things to keep in mind.
Valencia is a mess, but in their first meeting with Real Madrid this year, they blew out RM 4-1.
Sevilla and Barcelona are coming off an intense game on Wednesday in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal, which Sevilla won 2-0 in convincing fashion. Both teams also have massive UCL games against tough opponents this week. As you might have heard, Barcelona meets PSG on Tuesday, while Sevilla takes on Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. Because of that, Sevilla-Huesca and Barcelona-Alavés could be trickier matches than they look.
Zinedine Zidane Gets Creative
I said last week that it would probably be worth it to bet on Real Madrid’s next several opponents (all of whom are major underdogs). I won’t retract that advice, yet, but Los Blancos impressed this past week without a slew of key players.
Last weekend, when they went down 1-0 in the second half against Huesca, I was feeling pretty good about that “fade RM” wisdom. But they pulled that one out, somehow.
Two days later, RM took on Getafe in a 3-4-3. Nacho, Raphael Varane and Ferland Mendy started as the center backs. The midfield featured Marcelo (on the left wing) and 20-year-old B-teamer Marvin Park (on the right) flanking Casemiro and Luka Modric. The backups who saw time included Sergio Arribas and Victor Chust of Real Madrid Castilla. You know the injured list is long when Zidane mixes it up that to that extent.
And a funny thing happened – Real Madrid was dominant. Granted, Getafe has been awful this year, but a 2-0 win when you hold a 4-0 advantage in shots on target and own possession 69% of the match doesn’t leave much to be desired.
Unfortunately for RM, Marcelo suffered an injury and will be out the next three weeks. With Sergio Ramos and Marcelo recently joining a list of injured players that already included Fede Valverde, Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vázquez and Eden Hazard, it’s hard to feel optimistic about the weeks ahead.
But after what they pulled off vs. Getafe, I’m wondering whether Zidane can prove resourceful enough to keep his team afloat until he can once again rely on his preferred XI.
Atleti Showing Signs Of Weakness?
It’s probably a good sign that Atleti dropping points earlier this week came as a shock, but RM is not the only club in the Spanish capital facing some adversity right now. Atleti has had one key player after another test positive for COVID in recent weeks, and the lineup they’ll have for their UCL clash with Chelsea on February 23 is anyone’s guess.
For this weekend, Atleti is on the road against a solid Granada squad. Diego Simeone will be missing Joao Felix and Thomas Lemar, among others. I personally trust them to bounce back after a late goal by Celta Vigo forced them to settle for a draw on Monday. But I wouldn’t blame anyone taking a flier on Granada, who plays well at home, at +430.
With a difficult three-game run in La Liga starting in late February – Villarreal (February 28), Real Madrid (March 7) and Athletic Club (March 10) – it’s crucial that Atleti handle their next three against Granada and Levante. Yes, I meant next three, as Atleti will face Levante on February 17 (rescheduled from Matchday 2) and again on February 20.
Is Atleti’s Defense Slipping At The Wrong Time?
The short answer to this is most likely “no, they’re just human.” But the four goals they’ve allowed in the last 180 minutes in La Liga – two apiece to Cádiz on January 31 and Celta Vigo on February 8 – are a bit surprising, if not troubling. We’re talking, after all, about a team that had allowed just eight goals through its first 18 games this year!
The “slippage” is probably just due to the absences of some key players due to COVID and/or fatigue, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
There have been plenty of weird storylines over the last year, inside and outside the world of soccer. But Atleti’s offense looking, for even a moment, more reliable than its defense is about as bizarre as it gets in Spanish soccer. Seriously, though: Atleti have scored 13 goals in their last five in La Liga and haven’t posted a shutout since January 12!
Between that and Zidane giving opportunities to completely unproven commodities, I’m completely shook by what’s transpiring in Madrid. … And on a related note, I’m as excited as you are to have something more compelling to ramble about in the weeks ahead!