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This weekend, we have another lackluster slate in Spain.
First-place Barcelona (22 points) hosts 18th-place Celta Vigo. Real Madrid — which also has 22 points and also has a game in hand on the rest of the league — travels to 14th-place Eibar. Third-place Real Sociedad (22) hosts last-place Leganés, while fourth-place Atleti (21) is home vs. 19th-place Espanyol. The lines for those games match the disparity between where those teams are in the table.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that none of those games will be terribly close – although it was hard to imagine Barcelona struggling with Levante last weekend, and we saw how that worked out.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any interesting match-ups in Spain, as an improving Valencia (17) could vault from 13th place to within a few points of a Champions League spot if they knock off sixth-place Granada (20). Valencia has our attention because A) they’ve piled up two wins, two draws and a loss in their last five after a terrible start and, more importantly, B) they are tied for first in Group H in the Champions League after routing Lille 4-1 on Tuesday. Valencia (-157) is a substantial favorite over Granada (+510), who oddsmakers continue to doubt, but that line is tempting!
*Breaking addition* C) Valencia just sacked General Director Mateu Alemany. So owner Peter Lim has now run off the coach, Marcelino, and GM behind back-to-back successful seasons. A big Champions League win on a Tuesday and a baffling (it’s actually not thaat confusing – Lim wanted Alemany out, so he’s out, but I digress…) executive decision the following Thursday – only at Valencia!
This time a week ago, we were wondering when Barcelona would even break a sweat again, much less lose. And then they turned around and suffered an embarrassing 3-1 loss at Levante. So Real Madrid is not the only Spanish powerhouse we can’t figure out. We’ll get to Los Blancos, but the most pressing topic in Spain is Barcelona’s current state.
Apparently, Lionel Messi doesn’t cure every ill for this team. They’ve struggled to generate scoring opportunities the last 180 minutes – their only goal vs. Levante last weekend came on a penalty from guess who Messi, and they were shut out in a 0-0 Champions League draw at home vs. Slavia Prague on Tuesday. Offensively, the Catalans have come to a screeching halt after entering last weekend having outscored their last seven opponents – both domestically and in Europe – 20-4.
The draw vs. Slavia Prague was the latest reminder of how crucial Luis Suarez is to this team’s attack. Though he’s drawn criticism from his own fans this year, he’s scored eight goals, six in La Liga and two in the Champions League. And if that level of production doesn’t speak for itself, watch the tape of the last few games he’s been hobbled or absent. It isn’t pretty. There’s still a good chance Antoine Griezmann integrates into this lineup at some point and starts playing like the Griezmann of the last few years, but Barcelona’s last two appearances have been concerning.
They still should be favored to win La Liga, but it’s hard to see them playing well enough on the road in the UCL to capture that trophy, as the loss to Levante was just the latest example of their vulnerability away from home. We won’t say too much here about the Champions League disasters at AS Roma and Liverpool the last two seasons, but in the current La Liga season, Spain’s best club has lost away to Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante and drawn Osasuna.
All that being said, expect Barcelona (-500) to blow out Celta Vigo (+1200) this weekend.
Los Blancos’ last La Liga effort, their 0-0 draw vs. Real Betis last Saturday, was not exactly a head-turner. But the performances sandwiching that draw have offered a glimpse at what this team could evolve into. The 5-0 win over Leganés on Oct. 30 featured Luka Jovic’s first goal of the season, as 18-year-old Rodrygo, Toni Kroos and Co. all broke out.
And on Wednesday, RM was dominant again, routing Galatasaray 6-0. Rodrygo had another strong outing, this time notching a hat trick, a tremendous accomplishment for a teenager in a UCL match. Real Madrid (-162) should cruise again this weekend against Eibar (+440).
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