Because the best game on tap is this weekend is probably either Sevilla-Osasuna or Villarreal-Atletico Madrid – neither of which is exactly a Clasico – let’s start by talking about last weekend’s Barcelona-Atleti clash.
We’ll also touch on how the table looks after 15 games and whether Sevilla, Real Sociedad and/or Athletic Bilbao could bump Atleti out of the top three for the first time in years. Speaking of Los Rojiblancos, should we expect a January move or two to bolster a roster that is continuing to feel the effects of all that offseason turnover?
Ter Stegen Continues to Dominate
Lionel Messi gets all the headlines when Barcelona wins, and we at High Press Soccer certainly play our part in that. But last Sunday was the latest reminder that he’s not the only superstar at Ernesto Valverde’s disposal.
The stats for Barcelona’s 1-0 win over Atleti credit Diego Simeone’s team with 17 shots, but just two on target. That seems hard to believe based on the highlights from that match, as Barcelona’s goal was swarmed throughout the first 30 minutes.
But on Atleti’s two best chances, a point-blank look for Mario Hermoso and a header from Alvaro Morata off a corner, ter Stegen came up with saves that few other keepers could make. They were the type of plays that still don’t make sense even after you’ve watched them several times.
Barcelona’s midfield and back four remain unsettled as far as who the best options are at those positions, but with ter Stegen playing like that, you start to wonder if it matters.
More Messi Magic
The reason the game didn’t end with an Atleti “special” 0-0 was, shockingly, Messi. By his standards, his winner in the 86th was fairly ho-hum – just another impossible strike that he made with seemingly minimal effort. But the list of players who could bend that shot into the net past another of Europe’s top keepers, Jan Oblak, is short.
Lionel Messi 😍
This incredible winning goal in last night’s win over Atletico Madrid 🔥
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) December 2, 2019
Is Atleti in trouble?
Despite a respectable showing at home, it was yet another disappointing result for Simeone’s team. They are now sixth in the table on 25 points, six behind leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid (31). That gap is bigger than it appears because both those teams have a game in hand. But the real issue is that Atleti is currently also looking up at third-place Sevilla (30), fourth-place Real Sociedad (26) and fifth-place Athletic Bilbao (26).
Atleti will get a boost from the return of Joao Felix, who on Sunday made his first start since his injury vs. Valencia on Oct. 19. The question is whether it’s fair, or wise, to pin all your offensive hopes on a 20-year-old. The answer, for anyone scratching their head, is no. Being defense-first has worked for a long time for Simeone and Co., but he’d be the first to tell you that 16 goals through 15 games is not nearly good enough.
I will point out here that this team has played well over the last 180 minutes against two of Europe’s best in Juventus last week in the Champions League and Barcelona over the weekend. The end results, however, were two more shutout losses.
Speculation in the Spanish papers is starting to indicate that this team will add a striker in January, with Valencia’s Rodrigo likely to be linked to the Spanish capital again.
Tough trip to Villarreal?
Atleti (+135) is no massive favorite at Villarreal (+225) on Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern, either. If they can’t score a few goals and get a victory against a team that is one of Spain’s worst defensively, it might be time to start panicking. Villarreal have lost their last three games and four of the last five, but remain one of the highest-scoring teams in the league with 28 goals, so something has to give in this one.
Elsewhere in Spain, the line tells us that Sevilla’s (+112) game at Osasuna (+250) on Sunday at 3 p.m. will be no cakewalk. Real Sociedad (+140) is in a similar spot as they travel to Valladolid (+210) Sunday at 10 a.m. Rounding out the top five in the table, Athletic Bilbao (+220) is actually the underdog at Real Betis (+135) on Sunday at 8 a.m.
Barcelona (-770), on the other hand, is expected to dominate Mallorca (+1,700) at Camp Nou on Saturday at 3 p.m. Real Madrid (-530) should cruise over visiting Espanyol (+1,300) on Saturday at 7 a.m.
Where to bet La Liga in the US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.