Three weeks into the ’19-20 La Liga season, we’ve focused most of our attention on Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. There’s a reason those teams get all the attention they do, but they often overshadow their league rivals. This year is no different.
While Barcelona lost its season opener to Athletic Bilbao and RM suffered a disappointing 1-1 draw against Valladolid last Saturday on Matchday 2, the two teams with six points are Sevilla and Atleti. And Sevilla, whose goal differential is currently +3, ahead of Los Rojiblancos’ +2, is the surprise league leader after about 180 minutes.
So before digging into the latest surrounding Spain’s big three, let’s address the burning question: is Sevilla Manager Julen Lopetegui’s team for real?
A promising, if not entirely convincing, start
This squad has opened the season by beating Espanyol 2-0 and shutting out promoted side Granada 1-0. For now, the best answer to the “are they for real” question is “maybe.” And with Sevilla’s next two games coming against Celta Vigo (Friday) and Alavés (Sept. 15), Lopetegui and Co. should be no worse than tied for first place when they host Real Madrid on Sept. 22.
For this weekend, expect another victory, as it’s hard to imagine Sevilla (-190) losing to Celta Vigo (+510). Longer-term, oddsmakers are not overwhelmed by the team’s start, as they are +10,000 to win the league.
Los Blancos on the ropes
As for Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane’s team needs a win as bad as anyone in Europe after last weekend’s slip-up. Through two games, we’ve seen two different versions of RM. All looked well as they routed Celta Vigo 3-1 to open the season. But last week’s draw to a Valladolid side that is probably more likely to be relegated than qualify for Europe in ’20-21 caused many to ask the same questions of RM that haunted them throughout the summer.
Karim Benzema is following a quietly great ’18-19 with a strong start to ’19-20 – he has two goals and an assist after two games – but who else is going to step up and erase the memory of a disastrous ’18-19?
For this early in the season, Madridistas are coping with far more injured players than they should be. James Rodriguez’s recent injury will confine him to a crowded sideline as Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy and Isco, among others, work their way back from injuries. When Gareth Bale, of all people is one of your most reliable pieces health-wise, you’re in trouble. Despite the injury issues, RM (-114) is favored against Villarreal (+270) on Saturday, but not prohibitively so.
Barcelona, Atleti expected to cruise
Consensus league favorite Barcelona and HPS darling Atlético Madrid are getting less attention than usual in this piece because their Matchday 3 opponents appear completely over-matched. Barcelona (-278) takes on Osasuna (+850), the rare opposing side that won’t give the Catalans a scare regardless of whether Lionel Messi is in action or not. With that in mind, will Messi miss a third consecutive game to start the year? … Maybe there’s a reason to tune in to this one after all.
Atleti (-245) should also beat Eibar (+950) comfortably. The most interesting thing for Los Rojiblancos will be how Diego Simeone chooses his XI if Diego Costa is fit. To me, the logical move (in case Atleti wants my opinion) is to play João Félix as an attacking midfielder, with Costa and Álvaro Morata as the strikers. Again, the biggest reason to tune in might be to see who plays where for Atleti, and whether that results in a deviation from the team’s “1-0 win, with no decent opportunities for the opposition” routine.
Copa del Rey final rematch
And there is good news on the way for those who understandably have been underwhelmed with the match-ups through the first three matchdays. After a week off next weekend for international matches, we’ll get to see Barcelona host Valencia at Camp Nou in a rematch of last year’s Copa del Rey final on Saturday, September 14.