Getafe continue to defy doubters in La Liga

Getafe

It is easy to forget Getafe were only promoted to Spain’s top flight 18 months ago, via the convulted playoff system. Last season, Loz Azulones recorded an impressive eighth-placed finish – just one spot away from European qualification – and they are on course to repeat the feat this time round.

Since the start of the 2017-18 campaign, Jose Bordalas’s men have conceded just 45 goals across their 53 matches in La Liga. It is a remarkable record with only Atletico Madrid (32 goals conceded in that timeframe) holding stronger defensive numbers. Continue reading

Struggling Villarreal right to dismiss boss Javier Calleja

Villarreal

Monday morning saw Villarreal boss Javier Calleja become the fifth managerial casualty of the current La Liga campaign. In truth, it was no surprise. The Yellow Submarine sit just one place above the relegation zone and are one of the biggest underachievers in this crazy season in Spain.

Their performances were not alarmingly bad nor is relegation a serious concern at present. They have conceded the same amount of goals as Real Madrid and Barcelona. But the reality is this a side who should be doing an awful lot better and Calleja, well-liked at the club, cannot complain about losing his position. Continue reading

Have Atletico Madrid already blown La Liga title?

atletico

Atletico Madrid may be only three points off the top of La Liga but there is a growing sense they have already blown their best chance of a league title since their 2014 triumph. In fact, the possibility of them lifting the Spanish title this year is seemingly significantly higher than it was whenever they pipped Barcelona on the final day five seasons ago.

The Catalan giants are once more at the top of the pile but have already dropped 14 points from their opening 14 games and the title race has been, until now, wide open. Diego Simeone’s men must surely be cursing their own failures to reach their potential – which is so much more than 25 points in the same time frame. Continue reading

Real Betis face potentially season-defining fixtures

Real Betis

Real Betis have begun their crucial 24-day run of fixtures in the build-up to Christmas with the perfect start. Last week, they clinched qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Olympiakos and three days later, they secured a 1-0 win at home to an in-form Real Sociedad in La Liga.

Both victories were important in very different senses – one guaranteeing the prestige of European football will tick into March at least and the other a much-needed three points in La Liga – ahead of five more significant matches in the busiest time of the campaign. Continue reading

Will Athletic Club Bilbao be relegated from La Liga?

Athletic-SanJose

Last season was an unmitigated disaster for Athletic Club Bilbao. A club who have become accustomed to competing in European football, and one of only three to never have been relegated from La Liga since its inception – along with Real Madrid and Barcelona – saw them finish 16th, and with no more points than any other side who beat the drop.

Such underperformance was pinned on boss José Ángel Ziganda – a loyal club servant as a player and coach but inexperienced at the top level in the dugout. This was a team too good to be struggling so badly. With players like Inaki Williams, Inigo Martinez and Iker Munain – they should have been challenging for a top six spot. Continue reading

Barcelona set for Umtiti injury waiting game

Umtiti

Barcelona have confirmed that defender Samuel Umtiti will not undergo knee surgery, but the La Liga holders have confirmed that he will remained sidelined with the issue.

Umtiti had not played for the Catalan side since September 26th, prior to their 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid last weekend.

However manager Ernesto Valverde brought the French international back into the fold for the crunch tie against Diego Simeone’s side, despite uncertainty over his fitness, due to other defenders being ruled out.

Continue reading

Rayo Vallecano relying on home form to ease relegation fears

Rayo Vallecano

Rayo Vallecano’s miserable run of form continued with a 3-0 La Liga defeat away at Valencia last weekend, keeping the side from in the relegation zone ahead of Game Week 14.

Michel’s side are now without a win since September 14th, away at Huesca, which has been their only victory of the La Liga season.

Inconsistency has dogged the side from the start of the season, with the results that do not match the performance becoming the hallmark of their campaign.

Continue reading

Lionel Messi is masking Barcelona’s problems

On the face of things, all went well for Barcelona on Wednesday night. Against a PSV Eindhoven side intent of giving it one last go to climb their way off the foot of Group B in this season’s Champions League, the Catalans claimed a 2-1 win to secure top spot. Dig a little deeper, though, and there was plenty to concern Ernesto Valverde.

Barca gave up enough opportunities for the result to be very different – ‘gave up’ being the key term. As effective as PSV were in the final third, hassling and harrying the Spanish champions, Valverde’s side were unusually slack with possession. Sergio Busquets surely can’t have had many looser games. Ivan Rakitic wasn’t much better, with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen also extremely uncomfortable.

lionel-messi-barcelona_xgny2egbdmvd1uk9b4pb6gkgm

The xG plot maps produced after full time backed up the notion that PSV, had they taken their chances, probably should have beaten, or at least taken a point off, Barcelona. The visitors were fortunate to leave with all three points, once again owing to the brilliance of Lionel Messi, whose stunning opener changed the course of the match as a contest.

Fears that Messi may be slowing down have been, so far, unfounded this season, with the Argentinean as lethal as ever. Playing in a ‘false nine’ position on Wednesday night, with Luis Suarez missing for the match, Messi was both Barcelona’s attacking hub and their cutting edge. He is good enough to play both roles at the same time.

Elsewhere, though, there was reason for Valverde to be concerned. Barcelona’s midfield was far too deep against PSV, with Philippe Coutinho positioned only slightly in front of the central platform of Busquets and Rakitic. This resulted in Barca holding the ball closer to their own goal than is normal, which subsequently incentivised PSV to press high on the Catalans.

Last season, Valverde was criticised for not rotating his squad sufficiently. This resulted in Barcelona running out of steam when they reached the latter rounds of the Champions League, demonstrated by their infamous collapse to Roma in the quarter finals.

While Valverde is rotating his squad better this season, his changes on Wednesday night were peculiar. Busquets and Rakitic were quite clearly struggling from the 60-minute mark onwards, yet the Barca boss chose to withdraw Ousmane Dembele rather than resting one of his fatigued central midfielders.

This only accentuated the positional issues that Barcelona were experiencing in the middle of the pitch, giving PSV a way back into the match when the points should have been secured with the scoring of the second goal through Gerard Pique. Against better teams, Barca could come unstuck if they continue to play in this way. They might be through to the Champions League last 16, top of their group, but Valverde has plenty to think about.

How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.

Euro Fantasy League Podcast – #27 – Asif Norat on Man Utd

EuroFantasyPodCover700x300Jamie welcomes Asif Norat along for the Premier League section of the show before later being joined by Dave for Serie A & La Liga.

Continue reading

Lionel Messi’s season so far for Barcelona has been very impressive

Messi-Ballon-or-cinq-2016-trophee (1)

Some may believe that Lionel Messi arguably the greatest player of his generation if not all time is having  a quiet season so far with Barcelona. It has been a testing summer of course after Argentina were knocked out of the World Cup by eventual winners France in the last 16, and failure seemed to follow Messi around in Russia.

The transfer window saw the departure of Andres Iniesta from Barca, a player that Messi has relied on for the past decade for his sublime touches and passing of the ball. Now Messi has had to link up better with the likes of Ivan Rakitic and his trustworthy lieutenant Sergio Busquets. Is Messi also a little in mourning of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Juventus- that rivalry seems to have calmed now that the players are plying their trade in different leagues. Perhaps there isn’t that push to do well anymore against one another. Something that could be reignited if the two teams meet in the Champions League.

The league could well be Barcelona’s most difficult challenge in a while. Whilst Real Madrid have significantly dropped off other rivals have taken their place and Barcelona find themselves in 2nd place but all around them are the likes of Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and let’s face it Real still remain a danger.

Still if some think that Messi is going quiet then they haven’t been watching much of La Liga this season. He has 9 goals in the league and has scored 14 goals this season in 14 games, even at 31 he is not slowing down. He is sure to break his 600 club goals this season too. Currently he is in 2nd place in the top goalscorers chart and with 6 assists he is top of the pile in Spain.

Messi is also playing well for the team, dropping back when he needs to, scoring great goals and assisting well. Truth is nothing much has changed at the Nou Camp even if it has at the clubs direct rivals Real Madrid. Next month will be about pushing on for the club who apart from having to play Espanyol in the derby away from home they seem to have a good fixture list.

There is still a recklessness about the team in part, due to their attacking mode but they still look like the best team in Spain. Messi won’t win the Ballon d’Or this year after missing out on all of the top prizes in a season where his club won the domestic double. But he will be thinking about next year and capturing that title once more along with a few others too.