Sunday, 18 November 2018

La Liga: October Review


La Liga is becoming the most fascinating league in Europe. Interestingly, not one of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid are walking away with the league. Despite that, Barcelona do lead the way but just 3 points separate the top 5 sides. While Huesca continue to prop up the table along with Rayo Vallecano and Leganes. The managerial axe fell for the first time this season in La Liga with 2 managers losing their jobs.

Barcelona lead the way with after an unbeaten October which saw them collect 7 points out of their 3 matches including victories over Sevilla and in El Clasico where they put 5 past Real Madrid. A Messi-less Barcelona destroyed their bitter rivals and Valverde will hope that win inspires Barcelona to recapture last seasons’ dominance. Luis Suarez has been the star for Barcelona during October notching goals against Sevilla and a terrific hattrick against Real Madrid. Meanwhile in a small part of the Basque country, there is a real buzz of excitement and optimism with Alaves excelling all expectations and finding themselves in 2nd place. Abelardo Fernandez has done a sensational job and a perfect October saw them soar to within a point of Barcelona. Terrific victories over Real Madrid, Celta Vigo and Villarreal have installed huge confidence around the whole football club. They are efficient and take their chances hence why they are generally narrow margins in their matches. Alaves are not a team of stars but they have an abundance of La Liga experience and quality players including the likes of Ibai Gomez, Tomas Pina, Ruben Sobrino and Vincent Laguardia.  5 wins in their last 7 is title winning form and from a neutral perspective you want their positive momentum to continue throughout November. The Champions League places are made up by Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. Pablo Machin has made an excellent start in charge of Sevilla and despite losing to Barcelona, they won their other 2 games and find themselves in the title race just 2 points off the top.  Machin’s 3-5-2 seems to be working perfectly for his squad with Wissam Ben Yedder and Andre Silva complementing each other well while Gabriel Mercado has found a new lease of life in a solid back 3.  They have won 5 of their last 6 and are looking very strong in their quest to secure a Champions League spot but could the season finish with a league title? If they keep up this kind of form they will there or thereabouts come May. What you see is what you get with Atletico Madrid, they are a team unit, hardworking but have an array of quality and talent in their ranks. 7 points from their 3 games has put them back in the title race. Simeone’s men have been solid rather than spectacular so far this season but they are getting results. A crucial month for Atletico Madrid with key games against Ath Bilbao and Barcelona to come and wins in both could really ignite a charge towards the top.

Sides having excellent Octobers included Espanyol, Getafe, Levante and Valladolid. It has been an excellent start for Rubi in charge of Espanyol. He hasn’t always had the best time in La Liga with his most recent spell ending in relegation with Sporting Gijon, but he seems to have found a good match with a well organised Espanyol who are excellent defensively and efficient in attacking areas. Rubi has guided Espanyol into 5th place just 3 points off the top and near neighbours Barcelona. Espanyol’s new striker Borja Iglesias is enduring himself to fans very well with a string of excellent performances and match winning goals. 7 points from their 3 games during October and overall just 1 defeat in their last 8 is nothing short of excellent. European football is a realistic goal for them this season if they manage to continue this kind of form. Meanwhile it was a much-improved month for Jose Bordalas and Getafe after a flat September. Getafe picked up 6 points from their 3 matches including back to back wins to end October. Victories over Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis have propelled Getafe into the top half. Right back Dimitri Foulquier enjoyed his month notching key goals in both wins and is beginning to enjoy his season. One side thoroughly enjoying not just October, but their season is Levante with last season’s narrow escape from relegation becoming a distant memory. A perfect October and an overall run of 4 straight wins have seen the Valencia minnows climb into 7th place and are looking confident. Paco Lopez is doing a terrific job and is becoming the conqueror of Madrid after beating 3 of the 5 sides during October. Leganes, Getafe and Real Madrid all falling to King Paco of Levante. Levante fans are dreaming of where their team’s season could go but no doubt the first aim is 40 points to ensure their La Liga safety. The same could be said for Valladolid whose prime target was survival and so far, they are on course for that. Valladolid are an extremely tough nut to crack with clean sheets in 2 of their last 4 games and are unbeaten in their last 5 matches. Efficiency is the key to Valladolid’s success with the team taking their chance at 1-0 and holding out for the win as emphasised in their terrific win at Villarreal. Valladolid are firmly enjoying their season and currently lie in 7th after an unbeaten October and no doubt are exceeding expectation right now.

It has categorically been a woeful month and start to the season for Real Madrid and defeat to Barcelona in the Clasico consequently cost Julen Loportegui his job after a run of 1 win in 7 and a run of 4 defeats in their last 5 league games. Poor performances both defensively and offensively has made the fans and Florentino Perez extremely unhappy. Evidence would suggest they are clearly missing the role Cristiano Ronaldo played in the team with star performers Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale struggling to reach the levels they are firmly capable off while new acquisitions Thibaut Courtois, Mariano Diaz and Alvaro Odriozola haven’t made great starts in Madrid. Ultimately Loportegui has paid the price for poor results and performances and the Los Blancos find themselves in 9th place 7 points behind Barcelona at the top. They are closer to Leganes in 18th then bitter rivals Barcelona and that is simply not good enough. Real Madrid Castilla boss Santiago Solari has stepped into a caretaker role aiming to impress Florentino Perez and made a good start winning their Copa del ray tie at the end of the month, but he must organise the team and get them firing again. Los Blancos season starts now, and they really need a perfect November to pull them back into the title race. Injuries have been an issue for them and Solari will no doubt look to his Castilla team to fill the void, but he will have belief they can step up and get Real Madrid’s season up and running.

Other sides enduring disappointing Octobers included Ath Bilbao, Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano and Villarreal. It has been an extremely disappointing start for Eduardo Berizzo in charge of Ath Bilbao. Just 1 league win so far and that came on the opening weekend of the season.  A nine-match winless run has left them in 16th place just 2 points clear of the bottom 3. Berizzo is feeling the pressure and they desperately need to turn their season round and fast. The likes of Inaki Williams, Iker Muniain, Artiz Aduriz and Markel Susaeta are enduring severe drops in form and time is on their side to improve their season as they are only 6 points off 7th place and as we have seen form change so quickly. Real Betis had an October to forget losing all 3 of their games leaving them languishing in the bottom half. The vibrant play from last season under Quique Setien’s seems to have faded and teams have begun to suss them out. Despite their disappointing results, youngsters Loren Garcia and Junior Firpo are impressing so far and certainly many managers will be looking at them. Betis’ future stars are shining in what has been a flat season so far. Things must improve during November to get Betis pushing back towards the European places. Meanwhile at the wrong end of the table, Rayo Vallecano just can’t get their season running and are desperately short of goals and wins. Michel’s men have won just once away at Huesca. 3 defeats in 4 during October has left them 19th in the table. Vallecano are struggling for confidence and no doubt Michel is under pressure to turn their fortunes around and fast. They will aim for survival and Michel will be given time due to his association with the club, but he will be aware that they must find a win quick to ignite their season. Another side who can’t get their league season going is Villarreal. Javi Calleja’s men find themselves in 17th after a winless October and their recent form is poor winning just 1 of their last 6 games. The pressure is mounting on Calleja with the fans demanding improvement and like Ath Bilbao, European football is still within their reach should they find a way to ignite their season, but they must do it quickly.

La Liga’s newest team Huesca are finding life extremely tough having won just once way back on the opening weekend against Eibar. Leo Franco has now paid the price after an 8-match winless run which saw 6 defeats. Goals are dry, and they are conceding far too many to give them a chance in matches. Huesca have turned to their former midfielder Francisco Rodriguez to ignite their season and get them out of relegation trouble. The team lie rock bottom 4 points off safety. However, the inexperienced Rodriguez will have to learn fast that La Liga is extremely unforgiving and must hit the ground running. However, he has started with a defeat to Sevilla but there were some positive signs. They are getting extremely desperate for a win and should that arrive, they will hope the momentum pendulum shifts into their favour. Huesca have found out the hard way just how tough La Liga can be, but they will hope Francisco Rodriguez is the man to turn their fortunes around.

October was fascinating, and no doubt November will be the same with the league becoming extremely tight from top to bottom. There are some mouth-watering ties to come during November and this includes Leganes vs Ath Madrid, Eibar vs Alaves, Real Sociedad vs Sevilla, Ath Madrid vs Ath Bilbao, Getafe vs Valencia, Barcelona vs Real Betis, Celta Vigo vs Real Madrid, Sevilla vs Espanyol, Rayo Vallecano vs Villarreal, Ath Madrid vs Barcelona, Villarreal vs Real Betis and Real Sociedad vs Celta Vigo.  The managerial axe fell during October and could it fall again in November? Only results and form will give us an idea but one thing for sure Europe’s most unpredictable league this season will no doubt keep on giving during November.

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