Thursday, 13 December 2018

La Liga: November Review

La Liga is becoming extremely fascinating following another terrific month of excellent goals, brilliant football, surprise results and more managerial changes. Sevilla lead the way with just 6 points separating the top 7 sides in the league. Meanwhile, Huesca and Rayo Vallecano continue to prop up the table and are now joined by Ath Bilbao in the relegation zone.

It was another excellent month for Pablo Machin and Sevilla with the leaders notching 7 points from their 3 games. Machin has firmly got his ideas across and is slowly implementing his style which brought him excellent success with Girona. A good November saw Sevilla climb to the summit with a draw at Real Sociedad and crucial home wins over Espanyol and Valladolid. The likes of Pablo Sarabia, Gabriel Mercado and Wissam Ben Yedder are enjoying their football and the confidence is clearly oozing while new signings Tomas Vaclik, Andre Silva and Roque Mesa have integrated well in the team. Sevilla are full of confidence and go into a crucial December aiming to maintain top spot. Meanwhile, Barcelona endured by their standards a very poor month. A shock home defeat to Real Betis ended the month and so far, things haven’t fully clicked for the defending champions this season. Defending is proving their big issue this season with Barca conceding nearly double what they conceded throughout the entirety of last season. Conceding 2 against struggling Rayo Vallecano, 4 against Betis and poor goal against Atletico Madrid has left the fans and Barca hierarchy concerned. A disappointing month saw Barcelona lose top spot and have Messi injured for much of it. Valverde has been critical of Barcelona’s individual errors and he will be hoping Samuel Umtiti’s timely comeback from injury will help steady a shaky defensive ship. The Champions League places are made up by Atletico Madrid and Alaves. Simeone’s consistent Atletico continue to be a difficult side to shake off and are firmly title contenders. Despite a clear lack of goals with just 17 notched so far in La Liga but their defensive record speaks for itself. Their efficiency allows them to be very difficult to beat and they are on the longest unbeaten run in the league which stands at 11. Simeone’s team are just 2 points off the top and the fans will be confident they can charge towards the title. Meanwhile, 4th placed Alaves could only be dreaming of pushing the big boys at the top but Abelardo’s team find themselves there. The Basque club are 3 points off the leaders but endured a disappointing November losing 2 of their 3 games but they did win the other match. But the bigger picture is brighter for Abelardo’s team winning 4 of their last 6. Frustrating away defeats to Eibar and improving Leganes have highlighted Alaves’ weak elements but whose to say they cannot sustain a shock charge to the title.

Real Madrid have endured its fair to say a poor time with disappointing displays and angering results for both fans and Florentino Perez. With Loportegui gone, Santiago Solari has stepped up and steadied the unhappy ship. After his first 4 games in caretaker charge, Solari was given the job on a permanent basis. However, his first game in permanent charge was a horrendous 3-0 defeat against Eibar with the Basque club outclassing their giant opponents. Solari will fully expect Los Blancos to respond going into December starting at home to Valencia. Solari does have an injury hit list which is substantially high and has incorporated the likes of Jesus Vallejo and Juan Sanchez into the team and so far, have settled very well. Despite their struggles for much of the campaign, Real are just 6 points off the top and will feel that gap is still possible to claw back. A big December looms for Los Blancos with key league games and the club world cup so Solari will demand Real find a way to get back to their best.

Sides who enjoyed November includes Eibar, Girona and Real Sociedad. November 2018 will certainly be remembered fondly by Eibar fans who arguably picked up their greatest ever victory as a football club smashing Real Madrid at fortress Ipurua by 3 goals to nil. But overall the tiny Basque club in the shadows of their big rivals enjoyed an excellent November winning 2 of their 4 games, drawing 1 and losing to Rayo Vallecano. The experienced team are full of spirit and work hard and that can only be admired. However, one of Eibar’s big Basque rivals also enjoyed November with Real Sociedad winning back to back games to end the month and remained unbeaten throughout the month. Asier Garitano in his first big job in La Liga following his brilliant time with Leganes has been mixed with their struggles at the Anoeta clear for everyone to see. However, they have the best away record in La Liga notching 13 points on their travels so far this campaign. Garitano is slowly getting what he wants out of his talented squad and November was the first real month where fans and pundits have seen what Garitano’s Sociedad are about. They lie 8th in the table just 5 points off the Champions League places and they will be hoping to carry their good form into December starting with a tricky trip to the Benito Villamarin where Real Betis await them.  Meanwhile, the smallest club in Catalonia are also enjoying their season and November in particular. Eusebio Sacristan has done an excellent job and certainly carried on the good work of Pablo Machin. An unbeaten November saw Girona climb into the top 6 just outside the Champions League places. Girona are improving and overall are unbeaten in their last 5 games and have built some real confidence and momentum. Cristian Stuani is vital to their success this season with the Uruguayan notching 11 goals this season continuing his excellent form in 2018 and the previous campaign. Girona are exceeding all expectations once again with arguably a weaker side than the previous season but a team with momentum and confidence is always difficult to beat and Girona have an abundance of both right now.

Meanwhile, one side struggling is Celta Vigo and during November decided to make a change in management with Argentine Antonio Muhamed sacked after just 5 months in charge. Muhamed won just 3 league games and leaves Celta having won just 1 of their last 9 games. Just 2 months after being sacked by French club Nantes, Miguel Cardoso finds himself back in football and has been given the task of igniting Celta’s season. However, he didn’t start well as he called his new side Deportivo during his first press conference. Deportivo being Celta’s big rivals. Cardoso arrives after disappointing spell in France but will be remembered for his success at Rio Ave guiding them into the European places. However, he started with a defeat to home strugglers Real Sociedad going down 2-1 at the Anoeta. While they were plenty of positives from Cardoso’s first game, it was a defeat down to poor mistakes. Celta Vigo need to recapture their play during the early parts of the season which saw them collect half their points during August. Iago Aspas is their key figure and generally when he doesn’t perform, Celta usually don’t win games and Cardoso must get him back to his best. Cardoso will be generally happy with the team’s performance at Real Sociedad and he will hope to build on that performance going into December’s matches with games against Huesca and Villarreal to come.

Times are proving tough for the bottom three sides Huesca, Rayo Vallecano and Ath Bilbao. Francisco just cannot buy a win in charge of Huesca. He has yet to taste victory since replacing Leo Franco in October. But from a Huesca perspective, November was an improvement with the club drawing twice and losing the other match. 5 games for Francisco and so far, there is some improvement, but they end November bottom with just 7 points from their 13 matches as well having the worst attack and defence in La Liga. Huesca must find a win and fast with their debut La Liga season turning into one to forget. They end November 6 points off safety and while that gap isn’t too bad to claw at, they must find a win and fast to really ignite their survival charge. Things are no better for Rayo Vallecano with the Madrid club in a similar place to Huesca but have a slightly better defence and attack. Vallecano are stuck on 10 points, three adrift of Leganes in 17th. However, they go into December with some confidence having ended the month with just their 2nd win of the season beating Eibar. Their first at home this season and Michel will be hoping Vallecano can build on that with an important December coming up for the club. Meanwhile, Ath Bilbao just cannot get their season going and the pressure is mounting on Eduardo Berizzo with the club winless in 12 league games since their opening day success against Leganes. The likes of Inaki Williams, Iker Muinain and Aritz Aduriz are not performing to their usual standards and they just cannot find a way to win matches. 8 draws in their 12 matches isn’t good enough and with fan unrest the pressure is on Berizzo and they must beat Levante in their first game of December otherwise the axe is highly likely to fall on the likeable Argentine.

December is always a crucial month across European football and La Liga is no different with plenty of football to come before the winter break. There are plenty of mouth-watering games to come including Real Madrid vs Valencia, Alaves vs Sevilla, Barcelona vs Villarreal, Arch rivals Leganes and Getafe lock horns for their 1st meeting of the season, Ath Madrid vs Alaves, Espanyol vs Barcelona in the first Catalonian derby of the season, Valencia vs Sevilla, Real Madrid vs Rayo Vallecano, Sevilla vs Girona, Two Basque derbies for Alaves against Ath Bilbao and Real Sociedad and Barcelona vs Celta Vigo. La Liga is no doubt the most exciting league in Europe with a tight top 7 fighting for the title and European football. Will Berizzo survive at Bilbao? Will someone take control of La Liga? We shall find out as the festive period approaches.

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