Friday, 4 January 2019

La Liga: December Review

Another enthralling month of La Liga football has been and gone with more excellent football, terrific goals, surprise results and more managerial changes with 3 bosses axed during December. Barcelona continue to lead the way with Sevilla and Ath Madrid continuing their pursuit. While Huesca and Rayo Vallecano continue to sink towards the Segunda and Villarreal are also in trouble finding themselves in the relegation zone.

A flawless month for Barcelona sees them head into 2019 on the back of 4 straight league wins and full of confidence. Goals are flowing with Barcelona notching 13 goals without reply in their 4 league games during December. A 5th placed finished in the Ballon D’Or hasn’t bothered Lionel Messi with the wonderful Argentine responding in style with two free kicks during their derby win over Espanyol. His return from injury seems coincidental in Barcelona’s improved form. Barcelona are showing their championship credentials once. However, Sevilla and Ath Madrid continue their pursuit of Barcelona at the top. While Sevilla have lost ground after winning just once in December and drawing the other 3, Ath Madrid have won 3 on the spin and find themselves 2nd just three points behind Barcelona at the top. Simeone’s side are in the groove and their unbeaten run stretches back to August when Celta Vigo outclassed them. 15 games unbeaten is impressive in any form and if Simeone’s side can maintain that kind of form they could be tasting some success come May 2019. Efficiency is the key to their success because although they don’t win by spectacular margins, they grind out results built on a strong back 5 and allow their front six to play the positive football. Victories over Alaves, Valladolid and Espanyol have seen Ath Madrid continue their strong run and continue to push Barcelona hard. A fascinating title race is ensuing and certainly 3 teams are in the mix. 2019 kicks off with a huge game between Sevilla and Ath Madrid at the Roman Sanchez Pizjuan and Sevilla must win that to get themselves back in the race after a flat December while an Ath Madrid win could end Sevilla’s hopes of winning the league title. Real Madrid are also in the mix but will start 2019 eight points behind Barcelona after a poor opening half of the season. Despite that, things are much more settled under Santiago Solari and should be full of confidence going into the new year after their third successive club world cup triumph. A flawless December saw them win all 3 of their league games with a game in hand to come against Villarreal. Like Barcelona, Real Madrid won all 3 games with clean sheets and that is a real positive for the club with sloppy goals being their Achilles heel at times this season. Real Madrid have an important second half of the season to come with the trophies becoming available and come May, I’m sure Real Madrid will be lifting something.

Sides who enjoyed included Real Betis, Getafe and Leganes. Real Betis have found their groove after an unbeaten December saw them collect 10 points from their 4 games. Setien’s team have charged into the top 6. Victories over Real Sociedad, Rayo Vallecano and Espanyol have been enjoyed by many, but their winning run was halted with a disappointing draw at the Benito Villamarin against Eibar. Betis will begin 2019 full of confidence following an excellent December which also saw progression into the Europa League knockout stages. Setien’s trust in young players like Junior Firpo, Loren and Francis have really been rewarded with all three winning plaudits for their endeavour, spirit, belief and performances. Getafe are also enjoying themselves after an unbeaten saw them collect 8 points from 4 games and sit 7th in the table ahead of 2019. Jose Bordalas continues to do a terrific job at Getafe with their overall form much improved with just 1 defeat in their last 9 games. Getafe have built plenty of momentum and will head into the new year full of confidence. As will their city rivals Leganes who are enjoying their best run of the season. Mauricio Pellegrino’s Leganes are unbeaten in their last 7 games and with 5 of those being draws. Pellegrino has made them tough to beat and they head into the new year in 16th place after an improved run of form. However, 3 draws on the spin has seen their winning run halted while maintaining their unbeaten run. Goals are still sparse for Leganes, but they are a tough nut to crack. Leganes head into the new year with good momentum and their season objective in sight.

However, December was tough for others and 3 managers were axed during December. The first to go was Eduardo Berizzo at Ath Bilbao after a shocking start to the season. A winless run of 13 league games spelt the end of the likeable Argentine’s reign. His final game was a dreadful 3-0 defeat to Levante. Ath Bilbao have largely underperformed this season with key players like Aritz Aduriz, Inaki Williams, Oscar De Marcos and Markel Susaeta struggling for form and confidence. Berizzo’s replacement is former Deportivo La Coruna manager Gaizka Garitano who oversaw the club’s B team. His reign has started ok with Bilbao collecting 5 points from his 3 games in charge.  Ath Bilbao start the new year in 17th place just a point clear of the relegation zone and no doubt they must improve during the second half of the season after winning just twice in the opening half of the season. The second manager to go was Javi Calleja at Villarreal who lasted just 15 months in the role. A poor run of just 1 win in 9 league games spelt the end but the overall picture is no better with the yellow submarine winning just 3 league games all season. His replacement is former Villarreal B manager Luis Garcia Plaza who was led the B side back in 2006. He is tasked with immediately improving their league position having inherited Villarreal in the relegation zone. His first game in charge was a disappointing draw against fellow strugglers Huesca and no doubt plenty of work for Luis Garcia to do in the new year to drag Villarreal out of their current mess. The final cull of December was Asier Garitano at Real Sociedad who was sacked during the winter break period in Spain. The former Leganes boss lasted just 5 months in the role. A poor December saw Real Sociedad lose all 4 of their league games as well as their overall terrible home form which has seen win just once all season. His replacement is Imanol Alguacil who had a brief spell in charge last season after Eusebio Sacristan’s sacking. Imanol Alguacil is in on a permanent basis and inherits a side struggling for goals and form. Real Sociedad begin 2019 in 15th place and Imanol’s first game is a trip to the Bernabeu to face Real Madrid. Three huge La Liga clubs struggling for wins, form and confidence and all must change their fortunes in the new year whether that be through victories or new players to add something different as the transfer window opens.

Another side desperately short on confidence after a dreadful December is Espanyol. 4 straight defeats in December and 6 overall stretching back to November has heaped the pressure on Rubi after their brilliant start to the season. Espanyol have sunk down the La Liga table and now find themselves battling relegation as opposed to potential European football. Defeats to Sevilla, Girona, Getafe, Barcelona, Real Betis and Ath Madrid have heightened the strain building on the manager’s shoulders. The manor of the defeats has brought the most concern with Espanyol seemingly folding in once they have conceded the first goal. Barcelona ripped them to shreds as did Real Betis and Girona on their home patch and that is simply unacceptable. Espanyol head into 2019 in 14th place having ended October in 5th. Rubi knows his side can win games and play football as seen the opening months of the season where they collected 21 points in their first 11 league games. Borja Iglesias is their best hope of ending their poor form having scored 8 goals in his first La Liga season so far. But goals for him have dried up and consequently so have points for Espanyol. Rubi must unlock that early season form in his side once again going into 2019 as he cannot afford more defeats. They are looking to avoid a 4th straight defeat at home when they kick off the 2nd half of the season against Leganes. If they lose that, the pressure will crank up even more on Rubi and it could see the axe fall for the 6th time this season in La Liga.

December was tasty, and no doubt January will be the same as the new year arrives. The transfer window comes with it and sides will be looking to freshen things up. There are plenty of tasty games to come in the opening month of 2019 including Alaves vs Valencia, Getafe vs Barcelona, Real Madrid vs Real Sociedad, Sevilla vs Ath Madrid, Ath Bilbao vs Sevilla, Real Betis vs Real Madrid, Leganes vs Huesca, Real Madrid vs Sevilla, Celta Vigo vs Valencia, Villarreal vs Ath Bilbao, the derby between Valencia and Villarreal, the Catalonian derby between Girona and Barcelona as well as a Madrid derby between Atletico Madrid and Getafe. Plenty of football to come and crucial games for all clubs as the second half of the season clicks into gear. Will we see improved form for struggling teams? Can Barcelona continue their excellent form? Will we see any major transfers and new signings? Us La Liga fans will have to watch and see.

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