Wednesday, 20 February 2019

La Liga: January Review

January was another excellent month in La Liga with plenty of action, quality goals and excellent football. There was also another change in the dugout as Villarreal changed their manager for the second time this season. Barcelona continue to the lead the way but the two big Madrid clubs are in pursuit behind them.

Barcelona have started 2019 brightly winning all 4 of their league games taking their current run to 8 straight league wins. Ernesto Valverde's team have found their gear at the right time after an inconsistent opening few months of the season. Messi and Suarez continue to deliver the goods while the rest are beginning to find their groove. Barcelona are cruising at the top and are looking very good to pick up back to back La Liga titles. However, competition is fierce and Atletico Madrid are not too far behind but are on a terrific 19 match unbeaten run including winning their last 3 league games. A solid January saw Simeone's men collect 10 points from their 4 games but the gap between themselves and Barcelona is 5 points so they must continue their good form if they are going to catch the Catalan Giants. In general terms, it has been a disappointing season for Real Madrid with a managerial change and lack of quality replacements for departed players but Santiago Solari has enjoyed a positive start to 2019 with Los Blancos collecting 10 points from their 5 games including winning their last three matches. Young Brazilian Vinicius Junior is beginning to show his qualities and is slowly becoming a real excellent buy. He is showing signs he could be a real galactico for years to come. Solari's side have shown some improvement but remain 10 points behind Barcelona. Sevilla make up the top 4 but the honeymoon period appears to be over for Pablo Machin with Sevilla enduring a difficult start to 2019 collecting just 4 points from their 4 matches which has seen them lose ground on Barcelona and their place in the top 4 under severe threat from sides below. Its just 2 wins in 8 matches for Machin's team and he will be desperate for them to recapture their early season form heading into a busy February.

Sides who enjoyed January included Ath Bilbao, Real Sociedad and Rayo Vallecano. It has been a very solid start for Gaizka Garitano who is unbeaten so far as the boss of Ath Bilbao. He has transformed the Basque club following a shocking start to the season under Eduardo Berizzo. Garitano has started brightly winning 4 of his 7 matches in charge including 3 of their 4 league games in 2019. They end January in 11th place just a 3 points off the European places with Garitano very much inspiring a side who lacked belief and confidence. Inaki Williams has ignited his season while their defence has managed to solidify having conceded poor goals for much of the season. Ath Bilbao are looking up as are their big Basque rivals Real Sociedad who are also unbeaten under their new manager Imanol Alagucil. A solid start for Sociedad's new manager has seen him go unbeaten in his opening 4 matches in charge. 8 points from their 4 games is a good start and Sociedad are looking up the table end January in 9th place looking to push those European places. Alagucil has managed to get Sociedad firing especially at the Anoeta where they had won just once all season prior to Algaucil's takeover. Willian Jose looks a completely new player and inspired them to a terrific win at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid. Meanwhile, at the wrong end of the table, things are looking up for Rayo Vallecano who have enjoyed a terrific start to 2019 and after a terrific January which saw them collect 10 points from their 4 games, Rayo are now out of the relegation zone and are currently two points clear of Celta Vigo. Michel has emphasised his belief that Rayo could stay up and their start to the new year has emphasised his beliefs. Raul De Tomas is their key figure and he has scored crucial goals in their recent victories and should he keep firing, Rayo have every chance of staying up. Rayo Vallecano head into February full of confidence.

Meanwhile, it has categorically been a shocking, woeful, pathetic season for one of La Liga's biggest clubs Villarreal who are in real danger of dropping into the Segunda after a season where they have fired 2 managers, struggled in the Europa League and La Liga and have won just 3 league games all season. Javi Calleja's sacking was coming and things needed to change but the appointment of Luis Garcia Plaza failed spectacularly with the former Villarreal B manager having just 6 league games in charge where he collected just 4 points from a possible 24 and with the fans and board unhappy for most of the season, things need a drastic change and fast. Garcia Plaza was dismissed following a 3-0 defeat to bitter rivals Valencia but their overall form is horrendous with Villarreal winning just once in their last 15 league games since their 2 wins in September. Things have to improve and the club have bizarrly reinstated Javi Calleja just 2 months after sacking him. Like Monaco in France, Villarreal have turned back to the manager who began the season in hope that things will improve. Calleja is tasked with keeping Villarreal in La Liga and his reign begins with a must win home match against fellow strugglers Espanyol and that is followed by a trip to Valladolid before Sevilla head to the Ceramica. Calleja must get the fans back on side because they are extremely passionate down in Southern Spain and the club has quality players plenty of them have underperformed but the quality that team has should be good enough to get out of their current predicament.

Janaury was entertaining and no doubt February will be just the same with clubs heading into the business end of the season. There is plenty of crucial games to come including Barcelona vs Valencia, The big Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Ath Bilbao, Real Betis vs Atletico Madrid, Villarreal vs Espanyol, A madrid derby between Vallecano and Leganes, The big Madrid Derby between Atletico and Real Madrid, Ath Bilbao vs Barcelona, Sevilla vs Eibar, Valencia vs Real Sociedad, Villarreal vs Sevilla, a Basque derby between Ath Bilbao and Eibar, a Madrid derby between Getafe and Rayo Vallecano, Sevilla vs Barcelona and Atletico Madrid vs Villarreal. A big month ahead with plenty of football to come including the return of the European competitions meaning more surprising results could arise and managers will begin to feel the heat as the business end of the season dawns.

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