Written by Rhys Paul
Three weeks into the 2016/17 season and now is the time for some teams to turn it up a gear. An unfamiliar team from the Canary Islands has usurped Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the table (albeit on goal difference), but it is a testament to the way Las Palmas have started their campaign. They will be hoping to make it three wins from three, but an away trip to Spain’s oldest club, Sevilla marks their toughest test of the season so far. Routine wins are expected for Barcelona and Real Madrid with home ties against Alaves and Osasuna respectively, whilst Atletico Madrid will be hoping to finally get their first win of the season against a Celta Vigo side looking for their first point(s) of the season.
Real Sociedad and Espanyol featured in a 1-1 draw – this week’s only Friday fixture. Malaga host Villarreal in another match that should be very close as both teams are in search for their first win of the season. Fifth-placed Deportivo could find it difficult to contain an Athletic Bilbao side who are yet to register any points so far. Granada take on Eibar, whilst the two of the promoted teams in Real Betis and Leganes travel away to Valencia and Sporting Gijon.
In truth, a lot of teams are yet to really get going this season and that has made for something of a slow, uninspired start to the campaign. This week has the potential to either continue that trend or for teams to finally kick on and get the season well and truly underway.
Here are the three matches that you should keep a close eye on this week:
Sevilla vs. Las Palmas (Saturday, 17.15pm – Sky Sports 2)
You would have been forgiven for expecting Las Palmas to struggle this season. They survived comfortably in their first season back in the top flight, yet it is sometimes in the second season where promoted teams struggle. That hasn’t been the case so far. A response was expected from Valencia following last season’s frustrating campaign and Las Palmas ensured those frustrations continued as they punished the home side’s dominance on the break. They ran out 4-2 winners in that one before a more straight-forward 5-1 demolition of Granada followed. Nine goals in two games is remarkable and it is ensured Las Palmas head into the clash with Sevilla top of the table.
Sevilla are unlikely to concede as many as the two sides when they come up against Las Palmas, even if they did concede four in a 6-4 on the opening day of the season against Espanyol. A stalemate with Villarreal should be viewed as a good result so early in the season, particularly with both teams likely to challenge for fourth spot. The biggest issue with Sevilla is that they have been completely dominant in Europe – five European titles in ten years, including three on the bounce – at the expense of their league form. A team doing so well in Europe really should be looking to mount a challenge on the top teams in the division. Admittedly, they have lost key players, but that is something the team is unfortunately accustomed to and they still look as if they are finding their feet under Jorge Sampaoli.
Samir Nasri’s debut looks to be put on hold for the time being with the on-loan midfielder reportedly a doubt for the clash. Luciano Vietto and Wissam Ben Yedder have already found the scoresheet this season and the partnership has the potential to be prolific. Sevilla might be a team adapting to change, but they should still have too much for Las Palmas who will push the home side, but ultimately come up short for the first time this season.
Prediction: Sevilla win (2-1)
credit James Evans
Valencia vs. Real Betis (Sunday, 3pm – Sky Sports 2)
There were high hopes from Valencia supporters that this season would see a change in the club’s recent fortunes. Those hopes were crushed 90 minutes into the new season as one of Spain’s biggest clubs crashed to a 4-2 defeat to Las Palmas in front of their own supporters. A 1-0 loss to Eibar saw Los Che fall to the bottom of the table and, although this will only be the third game of the season, the Valencia faithful will not be happy to see their team propping up the table. Nine defeats in their last thirteen league fixtures (and six in their last eight at the Mestalla) is all you need to know about the state of Valencia at the moment. This means they cannot take any comfort in the fact they are at the Mestalla and the home crowd are likely to be very vocal in their displeasure.
Real Betis are slightly harder to judge. They finished comfortably in mid-table on their return to the top flight, but began their second season back with a 6-2 defeat to Barcelona. The performance left much to be desired, but at the end of the day, they were playing Barcelona. They improved significantly against Deportivo and were rewarded with their first point of the season. Crucially, Betis showed they were capable of defending adequately after conceding six the week before.
On paper, Betis are the ideal opposition for the struggling Valencia. After all, they have failed to score in their last four visits to the Mestalla and have failed to win away to Valencia in their last nineteen league attempts. Those statistics should be taken with a pinch of salt as it is becoming increasingly difficult to back an undependable Valencia. The home side will be under huge pressure and, whilst they may dominate possession, they will lose out again by the odd goal.
Prediction: Betis win (1-0)
Celta Vigo vs. Atletico Madrid (Saturday, 12pm – Sky Sports 5)
Like Valencia, Atletico Madrid need to win this weekend. The pressure for a win stems for a very different reason as Diego Simone’s side if they hope to challenge for the title again this season. Two draws against two newly promoted sides (Alaves and Leganes) is simply not acceptable for a side with such expectations. They can’t afford to go the first three games of the season winless, but they are not the only ones looking for their maiden win of the season.
Last season’s sixth-placed, Celta Vigo are currently second from bottom. Like Atletico Madrid, they were frustrated by Leganes as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat. They were much improved against Real Madrid, but a Toni Kroos strike in the 81st minute denied Celta Vigo their first point of the season. Back-to-back games against the two Madrid teams is a cruel set of fixtures. They have lost seven of their last ten league meetings with Atleti, but their last victory did come at home against them in 2015.
Celta Vigo are no pushovers, but Atletico Madrid will respond strongly as they let out their early season frustrations. By the end of the weekend, Eduardo Berizzo’s men could be bottom of the league. Results will eventually come for them as they are a good side, but this comes down to who needs the win more and who has the quality to ensure they get those three points. Unfortunately for Celta Vigo that appears to be Atletico Madrid.
Prediction: Atletico win (3-0)
Do you agree with the score predictions? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by James Evans