Real Mallorca v Almería
The first of Saturday’s LaLiga games is Real Mallorca vs Almería and this could be a dull affair, with few goals. These are two teams who have adopted very defensive minded approaches to their matches so far, even when playing opponents of a similar level, as will be the case this weekend.
Real Mallorca coach Javier Aguirre is expected to deploy his back five again, which really is a five and not a three, with deeper-lying wing-backs. With defensive midfielder Iddrisu Baba getting fitter with each week, he can help protect that back line too. Real Mallorca’s approach has been successful this season, as they’d only conceded three goals and all of them penalties before last weekend’s trip to face Real Madrid, which was a 4-1 loss in the end but with a couple of late goals that exaggerated the scoreline.
Almería also started the season with a back five, but they’ve now switched to a back four. This doesn’t mean they’re any less defensive minded, though. Like Real Mallorca, they have decided to play conservatively even against opponents of a similar level, such as when they lost 1-0 to Real Valladolid and to Osasuna over the past couple of weeks.
In terms of scoring goals, Real Mallorca rely on pumping balls towards target man Vedat Muriqi and he has been a decent threat. But, even Muriqi might not be so effective this weekend, as he isn’t 100 percent physically, even though he should still start. As for Almería, they haven’t scored since selling star striker Umar Sadiq on deadline day, only managing three shots on target in total across their two games since then. It’s unlikely they’ll suddenly start scoring against one of the division’s stingier defences.
Barcelona v Elche
Before their midweek loss in Munich, Barcelona’s recent matches had been more about how many goals they’d score, as Xavi’s side were flying. In between their opening day draw with Rayo Vallecano and their setback against Bayern, Barça were averaging four goals scored per match, most recently thrashing Cádiz 4-0 last weekend.
That result has left Cádiz with the worst defensive record in LaLiga, of 14 goals conceded from five rounds, but the next worst is Elche with 13 goals let in so far. Elche arguably have an even worse defence than Cádiz, since they haven’t even faced any of the top four sides yet. In fact, the xG against stats have Elche as the worst defence in LaLiga, with an average of 2.72 xG against per game this season. With Barcelona producing 2.81 xG in attack per match so far, this Saturday’s game could be a massacre.
Barcelona go into this one with zero absences and, with the international break coming up, they don’t have to worry about rotation, meaning Xavi can play his strongest possible line-up to try to put on a show for the fans and respond in the right way to the Bayern Munich defeat.
The Catalan side are so heavily favoured in this game (1.08 just to win) that it’s hard to find value, but the 1.75 odds for over 3.5 goals at the Camp Nou could provide it for this team that had been averaging four goals a game. With Elche recovering players off the medical report for their own attack, an away goal might even be possible too to help reach that target of four total goals in the game.
Real Betis v Girona
Sitting third with 12 points from a possible 15, Real Betis will be confident of continuing their strong start to the campaign on Sunday as they face Girona. Manuel Pellegrini’s side have only been beaten by undefeated league leaders Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Girona’s impressive league position, eighth after five games, can also be misleading. Their two wins to date have come against Real Valladolid (who were promoted alongside them) and Getafe (who finished 15th last season), while their sole draw came against Mallorca (who finished 16th). They are yet to face a team in the top half this season and Betis will provide a real test.
With last season’s leading scorer Cristhian Stuani out due to a heart problem, the goals have been spread out with five different scorers contributing to their tally of five goals to date, with only one on the road. That could prove a problem up against a Betis side who have won three games at home this season by scoring five goals without reply.
Betis do have injuries, with Nabil Fekir out for this one and Juanmi having been ruled out long term, but Pellegrini was still able to rotate for Thursday night’s win over Ludogorets Razgrad in the Europa League. That meant that key figures like top scorer Borja Iglesias, midfield general William Carvalho, goalkeeper Rui Silva and promising youngster Rodri could all get rest.
With all that in mind, and knowing that Betis won’t have a home fixture at the Estadio Benito Villamarín until 13th October after this one, the raucous home crowd should push them on to victory with the quality in the final third likely to make the difference.
Real Sociedad v Espanyol
Famous for their incredible defensive record at home last season, which saw them record under 2.5 goals in 16 of their 19 fixtures, Real Sociedad’s start this season has been unusually entertaining. The Reale Arena has welcomed two of last season’s top three in the first two matches it has hosted this campaign, with Barcelona and Atlético Madrid visiting San Sebastián, yet this weekend’s game against Espanyol is likely to be more like the theme that we saw last season.
Following the departure of Alexander Isak late in the transfer window, marquee signing Umar Sadiq tore his anterior cruciate ligament on only his second appearance last weekend. Former loanee Alexander Sørloth has returned but scored only three goals in 31 league games last season, while youngster Jon Karrikaburu struggled as the leading number nine in Europa League action in midweek and was taken off on the hour mark.
Espanyol will be looking to top scorer Joselu to try to help them to victory, but the veteran has scored only once against Real Sociedad in eight meetings, with even that goal coming from the penalty spot. Diego Martínez’s team have won only once this season, on their last visit to the Basque Country with a 1-0 win over Athletic Club a fortnight ago, but have picked up all four of their points away from home so far this season.
That could mean that we’re in for a cagey affair, with Espanyol likely to look to try to deny David Silva space to orchestrate play in and they’ll be hoping to shut down Real Sociedad in a similar way to what they did with Athletic. That will mean a defensive performance from the visitors and one which Real Sociedad could struggle to break down.
Atlético Madrid v Real Madrid
One of the biggest fixtures of the entire season sees Real Madrid cross the city to face their noisy neighbours, Atlético Madrid, on Sunday evening. The last of the LaLiga action this weekend will see Atlético Madrid seeking to end Real Madrid’s run as the only team in Europe’s top five leagues to win every game to date, with an impressive eight consecutive victories in all competitions.
Atleti, on the other hand, come into this one off the back of a late defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League and with plenty of question marks hanging over a team which has struggled for consistency in the opening games of the season.
Injuries could have a decisive say in this match as Real Madrid’s talisman Karim Benzema is expected to be out, while Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak is rushing back to be fit after not training fully all week, having missed Atleti’s last two matches. It doesn’t end there either for Diego Simeone, as his two first choice centre-backs José Maria Giménez and Stefan Savić are both also expected to watch on from the sidelines.
Benzema’s absence hasn’t been too sorely felt for Carlo Ancelotti’s team, with Fede Valverde stepping up to score two goals in two games since (and he’s good value as an outside bet at 8.5 first goalscorer) and Rodrygo Goes stepping in as a makeshift number nine. That’s seen them score six goals in the two games that Benzema has missed and, with Atleti having conceded in their last four games, as well as in all of their home fixtures this season, Real Madrid’s forwards could be licking their lips.
A draw isn’t off the cards. 2021/22 was the first time since 2014/15 that the first meeting between these two sides in LaLiga didn’t end in a draw, and both sides certainly know how to frustrate an opposition on their day. In the end though, Real Madrid’s cutting edge in front of goal and the confidence of their attack should be enough against a weakened Atlético defence.
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