Athletic Club v Valencia
These two teams saw just one goal between them last weekend and that could happen again here. Both teams recorded under 2.5 goals in half or more of their fixtures last season and that streak looks set to continue.
Ernesto Valverde’s arrival at Athletic has yet to correct their struggles in front of goal, where they ranked second in Europe’s top five leagues for underscoring xG in 2021/22. They’ve started on the same foot, already sitting second in LaLiga for underscoring xG with 1.61 underperformance in their 0-0 draw against Mallorca last time out.
Coming up against Los Che, they may not even be afforded the same chances. Facing Girona last weekend, Valencia recorded the lowest xG against in any of the 10 matchday one fixtures, with just 0.13 xG conceded. Shutting out Athletic, in the same way, is only going to make life harder for the Basques to score.
It’s not all good news for Valencia, though, as they are also missing an out-and-out forward. Gonçalo Guedes’ departure to Wolves has left a gap in the goalscoring charts, and Gennaro Gattuso is not convinced by Maxi Gómez. In Hugo Duro and Samu Castillejo, Valencia’s best chances of scoring come from out wide.
One player to keep an eye out for could be Nico Williams. The 20-year-old winger changed the game with his introduction against Mallorca and his pace and direct threat could challenge Valencia’s defence, which will be missing suspended captain José Luis Gayà at left-back, with 19-year-old Jesús Vázquez in line for only his 10th LaLiga start. Yet to score a senior goal, Williams may not be the man to get on the scoresheet, but if anyone is going to unlock the Valencia defence then it could be him.
Atlético Madrid v Villarreal
Last season, both of the fixtures between these teams ended in high-scoring 2-2 draws. The same could be the case again this time around, given that both teams scored three in their season-opening fixtures against Getafe and Valladolid, respectively.
Having scored six goals in his last three matches, including a brace against Getafe on Monday, Álvaro Morata looks to be excellent value at 4.5 first goalscorer. The Spaniard has hit the ground running since his return to Spain following a spell on loan at Juventus and has built up a strong connection with another in-form forward, João Félix.
Both sides kept clean sheets on Matchday 1, but that is not necessarily a trend that will continue. Villarreal conceded in six of their eight pre-season friendlies and faced a Valladolid team missing their top scorer from last season, Shon Weissman, due to injury. Atlético Madrid will pose a much tougher test.
Unai Emery will also come into this game without his first-choice right-back Juan Foyth, who is out with a knock amid interest from Barcelona, and having lost Pervis Estupiñán to Brighton & Hove Albion this week.
Atlético will also face uncertainty in defence. Defenders Felipe and José Maria Giménez are returning to action after spells on the sidelines, but Diego Simeone could continue to play midfielder Axel Witsel in a back three rather than call upon either of the returning figures.
There will be plenty riding on this tie between two teams who will inevitably be pushing for a spot in LaLiga’s top four come the end of the season. However, don’t expect it to be a cagey affair as glaring defensive errors and attacking brilliance have helped this fixture to become one of the most exciting on the calendar over the last couple of years.
Girona v Getafe
This fixture may not be one of the most glamorous among this weekend’s selection in La Liga, but it is an eye-catching one for two teams who are desperate to make a statement of intent about their chances this season.
Newly promoted Girona fell to defeat in their return to LaLiga at Mestalla last weekend, but a narrow 1-0 defeat to a Carlos Soler penalty will have given hope to Míchel and his players. This time, they make their first appearance of the season in front of their own fans at Estadi Montilivi.
Montilivi was at the heart of Girona’s promotion push last season, winning 13 of their 21 home fixtures, and averaging 2 points per game on home turf. They couldn’t have picked a better team to face for the occasion either. Getafe won only one away fixture from 19 in 2021/22, picking up 0.58 points per game on the road.
Getafe have had a strong summer transfer window, but things aren’t clicking just yet for Quique Sánchez Flores’ team. Defeats in four of five pre-season matches, all against second-tier teams, were followed up by a thrashing at the hands of Atlético Madrid last weekend. An away trip is the last thing that they would be hoping for to get their record back on track.
In Cristhian Stuani and Taty Castellanos, Girona have an excellent forward pairing who will be up to the physical battle that Getafe’s defence will pose. Stuani himself ranked eighth for fouls committed by any player in Segunda last season, and won’t shy away from taking on a Getafe side who ranked second for fouls in 2021/22.
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