16 matches in and we still don’t have a champion. Disgusting. What kind of a league is this where it’s not a forgone conclusion by Christmas? Sure, sure, it’s basically down to 2 teams dominating the bejesus out of everyone else, but that’s hardly my point. What I’m talking about is the filthy and horrid trend of Real Madrid not losing games on a regular basis. Horrible.
But there are other teams out there. So let’s look at them in small clusters. First, the relegation battle. That’s not just the relegation zone, of course, but rather all of the teams that fall into a randomly defined points range. We’re going to go with 18 points and under, meaning 19 gets you the vaunted midtable status you were always craving. Yeah, I’m looking at you Hércules.
The teams that we’re talking about right now are, in order from bestest to absolute worstest: Depor (18pts), Racing (18pts), Osasuna (17pts), Levante (15pts), Almería (13pts), Málaga (13pts), Sporting Gijon (12pts), and Zaragoza (10pts). To put that in perspective, in order to get to 1st place, Almería and Málaga would have to win 10 consecutive matches while Barça lost 10 straight. But we’re not talking about the top teams, are we? Right.
In order to stay up, the general rule is that a team must earn 40 points throughout the year. At the current rate, only Racing and Depor will be above that line with 43pts each. [Calculated taking remaining games multiplied by points per match and then adding current points] This means that every point from here on out is extremely important for these teams. A single win by Zaragoza could catapult them out of the relegation zone, for instance and two wins? Well, let’s not get carried away. The only team they’ve beaten was Mallorca on Nov 7 in a 3-2 comeback win with a 90th minute penalty. Their top scorer is Gabi Fernandez with 3 goals, all of which have been penalties. Not only that, but Zaragoza replaced manager José Aurelio Gay with Javier Aguirre. Do they really expect to stay up? The man chose Bofo Bautista to go to the World Cup! And started him.
My season predictions, published way back on September 9, predicted the bottom 3 to be Osasuna, Málaga, and Levante and they’re currently 15th, 18th, and 16th, respectively. It’s Málaga, with their Qatari millions, that seem out of place down there, but perhaps they’ll see more investment over the coming years. Or they’ll see a distinct lack of investment if Qatar is cool with their current standing and Málaga go down.
The midtable teams are the ones that really have no shot of going down, but also have no real shot of going to a European competition. Again, it’s fairly arbitrary, but I chose Real Sociedad (22pts), Mallorca (21pts), Sevilla (20pts), and Hércules (19pts), all of whom are sandwiched between decent and terrible in the vacuum known as “who gives a crap.”
The obvious choice for “wtf?” team of the year is Sevilla, who are sitting down there all “we’ve lost 6 of our last 8 even though we have a ton of talent. Blah blah.” They’ve lost 5 in a row in the league, but when they played Valencia a week after Barça went all manita on them, they won, 2-0. What? 3 straight home losses (1-2, 1-3, and 1-3) to Mallorca, Getafe, and Almería have put last year’s coach of the year, Gregorio Manzano, no the hot seat, at least in my book.
Real Sociedad has been fun to watch and probably should have more points than they do—they should have beaten RM, for instance, but missing chances is hard on your points total—but they’re in danger of sinking into the midtable doldrums if they don’t find a sudden burst of form. Fortunately for them, they’re done with their gauntlet of Athletic-Barça-Valencia (until later, of course) and now they get to play Zaragoza and then the aforementioned, reeling Sevilla.
Hércules are doing well for themselves, which is pretty nice to see. They’re 12th and despite only having 19 points, they look like they’re capable of staying up. Being terrible on the road—just the one victory at the Camp Nou—hasn’t helped and if they do want to survive, they’ll have to become better while traveling. In the 3 away draws they’ve had (Zaragoza, Almería, and Racing), they’ve scored a grand total of 1 goal. They scored 2 against Barça, of course, but that is all. 0 goals in their 4 away losses.
Mallorca are back to being who we all thought they were last year, which, really, is just another member of the pack. They’re not all that bad, but then again, they’re not all that good either. They did manage a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou, which is something, but they’ll need a lot more than that to make a run at Europe and I just don’t see it happening. Losing Aduriz hasn’t helped, but they’re doing okay, with 16 goals from 16 matches, though they’re on a 3 match losing streak.
So, to the European contenders: Valencia (28pts), Espanyol (28pts), Atleti (26pts), Getafe (26pts), Athleti Bilbao (25pts).
You should note right way that I’m including Valencia in this despite the fact that they’re in the Champions League spots, but then you should also note right after that that they’re tied on points with Espanyol, so I can’t really separate them, can I? No, I can’t. Valencia aren’t doing as well as some might hope, but they’re doing better than a lot had expected. Unai Emery is doing a bang up job, even if they haven’t been the force they were prior to losing to Barça in mid October. Really, since the beginning of the second half of that match. They won 5 of their first 6 (and drew the other one), but only 3 of the next 10. They have yet to host anyone from the top 5, however, but will do so on Sunday when they meet Espanyol at the Mestalla. If they can put together a solid run in the winter months, they should be settled firmly and permanently into the Champions League spot come early April.
Espanyol were, until Barça smashed them, invincible at home. They were 7-0-0, which is good because they’re 2-1-5 away. They’re not as good as their current table position suggests and they’ll go downward in short order, but Pochettino has done something with this team and that should be commended. They’re the Mallorca of this year, except instead of a 0-1 defeat to Barça to break their defeatless home record, they got a drubbing worthy of, say, Madrid. Only 3 players have scored for them away from home and it shouldn’t be a surprise if that trend continues. Luis Garcia has 4 goals, 3 of which are penalties, so maybe they just need more firepower?
Atletico de Madrid. What a basketcase of a team, eh? They’ve got Diego Forlan, Kun Aguero, David de Gea, and various good role players, but they can’t seem to put together anything in La Liga when it matters. They’ve won 2 straight, but then again, that’s right after losing 2 straight to Espanyol and Levante. What? They haven’t beaten anyone higher than 7th, home or away, and only managed a draw at Valencia to save some pride. And now they’ve lost Simão to Beşiktaş, so they’re out another playmaker. What is with this team?
And then there’s Getafe and Athletic Bilbao, who are two mid table clubs with nowhere to go but up because the teams in front of them have nowhere to go but down. They’re both good and they’re both enjoyable, but there’s very little to say about either of them as they’re just solid. Athletic are my “second team” in Spain, so I’m rooting for them to make some CL moves, but that would probably inundate them with debt, so perhaps that’s bad. They’re only 3 points away, though, while Getafe is just 2.
Villarreal are 8 points behind 2nd and 10 behind 1st, so it’s unlikely that they’ll catch up, but they’re also 5 points ahead of Valencia, so it’s unlikely they’ll give up their CL spot. In fact, I think that disparity will continue to grow for a bit, especially if they can get points at the Bernabeu in a week. After that it should be smooth sailing as they’ve got Osasuna, Sociedad, Espanyol, Levante, Depor, Málaga, Racing, and Hércules before they face anyone serious (though being at Espanyol will probably still be hard). If they do do Barça a favor at Real Madrid, they’ll only further consolidate their position.
And the top 2 we know all about, so I won’t bore you except to say that RM start the new year out at Getafe, then host Villarreal while Barça host Levante then visit Depor. Should be 6 points for the blaugrana, so RM will have to win to make sure they stay on the pace before Barça’s 2 straight home matches against Málaga and Racing. Not that any of these are gimmes, especially with Barça’s trip to Athletic Bilbao midweek for a tough Copa del Rey match.
What I predicted vs current reality:
1 Barcelona (1)
2 Real Madrid (2)
3 Villarreal (6)
4 Valencia (4)
5 Espanyol (8)
6 Atleti Madrid (5)
7 Getafe (11)
8 Athletic Bilbao (7)
9 Real Sociedad (17)
10 Mallorca (9)
11 Sevilla (3)
12 Hercules (13)
13 Depor (14)
14 Racing (15)
15 Osasuna (18)
16 Levante (20)
17 Almeria (10)
18 Malaga (19)
19 Sporting Gijon (12)
20 Zaragoza (16)
If you want to quantify that like we did with last year’s table prediction game, that’s 52 points, which puts me in the “You clearly enjoy spending some Sundays in front of GolTV” category, which is totally true except it’s usually Saturdays.
Most goals scored: Barcelona, 51
Fewest goals allowed: Barcelona, 9
Fewest goals scored: Depor, Racing, and Sporting, 13
Most goals allowed: Málaga, 35
Best goal difference: Barcelona, +43
Worst goal difference: Málaga, -15
Best home record: Real Madrid, 8-0-0, 24pts
Most home goals scored: Real Madrid, 26
Fewest home goals allowed: Real Madrid, Villarreal, Mallorca, 3
Worst home record: Almería, Zaragoza, 5pts
Fewest home goals scored: Mallorca, Racing, Almería, 8
Most home goals allowed: Zaragoza, 19
Best home goal difference: Real Madrid, +23
Worst home goal difference: Almería, -10
Best away record: Barcelona, 8-0-0, 24pts
Most away goals scored: Barcelona, 29
Fewest away goals allowed: Barcelona, 4
Worst away record: Osasuna, 0-2-6, 2pts
Fewest away goals scored: Hércules, Depor, 3
Most away goals allowed: Athletic Bilbao, 20
Best away goal difference: Barcelona, 25
Worst away goal difference: Racing, -13
Surprise team of the year: Espanyol
Enjoyable surprise team of the year (and runner up surprise team of the year): Real Sociedad
Negative surprise team of the year: Sevilla
Enjoyable negative surprise team of the year (and runner up negative surprise team of the year): Málaga. Boo Weligton.
Least surprising snoozefest: Depor. Seriously, guys? Seriously? 13 goals!
Fun facts taken from here:
Highest Gate: 98,000 Barcelona v Real Madrid
Lowest Gate: 6,000 Getafe v Real Zaragoza
Average Attendance: 28,436
Aggregate Attendance : 4,521,395
Games won by…
1 goal margin: 55
2 goal margin: 39
3 goal margin: 24
4 goal margin: 4
5+ goal margin: 6
Mostest cardful: Espanyol (58 yellows, 5 reds)
Leastest cardful: Barcelona (28 yellows, 2 reds)
Most yellows: Sporting Gijon, 61
Most reds: Zaragoza, 6
Fewest yellows: Barcelona, 28
Fewest reds: Real Sociedad, 0
Pichichi: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, 17
Assists (according to Soccernet): Lionel Messi, 10
I’ll say here that I don’t think penalties should count towards goals scored. Only free kicks and goals from play should count. That would mean Messi has scored 17 and Crynaldo just 13. Marca claims he has 18 total, but they’re wrong because they’re counting a freekick goal that clearly deflected off of Pepe and around the keeper. I also think assists are impossible to count and are done so very randomly; Messi is credit with 31 “assists” and 10 “assists” (yes, same word) by the official site’s statistical page. So, 21 times a player being passed to messed up and didn’t score? How can you even track that? Back to individual awards…
Bestest player in the whole wide universe: Andres Iniesta.
Worstest player in the whole wide universe: Joe H. McWeldontosh of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. That guy sucks.
Best transfer: Javier Saviola David Trezeguet (free, 8 goals).
Runner up best transfer: David Villa (lossa money, 11 goals, 5 assists)
Worst transfer: don’t have one yet, but maybe Weligton? Boo. Does Kaka count?
Mostest cardful: Albertó Botía, 8 yellows, 1 red
Permanent Red Mist Condition: Leonardo Ponzio and Eliseu, 2 reds each.
Yellow is my favorite color: Carlos Gurpegui, 9 yellows
Coach of the year: Unai Emery, Valencia. Losing Villa, Silva, Zigic, Baraja, Marchena, Alexis, and Del Horno and you’re arguably better?
Worst coach of the year: José Aurelio Gay and Javier Aguirre, Zaragoza. Out of the frying pan and into the burra.
Worst coach of the year runner up: Gregorio Manzano. How the mighty have fallen.
Teams Messi is currently outscoring: Mallorca (16), Depor (13), Racing (13), Osasuna (15), Almería (15), Sporting (13), Zaragoza (14).
As always, discuss my ineptitude below.