La Liga has reached the halfway point and to say that there have been surprises is an understatement in a period where all predictions were wrong
Barça’s new manager had a series of impossible tasks: overcome Nermar’s traumatic departure with only Paulinho and Ousmane Dembele to replace the Brazilian star, and pick up the pieces of a team which was slaughtered in the Spanish Supercup by Real Madrid.
Six months later, Barcelona are one of Europe’s powerhouses. The Blaugrana club haven’t lost a single game in LaLiga, they dominate the standings with a huge gap over the opposition, Leo Messi (17 goals to date) is delivering riotous performances game after game and their defense has become reliable, for once. Valverde is, hands-down, LaLiga’s biggest winner.
A club in shambles with two straight 12th place finishes over the past two seasons, Valencia needed some good old fashioned shock therapy. Marcelino García Toral was hand-picked to become Valencia’s new leader and after cleaning out the locker room of toxic players and betting his fate on a young squad, the gamble is paying off in spades.
Newcomer Gonçalo Guedes is one of LaLiga’s biggest breakout stars, Rodrigo Moreno has become a reliable forward once again, Dani Parejo delivers masterclasses every game…Valencia has become one of the most exciting teams to watch and looks set for a return to the Champions League.
Eibar and Betis
We could point out Villarreal’s resilience to overcome several ups-and-downs this season, or praise Leganes’ great attitude and spirit both in LaLiga and Copa del Rey. However, Eibar and Betis have done well enough to receive a big number of pats in the back.
Eibar’s story this season is a miracle, as usual, with coach Jose Luis Mendilíbar responsible for such an intense, high-pressing, pestering little team which stands in eighth place with one of the tiniest budgets.
Betis’ example is a bit different: they signed quality players but also placed all their eggs in Quique Setién’s basket, a manager who loves attacking football and scoring as many goals as possible. This has fostered some of the most exciting games of this season, such as their 3-5 win against Sevilla or the amazing 3-6 at home when Valencia got away with the three points.
We’ve covered Real Madrid’s downfall thoroughly because, unfortunately, Zinedine Zidane doesn’t seem keen on finding solutions to their many problems. A humungous 19-point difference with Barcelona speaks volumes about just how bad they’re doing this year, sitting in a 4th place spot that would only just allow them to access next season’s Champions League.
It is true that they still have chances in the Copa del Rey (they will face Leganés in the quarterfinals) and Champions League (huge showdown against PSG), but not calling their season disappointing would be lying.
In a perfect example of karma reversal, Sevilla’s recent slump can be explained in many ways: one might guess that kicking out a reliable coach like Eduardo ‘Toto’ Berizzo – we’re not taking into account his struggle with cancer at this point – and bringing in Vincenzo Montella, with zero experience in LaLiga, could have unexpected (and quite negative) consequences.
The fourth biggest budget of the league stands in sixth, out of Champions League spots and with internal turmoil threatening the second half of the season. To add insult to injury, their biggest enemy (Real Betis) stands only two points behind, with much better vibes and coming off a huge win in the Seville derby.
Las Palmas and Málaga
Undoubtedly the two worst teams in LaLiga, their circumstances have been radically different before ending up rock bottom of the standings and seven points away from escaping the relegation zone.
Las Palmas never took off at all with Manolo Marquez, plunged even deeper into the mud with Pako Ayestarán’s infamous stint, kept losing with Paquito and is now in Paco Jemez’s hands: the hot-tempered manager faces possibly the most daunting task in this managing career.
Inversely, Malaga didn’t switch coaches and kept trusting Míchel González for months even if they played horribly and their defense was even worse. But the former player wasn’t ready to resign and leave behind a tasty compensation, so he was ultimately sacked by Sheik Al-Thani earlier this week. Malaga fans won’t remember him fondly.