Seven La Liga clubs began the Champions League and Europa League and seven are still standing – here’s our Paco Polit to predict the futures of Barcelona and co
In a the umpteenth showcase of reliability and sheer power, every LaLiga side who began the season playing in Europe will still be alive when the tournaments come back after the Christmas hiatus. Seven clubs, two competitions, seven fixtures.
FC Barcelona v Olympique Lyon
Obviously Barça are the big favourites, but everyone knows winter can be treacherous for many teams. Messi & company are in form right now, cruising past teams left and right, but their stride might not be the same in February. All in all, however, they should be able to get past the French side, strapped of real stars besides Nabil Fekir and Memphis Depay. They haven’t been beaten to date in this edition of the tournament, though, and defeated Manchester City.
Real Madrid v Ajax
Now this one will be interesting: with Real Madrid riding a rollercoaster of a season full of ups and downs (actually, more of the latter), what kind of team will we see two months from now? There are so many variables and pieces of the jigsaw which might move around over the next few weeks (signings, exits, sackings, new managers…) that predicting this one is a risky move. Something’s certain, though: Ajax are keen, have the drive to win and are full of quality players. If Real don’t take the matchup seriously, they will be knocked on their ass.
Atlético Madrid v Juventus
Truth is, Atlético amassed most of the bad luck in the draw. Challenging Juventus means, nowadays, almost certain defeat. Easily finishing on top of their group, the Vecchia Signora has shown in the Italian Serie A that adding Cristiano Ronaldo to their squad was a very smart albeit expensive move this summer. But… If there’s a team capable of impossible feats, that’s Simeone’s Atlético. They’re not favourites, but they are surely going to give the Italian champions a run for their money.
Valencia v Celtic
After the utter disappointment of getting knocked out of the Champions League, the Valencianistas need to repay the debt back to their fans. And the best way to do it would be taking the Europa League seriously and respecting the sheer history and tradition of their opposition. It’s true that Celtic aren’t having their best season (sitting currently in third place in the Scottish Premier League), but Celtic Park is always a spectacular advantage for them. Marcelino should proceed with caution.
Sevilla v Lazio
With Sevilla being one of the most in-form sides in Spain, their qualifying to the Last 32 Round of the Europa League wasn’t a surprise. Ben Yedder, André Silva and, above everyone else, Pablo Sarabia, make Pablo Machín’s team not only a favourite in this round, but overall in the competition. Lazio will be tough, as all Serie A teams are defensively, but should eventually be overpowered by the Sevillistas.
Real Betis v Rennes
Betis might not be as impressive as last season, but they’ve managed to stabilize and become consistent thanks to Lo Celso’s leadership and better defending over the last month. They should have zero issues with Rennes, who navigate in the middle of the French top-flight minding their own business.
Villarreal v Sporting Clube Portugal
Again, this last fixture will depend on how much Villarreal is able to improve under Luis García during January. The first feelings with the new manager are cautiously optimistic, but Sporting are for sure one of Portugal’s top teams so… A pretty balanced showdown where the Yellow Submarine will try to make the most of their game at Estadio La Cerámica.