2020 has been a year unlike any other, and, for followers of La Liga, it is no different. Normally, by the time the dates 22nd and 23rd of December come around, the clubs in Spain’s topflight are preparing themselves for a two-week winter break — returning to play in the first weekend of January.
However, the late start to 2020/21 has put pay to any possibility of a winter break in Spain this season. Therefore, over the festive period, all La Liga sides will play two matches. Here is what to look out for in Matchday 15.
Game of the round
Picking out the best contest on Matchday 15 is simple. It comes from La Reale Arena, more commonly known to locals as Anoeta Stadium, home of Real Sociedad. The Basque heavyweights square off against Atletico de Madrid in a game that could have repercussions in the race for European qualification and the title.
Both sides go into the match on the back of severely contrasting form. With the exception of a 2-0 reverse against fierce rivals Real Madrid, Atletico travel to San Sebastian for Tuesday’s match in fine form. Four wins from their last five La Liga matches for Los Colchoneros has left them well-placed to make a genuine challenge for the Spanish title this season. After missing four Atleti matches in late November and early December due to Covid-19, Luis Suarez showed his quality with two deft finishes in last weekend’s 3-1 home victory over Elche.
Put this into contrast with the form displayed both domestically and in Europe by their opponents. La Real last tasted victory on La Liga Matchday 10, when a late Alexsander Isak goal sealed a 1-0 away victory against Cadiz CF. Back then, the Gipuzkoan outfit were top of the standings in Spain; however, two defeats and three domestic draws (along with European stalemates against AZ Alkmaar, Rijeka, and SSC Napoli) has knocked the wind out of La Real’s sails.
But despite this long-run of failing to win, which was extended this weekend courtesy of a late goal by Levante’s Jorge de Frutos, there are some defences of coach Imanol Alguacil and his troops. The most noteworthy of all being that they are currently plagued with injuries, absences that were not present when La Real were flying high during the first ten matchdays. Last Saturday’s loss to Levante saw the Anoeta outfit take the field without Adnan Januzaj, Mikel Oyarzabal, and key summer signing David Silva.
Tuesday’s clash at Anoeta will be intriguing on many fronts — particularly because these are two of the four highest scoring sides in La Liga this season. Summer signing Suarez and the ever-improving performances of Joao Felix have seen Atleti play in a more attacking style this term. They will also face a La Real side who are still missing Silva, Oyarzabal and Januzaj.
Tests for Real and Barca
In this most peculiar of La Liga campaigns, Spanish football’s two traditional giants have already lost a combined 7 games. The capital club currently sit second having suffered three losses against Valencia, Cadiz, and Alaves. Likewise, the Catalans were beaten by Cadiz, Getafe, Atletico and Real.
This week, Real Madrid face off against Andalucian outfit Granada CF at home, while Barca travel to Castilla y Leon, the latter now majority-owned by legendary former Barcastriker Ronaldo Nazario. Both are games that Los Blancos and Blaugrana should win; however, both should exercise caution.
Granada will travel to the Spanish capital on the back of two league wins (1-0 away against Elche) and 2-0 at home against Real Betis. The Andalucians also possess one of La Liga’s best young managers in 40-year-old Diego Martinez. After guiding Granada to a La Liga promotion from the Spanish second tier, and then subsequently achieving a seventh-place finish in La Liga in 2018/19 and 2019/20 respectively, Martinez is once again showing his class. Granada currently sit sixth place in La Liga, level on points with Barcelona.
Real Valladolid may currently only lie 18th in the La Liga standings, but recent performances have seen a firm improvement from Pucela. In fact, Valladolid have only lost one of their last five La Liga matches, a 2-0 reverse against Atletico where Pucela held their own well into the second half of the contest. In addition, the last five contests have seen Valladolid defeat Granada away and Athletic Club at home.
Will Coudet’s Celta continue their climb?
Another match to keep an eye on in Matchday 15 could be Getafe’s home match against Celta Vigo. The away side are the focus of attention for their remarkable transformation in recent weeks. After a disappointing 1-1 draw away at Elche during Matchday nine, manager Oscar Garcia was dismissed. Just days afterwards, Celta appointed 46-year-old Argentine Eduardo Coudet as Garcia’s replacement.
Despite suffering a 4-2 away loss against Sevilla in Coudet’s first La Liga match in charge, it has been onwards and upwards for Celeste since. Four straight La Liga wins against Granada, Athletic Club, Cadiz, and Alaves have propelled Celta to eighth place in the standings. In nine games under Garcia, Celta only managed to score six goals. In just give games under Coudet, however, the Galicians have found the net 13 times.
In addition to Celta’s recent winning run has been the stylish brand of football played under their new Argentine tactician. Deploying a unique 4-1-3-2 formation and encouraging an attacking mentality from his players, Celta have looked irresistible. This new formation gives Celta’s two star-players, Denis Suarez and Iago Aspas, creative freedom.
Coudet, like many of Celta’s recent appointments was viewed by many as a “left-field” appointment: however, it looks like Celeste have found the perfect fit. Prior to taking the reigns at Balaidos stadium, Coudet had a very promising record in South American football. In 2015, Coudet led Rosario Central to a third place finish in the Argentine Primera Division. In 2018/2019, Coudet led Racing Club de Avellaneda to their 18th Argentine title, only their third since the new millennium. Likewise, upon leaving Brazilian giants Internacional to take the Celta job, Coudet left the Porto Alegre outfit top of the 2020 Brazilian Serie A. Coudet’s impressive start to his La Liga managerial career mark him and Celta out as a double act to watch going into 2021.
Other stories to watch on Matchday 15
The aforementioned stories are the ones to follow going into Matchday 15. However, there are other sources of intrigue for one to keep their eyes on. After his disappointing 2019/20 at Arsenal, where he was eventually replaced by Mikel Arteta in the hot seat at Emirates Stadium, Unai Emery is continuing his managerial resurgence at Villarreal. El Submarino Amarillo currently lie fourth place in La Liga, having only suffered one defeat all season. Villarreal will look to make it 14 straight La Liga matches unbeaten on Tuesday when they face Athletic Club at home.