With the first of the season’s international breaks now done and dusted, it’s back down to business in the domestic leagues.
In Spain, the La Liga table has a bit of a topsy turvy look about it at present, with both Real Madrid and Barcelona not beginning the 2019/20 campaign in anything like the form expected.
The ‘big two’ will need to get their act together quickly, or else they run the risk of seeing a rejuvenated and revitalised Atletico Madrid waltz to the title.
The Rojiblancos have bought very well across the summer, more so when you consider the talent that walked out of the Wanda Metropolitano. Rather than panic, Diego Simeone quickly identified where he needed to strengthen and the powers that be wasted no time in acceding to his wishes.
The same can’t be said at Barcelona or Real.
At least the Catalans were able to secure Frenkie De Jong and Antoine Griezmann, however, their pursuits of Matthijs De Ligt and Neymar were destined to end in disappointment.
Zinedine Zidane made it clear at the beginning of the transfer window that he wanted Manchester United’s Paul Pogba above all others, and despite over €300m spent and a number of new signings, Pogba wasn’t one of them.
Now isn’t the time to think about what might’ve been because the games come thick and fast thanks to the return of the Champions League too.
Let’s take a look at some of the individual battles that could shape the results in Week 4.
Kevin Gameiro v Clement Lenglet
During last season’s Copa del Rey final, Barcelona were unable to cope with Kevin Gameiro for long periods, and indeed, it was the Valencia striker who opened the scoring on that occasion.
Clement Lenglet, now the first choice partner for Gerard Pique, was guilty of tracking Gameiro’s striker partner, Rodrigo, allowing the space to open up for the strike at goal.
It’s Rodrigo’s pace and movement up front which is likely to cause problems for the Catalans back-line again.
Further, with there being a strong likelihood of Sergi Roberto deputising for Nelson Semedo at right-back, expect Valencia to channel most of their attacks down that side, thereby meaning more responsibility will fall on Pique to help marshal that area of the pitch.
The result of pulling the back four across to the right is that Lenglet and Jordi Alba will again be out of position, giving Gameiro time to deliver another hammer blow.
Over the years, the striker has honed his craft and been an expert at darting in towards the area and then, just before the cross is delivered, taking a couple of steps back away from the goal, ready to receive.
Lenglet should aware of those slight movements so he can track them, but it happened on more than one occasion in the final, and will happen again at the Camp Nou.
The Los Che front man is 9/1 with bet365 to open the scoring at Camp Nou.
Casemiro v Enis Bardhi
Two very different players, but two exceptional talents.
Seasoned watchers of La Liga will point to Casemiro’s incredible ability of being able to foul his direct opponent but get away with it time and again. The Brazilian has it down to a fine art, but to just dwell on that side of his game is a little unfair.
In order to allow the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric to be able to move forward efficiently and with purpose, Real Madrid need a defensive midfield exponent who doesn’t just keep the door closed behind them, but locks it too. Casemiro does that superbly well.
As with Sergio Busquets at Barca, you don’t often notice him when he’s playing, it’s when he’s not in that holding role that you really understand what he brings to the side.
Enis Bardhi is a real livewire for Levante, and likes to keep things ticking along down their left side.
Jose Luis Morales in particular relies on Bardhi’s passing ability, and simply put, if Casemiro can’t shut down the supply line quickly enough, Bardhi will set the tempo for the visitors at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Moreover, he’s a dead ball specialist, and only Leo Messi scored more direct free-kicks than he the season before last.
A surprise win, as last season, isn’t beyond Levante who start the match above Real, though lightning is unlikely to strike twice. Bardhi to score last at 22/1 with Unibet is worth a punt.
Willian Jose v Jan Oblak
Traditionally the Real Sociedad v Atletico Madrid fixture isn’t particularly high scoring, but the team from San Sebastian, with home advantage, would like nothing better than to knock the table toppers from their perch.
Willian Jose is their centre-forward and focal point of attack, but in the three games so far he’s been unable to find the net.
More of a ‘traditional’ front man, he is nevertheless pretty mobile when he wants to be, however, he, like his team-mates, hasn’t really got going so far this season.
Precisely the opposite is true of Atletico Madrid who’ve played three and won three; the only side in the division to do so.
They’ve clearly relied on goals from the likes of Joao Felix et al, but one still has to doff their cap to Jan Oblak, surely one of Europe’s greatest goalkeepers?
Two clean sheets already this season has set him nicely on the path to another ‘Zamora’ trophy, given in Spain to the keeper who lets in the least amount of goals across the season.
Oblak has had the monopoly on that the last few seasons, and with another one expected here against a moribund Willian Jose, Atleti are likely to end the weekend where they began.
Atletico to win to nil are 11/5 with BetVictor