Real Madrid and Girona can have a happy Christmas

Sports Saturday 23/December/2023 08:49 AM
Real Madrid and Girona can have a happy Christmas

MADRID: Football in Spain has shut down until the New Year, with Real Madrid at the top of La Liga on goal difference from Girona, FC Barcelona third, and Atletico Madrid and Athletic Club Bilbao just behind them.

Girona's incredible form has to be the story of the season so far, with coach Michel Sanchez, whose teams have always played attractive football, getting the most out of a squad of journeymen players.

Wingers Savio and Yan Couto, both on loan from Manchester City, are impressing, but it is the performances that Michel is getting from players such as central defender David Lopez, left-back Miguel Gutierrez, and midfielder Yangel Herrera that are making Girona such a joy to watch.

Real Madrid are still favorites for the title, but with 45 points from 18 games, the very least Girona can expect is a place in Europe next season.

At the start of the season, it looked as if Real Madrid could be lacking firepower in attack after Karim Benzema's departure, but Rodrygo has been excellent. Nevertheless, Real Madrid's campaign can be defined by one name: Jude Bellingham.

The England international has been outstanding in his first season at the club, scoring 13 league goals in an instant adaptation to the Spanish game. When other players have dipped in form, Bellingham has carried the team and if he continues as he has started, it's hard to see Madrid slipping up.

The club has been badly hit by injuries, with Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militao, and David Alaba out for the season, but others such as Eduardo Camavinga, Dani Carvajal, Vinicius Jr, Ferland Mendy, and Arda Guler, who has yet to make his debut, will be back in the New Year to boost Carlo Ancelotti's squad for the busy period ahead.

On paper, FC Barcelona looks to have a stronger squad than the one which won last season's title, but on the pitch, they have struggled to find consistency.

Injuries have not helped Xavi Hernandez, with Gavi out for the campaign, while Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Inigo Martinez, and Raphinha all missing important chunks of the competition, but even with them in the side, something isn't working for Barca.

Atletico Madrid has been slightly bipolar in their performances, combining some excellent displays, based on the efforts of Antoine Griezmann, Alvaro Morata, and Samuel Lino, around some flat performances that have seen them drop important points.

Neither full-back looks convincing, while Jose Gimenez in central defense is too prone to injuries to make a regular impact.

Athletic Club is level on points with Atletico, and outplayed them a week ago, with Ernesto Valverde leading an energetic and aggressive young side that has the pace of the Williams brothers as their attacking spearhead and Spain international keeper Unai Simon as a reliable last line of defense.

Athletic has dipped in form at the halfway point in recent seasons as their efforts take their toll, but this year the eruption of players such as Benat Prados and Gorka Guruzeta means they have a deeper squad, and much could depend on how far they advance in the Copa del Rey.

Below them, Real Sociedad and Betis are usual suspects in the battle for Europe, with 'La Real' mixing impressive attacking football and players such as Take Kubo and Umar Sadiq, with some solid and, at times, cynical defending.

Betis has been inspired by former Real Madrid midfielder Isco, who is enjoying a second lease on life, and as long as he keeps going, their options will remain, although European commitments could distract both teams come February.

Things look very clear cut at the other end of the table, with Almeria and Granada already looking doomed to relegation. Almeria has improved under Gaizka Garitano as narrow defeats to Atletico and Barca will testify, but five points from 18 games are numbers that it's impossible to recover from.

Granada has only three more points and replacing Paco Lopez with Alex Medina as coach hasn't changed things for a side that simply can't defend. Although they are only seven points off safety, something drastic would have to happen to save them.

Rafa Benitez's Celta is third from bottom and although the general feeling is that they are too good to go down, they need to turn some decent displays into results.

Quique Sanchez Flores' arrival at Sevilla should mean they pull clear of the danger zone, although the internal problems at the club won't help, while Cadiz will be nervous after four months without a win, including five draws in five games, has seen them gravitate down to 17th and unless they start scoring goals, it may not be a happy New Year.