It’s November. A hellish October has come to pass, and in plain sight, just in time to greet Real Madrid’s bad form, is a whole slew of bad-form teams to feast on: Las Palmas, Atletico Madrid, and Malaga. Perfect. I think.
Tomorrow Real Madrid host Las Palmas before an international break tides them over for the Madrid derby on the 18th. To help set the stage is Opta Sports’ (and Las Palmas supporter) Jamie Kemp:
Kiyan: Hey Jamie, welcome to the club of the walking wounded La Liga teams. We suck, you suck, and the league is on fire. I cautiously thought Las Palmas might join the relegation battle this season before the season started, but I'm quite honestly blown away at their struggles right now. How surprised are you that Las Palmas have struggled this much?
Jamie: The extent of their ineptness has been surprising, particularly in defence. I always felt they would lose some attacking potency with Setien's departure, but the general consensus was that the team would benefit defensively in turn. Or at least, that was the idea when Manolo Marquez (eventually) took charge late in the summer. Instead, the team have regressed in attack and remained a collective liability in defence; so much so, that it's now tough to pinpoint any redeeming features at all. Jonathan Viera can make a lot of things look good, but he can't manage much more than this.
Kiyan: Apart from Jonathan Viera, who are you most impressed with this season?
Jamie: Viera has been the absolute standout again, so beyond him it gets a little tricky. I think Calleri deserves the most credit for how he's played, particularly given the scant service he receives on a weekly basis. The Argentine always leaves everything he has on the pitch, no matter how arduous his prospects in any given game are, and his aggression in the box has already yielded some important goals from modest creation.
Kiyan: Can you tell us just how much of an impact the losses of Quique Setien, Kevin Prince Boateng, and Roque Mesa were?
Jamie: The loss of Setien will hurt in Las Palmas for a long time. He established a much-needed identity, but more importantly, the correct one for the environment there. Instead of retreating into a defensive shell in order to safeguard them from relegation, Setien opened them up in order to make the most of the inherent Canarian qualities of the squad. It was exactly what the players and fans needed, but Setien was also good enough to make it work. And although the final months of his tenure were particularly disastrous, the lasting memory of him on the island will be far from that. Players like Roque Mesa and Boateng will come and go, but the DNA of all that was good about Las Palams emanated from the top with Setien.
Kiyan: Halilovic -- where are you on him? Are you happy with his development, or do you think he's a lost cause?
Jamie: I think Halilovic was just on the cusp of capturing some modest form at the time of his injury earlier in the season. Until then, he really didn't show much, despite limited opportunities as a starter. From what he has shown in a Las Palmas shirt, it's evident that his natural ability as a dribbler continues to be undersold by his final product. And unfortunately for him, the injury means he's pretty much back to square one when he does return. We'll have to wait a bit longer to find out whether Halilovic has anything significant to offer at this level.
Kiyan: What's your feeling on the Vitolo situation? How worth it was it to rent him for a few months while doing Atletico a favour?
Jamie: My thoughts on Vitolo to Las Palmas are pretty simple. He had the unexpected opportunity to play for his hometown club for six months, so he took advantage of it. The mess between Atletico Madrid and Sevilla really doesn't matter to anyone there. Of course, Vitolo hasn't quite hit the ground running since arriving (partly through injury), but there's no doubt that him being a part of the club for this short period is at least something to enjoy at the moment. Canarian players will always be cherished there, especially those of the level that Vitolo is.
Kiyan: Las Palmas played Real Madrid pretty well last season, and really took advantage of Real Madrid's disjointed defense. Any chance of that now given Real Madrid's form? What do Las Palmas have to do to make it work?
Jamie: I think I was pretty down on their chances last season, and that didn't go too bad! But this time round, it'd take a miracle for Las Palmas to get something there. Jonathan Viera is injured, which really sabotages any control the team will be able to have in an attacking sense. If they are to trouble the Real Madrid defence, it'll have to come through quick transitions with Loic Remy and Jonathan Calleri, but particularly Remy. He has the pace and directness to cause damage quickly, and has shown on a few occasions already this season his ability to make things happen without any help. Despite that, I just don't see Las Palmas being able to live defensively, which will render any possibilities going the other way pretty futile.
Kiyan: Call it.
Jamie: I'd be surprised if Las Palmas conceded fewer than four goals, which is an admittedly terrible advert for the game. Their only hope is that the Bernabeu crowd turn up feeling pretty aggrieved about Real Madrid's current struggles and let the whistles fly early. But even then, it's not much hope. Zidane will be able to sleep soundly on Sunday night. Pako Ayestaran, not so much.