Real Madrid host Las Palmas today — a team coached by the excellent Quique Setien, who, in truth, have cooled off significantly since the last time these two teams met. To help break down just what’s happened to Las Palmas since, I reached out to Jamie Kemp (@JamieKemp) of Opta Sports for further insight.
Kiyan: Hey Jamie, I guess that blitzing run to start the season wasn't so sustainable, huh? What's caused Las Palmas to cool off so much?
Jamie: Yeah... fun while it lasted. The main issue is the team's horrid away form. Setien has put many things in place at the club but finding the formula for being competitive on a consistent basis away from home, as they have done at Estadio Gran Canaria, is still an on-going search. The team is simply too fragile without possession to give themselves a chance in most of these games. With the ball, they're generally safe. But that can only occur for so long in a game, and probably not very long at the Bernabeu.
Kiyan: Here's my observation of Jese so far (feel free to debunk it or call me out if I'm wrong): He fits in Setien’s side naturally in the sense that Las Palmas could use his flair up front, and given how much Boateng misses due to injury, it's nice to have some insurance. But, he also lacks confidence putting the ball in the net, and I've noticed he's looked off Boateng a couple times selfishly to go for goal himself. Do you think at any point we'll see tension between him and the other attackers if this continues? I imagine Boateng likes to be the alpha male here, still.
Jamie: I think it's just about getting that first goal for Jese. He's had some great opportunities in each of his appearances so far, and has obviously been criticised for botching them. I also think Boateng, the team and fans recognise that most of those chances were only possible due to what Jese brings to the team - his directness and ability to drive the ball at the opposition's back line. While most see his missed chances as a player lacking confidence and/or a poor finisher, I'm mostly enthused that someone is now able to provide this angle of threat. And to be honest, I would also say Las Palmas need an attacker with a selfish streak. They're too often guilty of over-playing in the final third.
Kiyan: So that loan spell for Roque Mesa seemed good for his career. Rate his season so far.
Jamie: He's had a great season again. In an ideal world, Las Palmas would have two Roque Mesa's so one can play as the deep-lying midfielder and one as a box-to-box type. There's often times where I think he's a little wasted playing as the deep midfielder, facilitating in pretty much only the team's build-up. Against lesser opponents, particularly at home, I prefer to see him going box-to-box because he's as good at doing that as he is the former. The summer will be an anxious time in terms of his future, particularly if the team's form continues to sag.
Kiyan: How would you say Halilovic is fitting into the team since arriving during the winter window?
Jamie: Halilovic has struggled so far. Though it's clear he's a very gifted dribbler, there are clearly still many parts of his game that need developing if he's ever to become a reliable player. He'll leave many full-backs in his wake when he cuts inside with that low centre of gravity, but things have pretty much stalled from there - his pass selection and decision-making has been pretty erratic. And if his offensive game isn't there, it's tough for him to make any meaningful impact. I'm not sure how often he'll start between now and the end of the season.
Kiyan: When these two teams met in September, it was a game of swinging momentum. Las Palmas enjoy possession, and when Real Madrid sat back and hit them on the counter, they looked vulnerable. On the flipside, Setien opted to sit deeper in the 2nd half and absorb pressure, which is when Real Madrid started to struggle. What do you think the learning point was there, and how do you think Las Palmas will lineup in this one?
Jamie: Honestly, I think the reverse fixture won't mean anything come tonight. Las Palmas home and away are two completely different entities. The usual process for big away games is the following (in no particular order): they manage possession with style for sporadic 5/10-minute periods, they concede a soft goal usually from a cross/ball into the box, they continue to move the ball well but without creating any clear chances and ultimately lose by two or more goals.
Kiyan: Given how the season has panned out, what's the realistic goal for Las Palmas? Is mid-table the most realistic outcome?
Jamie: I think staving off relegation is the main goal until further notice - anything beyond that is a plus. It's easy to forget that this is a team with one of the smallest budgets in the league, especially since they snapped up Jese. The only reason Las Palmas could make a deal was due to his insistence on returning home. If he was from Vigo, they wouldn't have had a cat in hell's chance.
Kiyan: If Prince and Jese dropped a rap album together, would you listen to it if someone gave it to you for free as a gift?
Jamie: I can't stop thinking about the potential music video. If Jese doesn't start squaring the ball to him before the end of the season, I think it's more likely they'll be releasing diss tracks about each other.