Gibson: Barcelona to put troubles to one side with opening win but there’s no stopping Real Madrid


WEEK 1

Valencia v Las Palmas, Friday 9.15pm

I'm expecting a far better version of Valencia this season. The appointment of coach Marcelino is definitely a good one in my opinion. With 12 players leaving the club and only two new signings you might wonder why I'm believing that things are on the up at the Mestalla but such is the faith I have in the coach. 

Deadwood and high wages had to be cleared out, it was a necessity. The young players from the club’s academy will now be relied upon and the likes of Carlos Soler and Toni Lato showed last season that they can be trusted to develop into genuine top class players.

Las Palmas are a team who forgot how to pick up points in the second half of last season. A drastic change in form saw them slide right down the table and they don't travel well at all away from Gran Canaria.

They have a new coach in Manolo Marquez from the B team and it is his first job. Kevin Prince Boateng has left the club along with Roque Mesa who went to Swansea and they have brought in Jonathan Calleri from West Ham as a replacement. Vitolo, Atletico Madrid's new expensive signing from Sevilla, is also on loan at Las Palmas until January. It is a return, albeit a short return, to his home club until he can play for Simeone's team when the transfer ban ends.

I'm going to go for Valencia, who are all pulling together for a change, to be victorious in this encounter. Don't be surprised to see a fast start from Valencia and an early goal. Simone Zaza showed form last season when he joined the club and fellow striker Rodrigo still has it all to prove, it could be a decent partnership. 

So it's an early Zaza goal to give Valencia a boost and I'm going to go for both teams to score with Valencia running out 3-1 winnners.

Score prediction: Valencia 3-1 Las Palmas (12.00)

First goal prediction: Zaza (5.40)

Best bet: Both teams to score (1.58)

 

Girona v Atletico Madrid, Saturday 7.15pm

A huge occasion for newly promoted Girona who are playing in the top flight for the first time in their history. To be facing Atletico at home in Week 1 will surely be a thrill. Girona are a team with a very big Premier League connection now though and certainly don't fall into the same footballing romantic category as recent new boys Eibar and Leganés.

Pep Guardiola's brother Pere is running things now at Girona and the contact has meant that four Manchester City youngsters worth around £20m will be on loan at the club this season. Add Middlesbrough pair Cristian Stuani and Bernardo Espinosa and on loan Marc Muniesa from Stoke City and you begin to understand that Girona are not your usual newly promoted team from the Segunda division.

A more formal tie up with City is expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks. Atletico appear to have prepared well for the forthcoming season. No new signings available for Simeone due to the transfer ban and everything looks very settled indeed, especially with Griezmann staying at the club.


They messed up early last season drawing their first two games with newly promoted teams Alavés and Leganés and their La Liga title challenge never got off the ground after that.

I don't expect Atletico to mess up again this season, my main concern though is that Simeone has to show more balance between defence and attack. Atletico will always be difficult to play and score against but hopefully there is a slightly more expansive style this season. If they are more courageous in attack they can challenge seriously once again.

With that in mind I'm going to predict that Atletico won't drastically change for this game but will still have too much for Girona and their new team. I wouldn't be surprised to see it scoreless at half time with Atletico being cautious and patient but I expect them to run out winners by a 2-0 margin.

Griezmann has struggled for goals pre-season but they are hoping he is saving them up for the real thing! Griezman with the first goal and probably around the 60-minute mark. 

Score prediction: Girona 0-2 Atletico (6.10)

First goal prediction: Griezmann (3.85)

Best bet: Draw HT (2.23) 

 

Barcelona v Real Betis, Sunday 7.15pm

This should be a foregone conclusion seeing that in the last nine games between these two in this stadium Barcelona have won all nine, scoring 32 goals along the way.

Last season saw them win 6-2 and it should be pretty straightforward to believe that they will achieve a similar result this time out.

Life is anything but straightforward at the moment though for Barcelona. After being totally dismantled by Real Madrid over the two legs of the Super Cup it is going to be a difficult and hostile atmosphere in the Nou Camp on Sunday.

Protests will be heard against the President Josep Bartomeu. The supporters are not happy with the departure of Neymar and they will be furious with the players after their performance or lack of it against Real Madrid.

I'm sure new coach Ernesto Valverde can't wait! They could also be without injured Gerard Pique and probably more importantly will be without Luis Suarez who finished the midweek game limping heavily and is going to be out for around five weeks.

Iniesta should be fit to return to play for a coach who has used three different systems of play in his two games so far and I assume we will also see Paulinho make his debut.

It's astonishing how quickly things have turned sour at the Nou Camp. As recently as late April they went to the Bernabeu and memorably won 3-2 without the suspended Neymar and that now seems an age ago.


Are we all being too hasty writing off Barcelona? I suspect we are. Everybody expects the majority of the Neymar cash to be splashed before the window closes and I'm sure we will then see a totally different Barcelona by the end of the month. 

I'm going to show faith in Barcelona for this game for one reason and one reason only and that is Lionel Messi! Despite Betis having a new coach in former Las Palmas boss Quique Setien and splashing out around €30m on nine new players, I'm going to go for Messi to be the talisman to decide this game. No more MSN and not even the MS for a while, so it's all down to the little Argentine.

I also expect Barcelona to concede so he is going to have to get more than just the one goal. Sergio Leon is the most likely scorer for Betis and he is just the type of striker to make the most of any space that is afforded to him by Barcelona's lack of defensive know how at the moment.

His pace and eye for a goal could cause them problems as he tries to replace the exclusive scorer of goals for Betis in recent seasons, Ruben Castro, who has departed for a spell in China.

It is imperative that Barcelona and Messi get off to a good start and I believe they will do so. Therefore, Messi to get the first goal is my call, the earlier the better for Barcelona and if this is the case it will mean a bright start for Valverde. I'm going to go for an eventual scoreline of 3-1 to Barcelona.

Score prediction: Barcelona 3-1 Betis (9.50)

First goal prediction: Messi (3.15)

Best bet: Home team to win and both teams to score (2.45)

 

Deportivo la Coruńa v Real Madrid, Sunday 9.15pm

Believe it or not this used to be a real ‘bogey’ ground for Real Madrid. They went almost 20 years without a win at Depor which was 17 unfruitful visits. 

However, it is now five wins in the last six and they are certainly racking up the goals too. It was a 6-2 thrashing last season and they have accumulated a total of 21 goals over the course of those games including an 8-2 the season before last.

Real Madrid are on fire at the moment and despite being without the suspended Ronaldo it is clear that they are going to have too much once again for Depor. 

Zidane was able to rest Casemiro, Bale and Isco for the second leg of the Clasico Super Cup midweek and I expect all of those to start in this game.

I'm struggling to see how Depor can cause any issues for Real Madrid. Not too many new signings for Pepe Mel's squad and their main striker Florin Andone is being hotly pursued by Burnley who have had an initial offer turned down by the Galician club.


 

Adrian Lopez - the former Atletico, Villarreal and Porto striker -has returned and they are still trying to do a deal with Arsenal to get Lucas Perez back.

I can only see a win for Real Madrid and with them scoring plenty. They are playing so well at the moment and are irresistible to watch and I'm expecting at least four goals for Zidane's team. 

First goal scorer is a tough one! Take your pick from Isco, Asensio, Benzema but I'm going to go for Gareth Bale who will be desperate to assert himself on this team once again. A 4-0 away victory for the title holders.

Score prediction: Deportivo 0-4 Real Madrid (13.00)

First goal prediction: Bale (4.90)

Best bet: Away team to score over 2.5 (2.00)