Guillem Balague says Barcelona will return with an €80m (£71m) bid for Philippe Coutinho in January, plus five more things from this weekend’s La Liga action…
The Sky Sports Spanish football expert returns with his weekly column and kicks off with an update on Liverpool star Coutinho.
Balague also discusses Luis Suarez’s slump at Barcelona, Atletico Madrid’s back-to-basics approach and Leganes’ unlikely rise…
Coutinho saga to rumble on…
If you ask most people they will agree it doesn’t make much sense for Liverpool to sell Coutinho in January but Barcelona will still try.
They will put about €80m (£71m) on the table and will look to test Liverpool’s resolve. Barca feel the conditions are still there for the player to leave – they think he will still be very useful to them considering the departure of Neymar as he has not been replaced.
Remember Barca did not want Coutinho until they started to use him as a way to keep Neymar from PSG. Once Neymar left they realised he could fill that gap anyway.
This transfer now enters the phase of wait and see what happens in January. Barca will bid €80m, it’s just for Liverpool to decide. Has their resolve softened? Or will they stay strong again like the summer?
What’s up with Luis Suarez?
Luis Suarez has scored three goals in the league and you can see how frustrated he is. He was substituted against Malaga and seemed very serious, he didn’t shake the coach’s hand.
Why is he upset? He came back from injury too early to help Uruguay and he is still playing through pain. He has not rested so not going on the international break with Uruguay will help him.
The departure of Neymar also means defenders are closing on Suarez, they are tight in the box because Barca’s width is now mostly coming from their full-backs, not from wingers.
That means he has less space and when that happens and has to take rushed decisions, he looks clumsy. His first touch is not the best – not on Barca’s level anyway – so he needs the space to work and a quick tempo.
At the moment Barca are looking to control their matches, which instead benefits Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi. They like to pass the ball rather than going direct. And Luis Suarez is suffering.
Highlights of Barcelona's 2-0 victory over Malaga in La Liga. Lineker wrong on Benzema
I think Gary Lineker – who I admire and normally agree with – is wrong to question Karim Benzema’s place at Real. I respect his opinion a lot but I am with Zinedine Zidane on this debate.
Benzema’s record of two goals from 20 shots this season is not great but you have to look at Benzema in other ways.
He has scored at least 25 goals in three seasons since he arrived to Real in 2010. He has won everything and has been involved in 262 goals (scoring or assisting) in 373 games. That’s 182 goals for the Frenchman.
But what truly defines him is the way he makes Cristiano Ronaldo better. Real have won a lot because of Ronaldo and because Benzema understands his role.
We have been spoiled by the goal tallies of Ronaldo and Messi and sometimes think whoever doesn’t reach those heights is not good enough. Benzema is definitely good enough.
His influence on this Real Madrid era is huge.
Highlights of Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Eibar in La Liga. Atletico revert to type
Atletico’s Champions League draw against Qarabag was proof they have several players out of form, Gabi and Diego Godin in particular have not been as strong defensively recently.
Further forward, Yannick Carrasco, Antoine Griezmann, Koke and Saul Niguez are not at their best level either.
At the weekend against Celta Vigo they decided to drop deep – almost Italian style – and to counter-attack. When Atleti encounter problems Diego Simeone often reacts by reverting to this tactic. That’s how they try to recover their confidence and a 1-0 victory will help.
Celta could have got something from the game but it was three points to an Atletico team that needs to improve.
Valencia on a roll
Valencia have scored 22 goals in six games on a run of one draw and five victories. They beat Sevilla 4-0 easily and that was partly down to Carlos Soler, who has four assists and is playing brilliantly in midfield, and Goncalo Guedes, who is becoming one of La Liga’s brightest new starts.
Guedes has been in the line up for five consecutive appearances, and in that period he has assisted five times and scored three. He has done it largely playing in two positions, on the left side or as a second forward.
He is doing great work, he has pace and bravery and the vision to see other players. PSG will want him back at the end of the season and Valencia’s loan deal does not have a permanent clause.
After years of struggles on and off the pitch, Valencia are flying high again. Guillem Balague explains why… A feel-good story
Leganes are one of the stories of the season so far. They are fifth in the table, they have gone five games without losing and five games without conceding a goal. Their only issue is a lack of goals, just eight so far.
They don’t create a lot but they are still very effective, especially when they do score like they did against Athletic Bilbao. They defend very well as a team.
Their coach Asier Garitano was very humble and said it would stupid to think they were favourites against Athletic – but it was another 1-0 win.
Their target remains to avoid relegation but if you talk to Garitano privately he will admit they have adapted to the demands of La Liga.
Last season was very tough, now they have more control and they are clinical up front. That makes the difference.