The ‘little brother’ of Barcelona and Espanyol in Catalonia, Girona certainly made their mark under Pablo Machin in their debut La Liga season, and now they face the mighty Real Madrid on their second game of 2018/19 at their own Estadi Montilivi this Sunday.
No longer the most recent debutants in La Liga, as that honour has now fallen to Huesca, Girona did remarkably well in 2017/18 to retain their top-flight status.
Drawing with Atletico Madrid on their first appearance in the Spanish top flight was enough to get their peers to sit up and take notice, and a 2-1 win over Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid ensured that the Blanquivermell would be afforded appropriate respect.
Though they would eventually tail off towards the end of the season, for an opening campaign they had far exceeded expectations. In many ways, it’s those same expectations that may well hamper them in the current season.
Machin has now moved on to Sevilla, but the club have at least hired well in replacing him with ex-Barcelona Dream Team member, Eusebio Sacristan. The free-flowing football Girona’s supporters have become used to will continue under a coach who likes his players to express themselves.
Much like Julen Lopetegui actually, Real Madrid’s new man in charge. There’s already been a noticeable change at the Santiago Bernabeu since the former Spanish national team chief took over.
Inclusivity seems to be his watchword, banishing in a heartbeat the ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’ teams that Zidane had cultivated during his tenure.
Neither side lost on the opening weekend of La Liga 2018/19, but only Real Madrid managed to get on the scoresheet. Los Blancos were scintillating at times against a dogged Getafe who were lacking in finesse.
Dani Ceballos, an outcast under Zidane, was given 70 minutes before making way for Luka Modric, and he certainly did enough to deserve a second look. But it was up front where the magic really happened.
Gareth Bale scored in the first game of a season for the third successive year, while Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema looked dangerous in every attack. Given ‘BBA’ are just finding their feet as a trio, it was an accomplished performance.
That Girona were unable to break down Real Valladolid was as much to do with Sergio Gonzalez’s negative tactics as anything else. A 4-5-1 was never going to be anything other than a damage limitation exercise.
Cristhian Stuani and Portu were the strikers who did the damage last season against Real, and one of the pair will add to their own personal legend by getting on the score sheet again. However, by virtue of their greater firepower, and Lopetegui’s penchant for letting his players ‘work it out for themselves,’ Real’s freedom of movement can see them edge it here against a determined and focused home side.
Girona’s Montilivi is an imposing little stadium some 63 miles north of Barcelona. Unlike many modern stadia, the supporters are as close to the pitch as it’s possible to be, and as Real found out last season, it can be intimidating for visiting teams.
On that occasion, 13,382 supporters crammed in, and that attendance remains the record. Those who were there will always remember it, and not just because of the eventual outcome. Montilivi had never seen anything like it.
With an attacking 4-3-3 formation that will mirror Real’s, expect the hosts to come charging out of the blocks. Sacristan will aim to play a high line where possible, but he has to be aware of the pace in behind that Real possess, particularly Gareth Bale. In a foot race with Marc Muniesa there’s one winner, and it’s not the ex-Barcelona man.
David Timor’s role in the centre of midfield for Girona is crucial, and how often he hits his wide men in Portu and Borja Garcia, will largely author how often the hosts get a presentable chance, Stuani being the obvious target man.
Generally starting better than they finish in matches, a lead at half-time for the hosts is likely, though by the end of 90 minutes Los Blancos’ class will tell.
As with both of last season’s encounters between the sides, this will be an extremely watchable 90 minutes. It’s not often two new coaches go head-to-head so early in the season, and it will be interesting to see their new tactical concepts evolve over the course of the game.
Girona are compact when they need to be, but offer excellent width when breaking, and getting behind Marcelo and Dani Carvajal could be a feature here
Real were fantastic at swarming all over Getafe in week one, and when the extra gear is required later in the game, that’s when they’ll punish Girona. Take a 15/2 bet for a 1-2 away win, again with Ladbrokes.