Football fans are no strangers to international breaks. Normally these periods sprinkled throughout the season break the flow of club football, often to the dismay of supporters. They are notorious for resulting in injuries and stopping teams in good form right in their tracks all for a stale sequence of international friendlies or qualifiers. However, this break is different. The World Cup will bring an entirely new dynamic, not only due to its rare status as a major international competition in the middle of the European season, but because of the prolonged period of time in which club competitions will be interrupted. For the best part of six weeks, club sides will be out of action. While for most sides this can be crippling to their run of form, there’s a handful of clubs that will be thankful for this opportunity to rest and reset. Which La Liga teams will benefit the most?
3 | Real Madrid
There is little in the way of criticism for Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season. A strong side all over the pitch sitting second in the league with a comfortable gap to third and only two points from the top, it may sound strange to refer to the capital’s titan team as needing a break. However, with four points dropped in their last three games and their most recent match having been a good performance but a narrow win against Cadiz, Real Madrid have momentarily given up top spot to their Catalan rivals. This bad streak shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Their attack is firing just fine, but some defensive sloppiness has led to preventable goals. So, the break comes at a perfect time to allow the team to reset and regain the composure that they’re famous for. With the weeks of rest, Ancelotti can take his time to analyse the weaknesses that have begun to crop up and find out how to best recover form in time for the return of club football. Furthermore, players such as Dani Carvajal, Marco Asensio and Thibaut Courtois, who had been fluctuating in terms of concentration and performance, will have a breath of fresh air away from their domestic league where they can mentally break away from the rut they were in. Without a doubt, Real Madrid has both players and a manager of such high quality that by the time club football returns, they’ll once again be an unstoppable force.
2 | Atlético Madrid
Diego Simeone’s side has been in dire need of a breather. A shaky start to the season with some rough games against difficult teams ended up collapsing into a nightmare run of form in which Atleti have one win from their last five league games, dropping points against three bottom-half teams. Most embarrassingly of all, they’ve come last in what on paper was a Champions League group that they should’ve comfortable finished first in. These results clearly haven’t come about by lack of quality, since Atlético have an amazing squad that should be more than capable of beating teams in the relegation zone. While the injuries of Koke and Marcos Llorente have certainly been influential, what has dragged down Simeone’s side the most is a mixture of stale tactics and lackluster performances from players. On the pitch, Atleti have looked slow, uncreative, and defensively fragile; all of which are extremely uncharacteristic for this team. Fortunately, this break has come at the perfect time to stop Atlético’s free fall. Simeone will have ample time to cool his head, restructure tactical ideas, and re-energise the players not on international duty. Furthermore, since this break will carry on essentially until the January transfer market, the board will be able to analyse where they need to replace old wood with fresh blood, whether it may be on the pitch or in the dugout.
1 | Sevilla
Comfortably La Liga’s biggest underperformers, the Andalusians have been horribly out of whack this season. Sevilla are a side that has always been competing for the very highest spots in recent years, but so far they’re sitting in the relegation zone with a shockingly low two wins so far. The team’s most notable flaw has been their drastically weakened defence. In the summer they lost their starting centre-backs Jules Koundé and Diego Carlos, who were quite easily one of the best centre-back pairings in the league if not in all of Europe. No one of comparable quality has been brought in to replace them and it shows. However, this is far from their only problem: a stale midfield with six out of their eight starting options being aged 30 or over is always a bad sign. In the centre of the pitch, Sevilla are always getting utterly overrun, with no sign of creation or protection for the back line in sight, leading to an overall embarrassing fragility. Fingers were also pointed to ex-manager Julen Lopetegui, who indeed may have contributed to a bad run of form, but it’s been 10 games since he was replaced by Jorge Sampaoli and the bad football continues. Sevilla desperately needed this break to arrive in order for them to re-plan their future. The winter transfer window couldn’t come soon enough for them, and they’ll be more than grateful that they don’t have to suffer more games to play until then. Sampaoli has a herculean task on his hands and he’ll need every second he can get to prepare for it.