There were no big upsets in La Liga last weekend, but there was some very big news the following day. Zinedine Zidane has returned to Real Madrid as manager, less than a year after resigning following their third consecutive Champions League triumph.
Zidane was reappointed with an eye toward next season, obviously -- Real Madrid have already been eliminated from the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, and are 12 points behind Barcelona in La Liga with only 11 games left. But it's reasonable to expect an uptick in form, given that Zidane is back.
In fact, Real Madrid are the biggest favorites in La Liga this weekend, although that's also due to the fact that they're playing at home against 18th place Celta Vigo. Barcelona are strong favorites as well, but they have a tougher matchup -- playing at eighth-place Real Betis, who beat them back in mid-November, Barca's only loss in the league this season.
That's certainly not enough to dissuade me from sticking with Lionel Messi as my Tier 1 forward and captain this week. Messi scored two goals in that loss to Real Betis -- it was a wild game, finishing 4-3. He also took seven shots and had five chances created, finishing with 36.2 points.
As crazy as it sounds, that's a pretty standard game for Messi this season. Last week he scored one goal, took six shots and had three chances created in Barcelona's 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano. Messi's up to 26 goals and 12 assists on the season - nine more goals than any other player, and three more assists than anyone else. Incredible.
And, by the way, Messi had two goals and two assists in Barcelona's 5-1 Champions League win over Lyon on Wednesday,
I'm also sticking with Dani Parejo as my Tier 1 midfielder. Parejo scored his seventh goal of the season in Valencia's 3-2 victory at Girona last week. It came from his only shot of the game, but Parejo also has such a high floor due to being second in the league in chances created (63) and 10th in passes completed (1,386) -- plus, he remains on penalties.
Valencia have now gone unbeaten in nine straight league games, and are favored at home despite going up against fourth-place Getafe. It's not an easy matchup -- Getafe have only conceded 24 goals in 27 games, the third-fewest in the league. But 15 of those 24 goals were conceded away from home.
In fact, I'm doubling up on Valencia for the second week in a row. Rodrigo Moreno will remain my Tier 2 forward as well. He didn't score a goal against Girona last week, but picked up his fifth assist of the season, and finished in double figures in points for the fifth time in his past six starts.
Rodrigo only has five goals this season, but has an xG (expected goals) total of 11.64, which ranks him seventh in the league (and he scored 16 goals last season). He didn't score in Valencia's first meeting with Getafe, but probably should have -- he took four shots, with two of them on target, and racked up an xG total of 1.33. In fact, each of Rodrigo's shots in that game had an xG total of at least .24, and all four were classified as "big chances" by Opta.
His finishing has been better of late -- Rodrigo scored a goal in Valencia's 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao two weeks ago, and scored both goals in Valencia's 2-1 Europa League win over FK Krasnodar last Thursday. It appears he is finally rounding into form.
Getting back to Real Madrid, the only player of theirs I'll have on my fantasy team this week is Sergio Ramos at Tier 1 defender. Ramos was suspended for last week's 4-1 victory at Real Valladolid, but will be back against Celta Vigo, and remains the top defender in terms of fantasy points per game.
Ramos will probably remain on penalties under Zidane, and he converted one in Real Madrid's 4-2 victory at Celta Vigo earlier this season. He also had an assist in that game, finishing with a season-high 25.4 points.
Mikel Oyarzabal, Real Sociedad (Tier 2 midfielder): He's another player who appears to finally be coming into form after a slow start. Oyarzabal notched his second brace in the past four games in Real Sociedad's 5-2 loss at Sevilla last week. This week they are favored at home against 15th place Levante, who have already conceded 48 goals, tying them with Rayo Vallecano for the worst defensive record in the league.
Cristian Tello, Real Betis (Tier 3 midfielder): He just returned from injury earlier this month, but made a big impact off the bench last week in Real Betis' 1-0 victory at Celta Vigo. Despite only coming on in the 53rd minute, Tello took a team-high four shots, nearly scored on one of them, and the rebound off another led to the only goal of the game. Tello has two goals and five assists this season, despite only making 18 appearances and six starts. One of those starts was against Barcelona, and he picked up two of his assists in that game - just make sure he's in the starting lineup on Sunday.
Diego Llorente, Real Sociedad (Tier 2 defender): He's near the leaders in terms of points per game in this tier, and I like picking defenders from teams going up against Levante. As mentioned above, Levante are tied with Rayo Vallecano for the most goals conceded so far this season. But in terms of expected goals conceded, Levante are far and away the worst defensive team in the league. Their xG conceded total is 60.65, nearly 14 goals more than the second-worst team, Celta Vigo (46.96). Llorente hasn't scored a goal yet this season, but he's been limited to 16 appearances due to injury, and did score three goals last season.
Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid (Goalkeeper): Yes, he conceded three goals to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday, but it really wasn't his fault. One was a penalty, another he saved but the ball was ruled in via goal-line technology (barely), and the third was a brilliant cross from Federico Bernardeschi followed by a very good header from Cristiano Ronaldo. Oblak has posted four clean sheets in a row in La Liga, averaging 3.5 saves per game during that stretch, and Atletico Madrid are slight favorites despite playing at Athletic Bilbao. Only Real Valladolid (21) have scored fewer goals than Athletic Bilbao (26) so far this season.