FourFourTwo's Spanish expert Tim Stannard looks ahead to the weekend ahead in La Liga, including a huge Madrid derby...
Does Spain have the worst Saturday of football in recorded history?
Merciful Zeuss. LLL loves its Spanish football and all that, but looking at Saturday’s rundown in La Primera is enough for the blog to gladly accept spending a day at Ikea with four screaming kids in tow.
Here’s the line-up, and make sure you hold tightly onto your hats (or beat yourselves around the head with them): Málaga vs Valladolid (exasperated sigh), Levante vs Osasuna (will be awful), Getafe vs Espanyol (not even Getafe’s 19 fans will go to that one) and the cream on cracker at the day's end, Elche vs Celta Vigo, in a huge battle to end up 14th.
Still, an undaunted, dutiful blog is going to try and find a chewy morsel of interest in this stew of Saturday stuff.
Can life in La Liga get even worse for Betis?
Villarreal vs Real Betis: Sunday 12.00 CET
Once again the question is asked (yeah, sorry about that) and once again the answer is “oh yes”. Last week, Betis lost 2-0 at home to Athletic, where dives were rewarded and huge handballs missed in a quite horrific display from the referee.
It caused quite the kerfuffle in Seville from a side that's had enough bad luck already, without the men in the middle adding to their woes. At least Betis are on the road at Villarreal, away from the abuse of their home fans. They're the kind of taunts that Betis winger Juanfran says the players could do without. “The people who come to insult you are not Béticos, they are just delinquents,” fumed the former Real Madrid player. On the plus side for Betis, they're somehow in the last 16 of the Europa League after a 3-1 aggregate win over Rubin Kazan.
Will Osasuna be layabouts against Levante?
Levante vs Osasuna: Saturday 18.00 CET
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. Getafe, Levante, Almería. The first group of teams are those that Osasuna have taken points off this season. The second posse of Primera outfits are those that the Pamplona outfit have managed to lose against. This continues LLL's theory that Osasuna always wear the big, grown-up trousers when everyone is watching, but blow their bottles against the meat and potato soup of La Liga.
In LLL’s book, this makes Osasuna a bunch of fancy-pants, poetry-reading dilettantes. It's not an accusation normally levelled against the Navarre side, who face Levante on Saturday, the kind of opponents they aren't so keen on embracing week in, week out.
Is anyone watching Getafe anymore?
Getafe vs Espanyol: Saturday 20.00 CET
LLL was expecting Luis García to be history as Getafe coach by now, with the side presenting just one victory in 15 to show for their recent work in La Liga. However, the former Levante man is still there and rightly so, as not even the world’s greatest motivator could persuade the club’s players to aspire to anything more than mid-table. It may well be a tree-falling-in-a-wood, philosophical event for Getafe against Espanyol on Saturday night: if the Madrid club fails to win again, will anyone notice?
How angry are Rayo fans going to be?
Rayo Vallecano vs Valencia: Sunday 21.00 CET
In one of those odd decisions made in La Liga, Rayo were due to be playing on Sunday at midday: the favoured slot for the club in terms of attendance. However, in a reward of the El Madrigal crowd's behaviour a couple of weeks ago after their tear gas attack, Villarreal get to play their game at 12 with Rayo bumped to 9pm on Sunday, a very unfavourable slot indeed for attendance.
Knowing that the Rayo Ultras are very, very reactionary indeed to having their football tinkered with by know-nothing bigwigs, their protests alone will be worth watching. “If you have to change the time of another game, that’s fine, but don’t change the time of the other,” observed Rayo president, Raúl Martín Presa, not unreasonably.
Is this Málaga’s last best chance, since the last best chance?
Málaga vs Valladolid: Saturday 16.00 CET
Every home game for Málaga against beatable opposition is a biggie for the southern side, who are desperately firing on all of their rockets to avoid being sucked into the relegation vortex. Their latest attempt to pick up three points is against Valladolid, another team in deep doo-doo at the bottom. “It’s not a final, but it’s an important game,” noted Willy Caballero, for those wondering whether to tune into the encounter.
Can Athletic tighten grip on a Champions League place?
Athletic Bilbao vs Granada: Friday 20.30 CET
For once, a decent team and a decent game have been jammed into Friday night’s schedule, as opposed to the normal boring-snoring, non-thriller featuring either Levante or Valladolid. Athletic remain in fourth with a decent cushion of four points over fifth, largely due to other sides being a little inconsistent rather than the Basque team being especially hot to trot.
In fact, Athletic have lost two of their last five league games but should find the going comfortable enough against a Granada outfit that can’t seem to make up its mind on whether it fancies a relegation battle or not.
Despite being in the Champions League places and facing a fun campaign to come in the new San Mamés - which is going to look rather spectacular when complete in 2015, by the way - the big question for Ernesto Valverde at the pre-match press conference was whether he'd fancy the Barcelona job next season were it to come up. “I’ve more than enough to deal with here,” joked the Athletic boss, busy finding things to do with striker Gaizka Toquero.
Will there be a Camp Nou recoup after a bad week for Barcelona?
Barcelona vs Almería: Sunday 21.00 CET
What a peculiar seven days in the life of Barcelona, even by their standards. Everything was looking super and dandy after they beat Manchester City over the hills and sea in England. But then the Catalans were played off the park by Real Sociedad and forked out millions to the tax man for a bill the club claim it doesn’t owe. Tata Martino lost his rag in the tunnel in La Anoeta, admitted a tactical blunder and even had the local media questioning his future at the club, despite the team being very much alive and kicking in both La Liga and the Champions League.
Barcelona should be able to purge a little bit of this pain with the visit of Almería to Camp Nou, in an encounter that should be over after four minutes without the injured Gerard Piqué to stuff things up.
Can Atlético rediscover their fighting spirit?
Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid: Sunday 17.00 CET
Double defeats to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey took some shine off the victories in last season’s cup final and earlier on in La Liga, but a complete week off for the Rojiblancos for the first time in 2014 may see Atleti rebooted. If Diego Costa is to be believed, the Vicente Calderón club may well be at its snarling best, with the Spanish-Brazilian striker promising that everyone in the Madrid back-line will smell what he has been cooking. “If I have to hit him, then I will hit him,” promised Costa on his duel with Sergio Ramos. “If he has to hit me then he’ll hit me.”
The match could be the one that finally sees Atlético Madrid bowing out of the title race, though. A win for the visitors would put a six-point gap between the two teams, a difference that might be tricky to close. However, a draw would be handy for both sides, and that is the outcome LLL is betting on for Sunday’s match.
Will Real Madrid suffer post-Europe slump?
Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid: Sunday 17.00 CET
Both Barcelona and Atlético Madrid performed appallingly last week after their respective games against Manchester City and Milan, probably because both clashes were testing, sweaty affairs for the Spaniards. The same cannot be said for Real Madrid’s clash with Schalke, which looked easy-peasy indeed.
With Ronaldo only having played one match in a couple of weeks and the likes of Jesé, Isco and Asier Illaramendi knocking about, Real Madrid also have a big enough squad to cover any players who might be feeling a little worse for wear after the 6-1 tonking. It’s very much a case of how the other half live. Or rather the other 10%, when it comes to La Liga.