FourFourTwo's Spanish expert Tim Stannard assesses this weekend's La Liga action and asks the key questions...
Will Levante shake off their lousy losing streak?
Levante vs Elche: Friday December 13 - 21.00 CET
Few may have noticed the plight of lowly Levante of late, on the grounds that it is... well... Levante, but the Valencia club are suffering a bit of bother. The side lead by Joaquín Caparrós have been in complete free-fall having lost four league games in a row along with a Copa del Rey clash.
Fluffy old Elche offer a possible escape route on Friday, though, with club captain Juanfran admitting that the match is “the most important of the year, so far.” The fact that this has been chosen for the pre-weekend graveyard slot should not be any kind of suggestion or implication over the quality of the football that will be served up. Oh no.
Will history repeat itself for Real Madrid at Osasuna?
Osasuna vs Real Madrid: Saturday December 14 - 16.00 CET
Osasuna: iffy defence, wholly hopeless up front. That’s pretty much a given looking at the league table with the Navarra side only one point above the relegation zone and in possession of the worst scoring record in the division with 11 goals. However, the club appears to be some kind of Venus flytrap to the Big Two.
An unsuspecting Barcelona plodded into the team’s Pamplona jaws earlier in October and only came out with a goalless draw, the first in the numerous crises Tata Martino’s side have apparently endured this season. Real Madrid are making the same journey on Saturday, with memories of a grim 0-0 in the same fixture last season still vaguely fresh in Madridista minds.
Indeed, the capital city club have only picked up one victory in the past five visits to El Sadar. Madrid certainly have the mightily impressive Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo up front to break the deadlock but not even this titanic trio may be enough to battle both the Osasuna back four (10, really) as well as history.
Will former forward show any Piti to Rayo?
Rayo Vallecano vs Granada: Saturday December 14 - 18.00 CET
LLL’s memory is an extremely poor one with a retention of barely 14 seconds. Only really ingrained facts and events remain fixed in the blog’s addled mind. This is why it has great certainty that Rayo Vallecano are not doing very well at the moment, despite the club’s last league game being a whole two weeks ago. Just one win in six leaves the Vallecas side only one place out of the relegation zone and facing the visit of a team with last season’s top scorer, Piti, now in its ranks. LLL’s memory is an extremely poor one with a retention of barely 14 seconds.
Rayo were not able to get enough cash together to keep the out-of-contract footballer in its ranks and have since suffered in comparison to the past two sprightlier campaigns for the Madrid side. The Granada striker is a little unsure as to how he will be greeted by the Vallecas crowd, expecting the reception to be mixed. “There will be opinions of all types. Some will receive me well, others will be worse, but that’s normal,” opined Piti.
Can Barcelona take advantage of Villarreal-lite?
Barcelona vs Villarreal: Saturday December 15 - 20.00 CET
LLL is not entirely sure if Barcelona are in crisis at the moment. Technically-speaking and in terms of La Liga, the alarm bells are ringing as the team are still on a losing streak of one - the defeat at Athletic Bilbao a fortnight ago. Which feels like a really long time ago.
But since that loss in San Mamés, Barcelona have won a Copa Del Rey clash and given Celtic a 6-1 thrashing in the Camp Nou with Neymar getting a timely hat-trick. The Villarreal game would have been quite the test for the Catalan club, if it weren’t for the fact that the team’s most important players in Bruno and Cani are suspended and injured respectively for the clash.
Instead, the danger man for the Yellow Submarine is Giovani dos Santos, making a return to the Camp Nou but coming in peace, it seems. “I only have gratitude for Barça, I have no desire for revenge or anything like that,” promised the Mexican striker?
Will Málaga get what keeper says they deserve?
Málaga vs Getafe: Saturday December 15 - 22.00 CET
The blog cannot resist the reality anymore. Málaga are in a big, stinking crisis despite the 1-1 draw at Villarreal in the last round. Although fans have been booing and whistling, some of the toughest criticism of the team has come from the players themselves.
Weligton recently admitted that the squad needed some better footballers and now Willy Caballero has come out and suggested that Málaga are lucky even to be 15th place. “We should be in the relegation zone for how badly we have been doing,” irked the Argentinean keeper, “not being there is down to luck.”
What can get Espanyol to wake up?
Almería vs Espanyol: Sunday December 15 - 12.00 CET
It is not often that a footballer actually admits to a slumber party at the club, but that’s what Raúl Rodríguez has come clean to at Espanyol. “You could possibly talk about some kind of relaxation,” confessed the defender talking about the team's past two results. The first of those was a 2-1 defeat at home to Real Sociedad and the second saw a 2-2 draw at Jaen in the Copa del Rey.
Can Real Betis get any better?
Real Sociedad vs Real Betis: Sunday December 15 - 17.00 CET
LLL must admit that it doesn’t really have a lot of time for the Europa League stages, unless it is paid to. So it failed to tune in to the Thursday night clash against Rijeka and a good thing too considering the game turned out to be a goalless draw.
The match was the second for new boss Juan Carlos Garrido. The first was a bit of an abject performance in the cup against Lleida and the Europe clash seems to be not much better. “It’s a lack of confidence,” confirmed Pepe Mel's replacement.
Life isn’t going to get any easier on Sunday unfortunately with a clash against La Real, a team that are now out of Europe for the year.
Can Sevilla survive the day without Del Nido?
Sevilla vs Athletic Bilbao: Sunday December 15 - 19.00 CET
There is going to be a new bum in Sevilla’s presidential seat on Sunday. Last Monday, José María Del Nido, resigned his post having lost his appeal against a conviction for corruption. Facing seven years in jail, Del Nido realised that having an actual criminal in charge of a club was too wacky even for Andalusia and handed over the reigns to former vice president, José Castro.
In a teary farewell, Del Nido apologised for the shame upon the club and for not quitting sooner. “I considered myself innocent and that’s why I stayed on.” The now ex-prez now has one more appeal process to try out and a request for an official pardon to keep him out of the slammer. “I would not be the first to be pardoned over the centuries,” said the hopeful former lawyer of Jesús Gil.
Can The Incredible Atlético keep on keeping on?
Atlético Madrid vs Valencia: Sunday December 15 - 21.00 CET
“Atleti Smash!” That has been the mantra for the Rojiblancos over the past two weeks since La Liga went into a lull. Sant Andreu were taken apart in a series of the most sensual of moves while Porto were slain in the Champions League, in a match that the Spanish side didn’t even need to win. Next in line for a slippering is Valencia, an outfit that used to hold the mantle of the third best in Spain, but are now lurching from one crisis to another.
The latest is of an institutional nature with Bankia, the financial institution holding some €300m of the club’s debt, stating that the only way out of the club’s financial world of doom is via a sale rather than refinancing. It was a call that everyone in the club and even members of the local government weighed in on, with Valencia’s future looking murkier than ever.
Who really has it in for Valladolid?
Real Valladolid vs Celta Vigo: Monday December 16 - 22.00 CET
Their cup game last weekend was at Saturday at 10 at night. The next league match is on Monday, also at 10pm. Valladolid is really, really cold. Someone out there has it in for the Pucela side, there’s no doubt about that.