Tim Stannard looks ahead to a pivotal weekend in La Liga, with the battles at the top and bottom of the table ready for another twist...
In La Liga Loca’s Meaningful Games-ometer, all 10 La Liga matches this weekend have something spicy at stake – from the three title-chasing teams playing back-to-back matches on Saturday, to the five fighting relegation. Bad news for the work-shy blog really.
Even Villarreal have to pick up a win to fend off a rapidly approaching Celta Vigo, who are suddenly in contention for fourth. Everything matters a great deal. So pay attention, earthlings.
Doctor Who for Madrid as players seek outside help
Real Madrid supporters are now enjoying their own mini-version of Rooney’s Great Metatarsal Race of 2006, which dominated the football headlines in England ahead of the World Cup in Germany.
However, it's twice the fun for the hordes of Mordor as both Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo are under watch for their various muscle injuries, which may or may not see them missing the Champions League semi-final return leg against Manchester City.
The problem is that there are two sets of narratives. One from the club which frets a little, and the other from the footballers which is more soothing. This stems from the fact that both Madrid players are reportedly getting their treatment from outside, such is the apparent low opinion of Madrid’s own medical team from the players.
Indeed, Karim Benzema posted a photo of himself on Instagram with Juan Muro, a physio who left the club last summer due to a shake-up. Ronaldo himself was seen possibly climbing in through the boot of a car after receiving stem-cell treatment for a thigh tear. Or non-tear.
What has been forgotten among the hullaballoo is that Real Madrid have a league game to face on Saturday against a Real Sociedad side that recently ran a number over Barcelona, and would be more than happy to repeat the performance on Saturday to end Madrid’s flickering title hopes.
Downtime for Barcelona ahead of Betis battle
It must have been a very peculiar experience for the Barcelona players, who had a whole week without playing football somewhere in the world – the equivalent of mere mortals having to survive a weekend without the internet after a router collapse on Friday night. Books may have even been read, matters were that desperate.
Neymar did what he does on a much-publicised night out in London with some of those attending the PFA awards on Sunday. Gerard Piqué spoke to the media, which is something that always seems to tickle his fancy. The defender soothed Barça worriers that the bad run is well and truly over and that he would happily have dinner with Alvaro Arbeloa if he had to, despite a rather fierce war of words between the pair.
Piqué has a new challenger in the shape of former Real Madrid and current Betis goalkeeper Antonio Adán, who declared last week that he would like to stuff up the league title for Barcelona – just in slightly stronger, less family-friendly terms.
“I understand using this word might have upset some people,” said Adán in Friday’s Marca, “but it’s normal – I spent 16 years at Madrid, I’m a Madridista and have never hidden it.”
LLL has a feeling that the Betis goalkeeper might be in for a very good weekend, as the blog suspects that Catalan points are going to be dropped – just unfortunately for Adán, to benefit Atleti.
Simeone sent to the stands for Atletico’s La Liga finale
All the buzz in the south-side of the Spanish capital is about a legendary Champions League win against Bayern Munich
Unsurprisingly, two days later all the buzz in the south side of the Spanish capital is about a legendary Champions League win against Bayern Munich, proving that if the Rojiblancos are going to win the whole thing then it will be done the hard way.
But there is graft to be undertaken on Saturday against Rayo Vallecano, a team that can normally be relied upon to roll over, albeit putting up a bit of fight at first. However, whether that fight will survive a smothering by Atlético Madrid’s footballing fire blanket remains to be seen.
One fairly important part of the Rojiblancos rise is going to be missing from the sidelines of the Vicente Calderón, with Diego Simeone banished from the touchlines for three matches after being held responsible for a ball being rolled onto the pitch against Málaga.
The first appeal against the ban failed, leaving the imperious figure of Mono Burgos in charge for another version of the Madrid derby.
Perilous Primera five continue drop-zone scramble
Rayo Vallecano are just one of a quintet set to duke it out to avoid the three relegation places, although Espanyol could be dragged into the affair should matters go very pear-shaped for the Pericos.
Sporting have an unbelievably good chance to have a much more enjoyable weekend with the visit of Eibar on Friday night, the Basque side very much in party mode after affirming their Primera status for another year. “We lose 70% of our chances to stay up if we don’t win,” said the very precise Sporting coach, Abelardo.
Granada sit one spot above Sporting and one above the relegation fray. They also have a decent chance to pick up a win, this time against Las Palmas, another team happy to have achieved a snug mid-table spot, thank you very much.
The mini-revival from second-bottom Getafe may continue up at Deportivo, with the players pitching in to pay for supporters coaches going up to La Coruña. It sounds heart-warming, but a hire car is probably all that's needed to pack in the away fans of the Coliseum club.
Poor Levante are stuck three points adrift at the bottom of the table and have to potentially watch most of their rivals win before facing Málaga on Monday. That won’t be fun.