Tim Stannard looks ahead to the weekend's games in Spain...
Hip, hip, it’s round two of a steamy late night La Liga and enjoy the fun while it lasts as it all stops for the international break just as things will have started to get juicy. Atlético Madrid will be back in action against Eibar after a proper week’s rest, and Real Madrid and Barcelona have slippery stones of doom awaiting them. Here’s a few posers for the weekend to come.
Will Valencia’s charm offensive work with the fans?
There have been some white handkerchiefs gathering dust in the city of Valencia having failed to be waved over the football-free summer. But they could be all whopped out in Mestalla this weekend and given an airing in the home debut of the new look Valencia under owner Peter Lim and his coach Nuno.
In order to get the fans in the stands on side, Valencia organised a training session in the stadium at 9am on Wednesday with breakfast being served in the stands. During an initiative that looked like a lot of fun as long as a warm croissant was served up, 3,000 jam-loving fans piled in and were then rewarded with bits of kit being chucked at them. Let’s see how that all works on Friday night against Málaga.
Valencia vs Málaga – Friday 10pm CEST
Could Celta Vigo be this year’s hot new thing?
Last season Villarreal got everyone hot under the collar with a sizzling start to the season, playing beautiful plinky planky football across the park. Celta Vigo could be filling that role in the very futuristic year of 2014. Last week’s victory against Getafe was rather impressive and the Galicians will be looking for a repeat performance at Córdoba down in sweltering Andalusia.
Celta club president,Carlos Mouriño certainly feels there are good times to come at the club, now that the debt is down to a more manageable €4 million, a mere trifle in Spain. “We rejected offers for seven players worth €38 million,” boasted the head honcho.
Córdoba vs Celta Vigo – Saturday 7pm CEST
Will Athletic keep the good times going in Bilbao?
And the week just gets better for Athletic. All that troublesome business with last week’s defeat to Málaga is in the dustbin of history. Since then a shakin’ bakin’ San Mamés saw Athletic through the Champions League qualifiers past Napoli and into a very smug group featuring the relocated Shakhtar, Porto, and BATE.
“I’m not so keen on the long trips to the Ukraine and Belarus,” noted club captain Carlos Gurpegui, who leads a team that has a chance to pick up what should be three comfy points against Levante on Saturday.
Athletic Bilbao vs Levante - Saturday 7pm CEST
Are Sevilla losing their bite?
First there was the departure of Gary Medel last summer and now Federico Fazio, an Argentinean centre-back in his purest form, which means downright nasty but in a classy way. The former Sevilla stopper is now with his countryman Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs. Or is he?
Club president José Castro is of the opinion that the defender is available for the away clash with Espanyol, despite the footballer training in London after being presented as a Tottenham player.
“The player has a contract and the money is deposited with La Liga,” said the Sevilla bigwig after Spurs paid out his clause, “but the money is not with Sevilla.” LLL suggests Castro might want to get hold of it a bit sharpish before it is used to redecorate the headquarters.
Espanyol vs Sevilla - Saturday 11pm CEST (yes, 11pm)
How happy must Iker Casillas be?
All is looking sweet for the Real Madrid man after a gloomy start to the last campaign that saw Diego López in his chair, Sheldon Cooper style, and Carlo Ancelotti wanting to carry on the Iker outcast vibe that José Mourinho kicked off.
Twelve months later and López has been packed off to Milan, Keylor Navas looks set to be a benchwarmer and, hip, hip hooray Xabi Alonso has done one to Bayern Munich.
Alonso was reportedly, allegedly, supposedly in a very different dressing room camp to Casillas, all relating to the Mourinho days, a manager to whom the midfielder was very close along with Alvaro Arbeloa. It is no secret at all that there is big tension between the newly-empowered club captain and the full-back, with Arbeloa rumoured to be next to depart.
This leaves Iker sitting pretty and reliant on maintaining still patchy form going forward in La Liga, with a tricky tie at Real Sociedad coming up and Champions League games against Liverpool, Basel and Ludogorets.
Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid – Sunday 9pm CEST
Can Raúl Jiménez start “making history” for Atlético?
This seems to be latest trend for footballer now that wrist-kissing is looking a bit daft – announcing they want to make history with their new clubs whether it be Manchester United or Getafe. Angel di María did it in his open letter on joining Real Madrid – his team-mates have already started the process, but perhaps not in the manner that the winger intended – and the Rojiblanco striker shares the same ambitions.
The Mexican forward has good cause for some crawling as the footballer is a very out Real Madrid fan, so had to backtrack beautifully at the footballer’s presentation on Wednesday. “I have fallen in love with Atlético, I am going through this process,” revealed Jiménez with a response that gets nine out of 10 from LLL in terms of creativity and effort.
Both are needed from the player this season to help out Mario Mandzukic up front, as the blog believes the Croatian’s robust elbows will see one or two suspensions this season. At home to Eibar is as good a place to start as any.
Atlético Madrid vs Eibar – Saturday 9pm CEST
Can Leo keep a smile upon his face?
Normally, Barcelona and Real Madrid squabble among themselves about UEFA fixes to give their particular side a tough group, but this year both are reasonably content. Barça’s biggest challenge is PSG with Ajax also in the group, a side who ain’t the same these days, and APOEL. “The group doesn’t end with PSG,” frowned the club’s sporting director Andoni Zubizaretta, fooling no-one.
The feeling in the Catalan capital has been a good one during the week after an convincing 3-0 victory against Elche in Camp Nou - the least one would expect - and the sight of Leo Messi appearing to enjoy himself. Let’s see how long that lasts in El Madrigal against a Villarreal team that, like a hedgehog-inspired duvet cover, make anyone’s life uncomfortable.
Villarreal vs Barcelona - Sunday 7pm CEST