Big Weekend Preview: Will champions Atletico Madrid show some stones?
They’re back, back, back! La Liga’s finest have returned from their travels, although there is a good chance that neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Leo Messi will feature too much this weekend due to knacks and scrunchy jet lag fatigue.
Besides, the matches of the Big Two and even Atlético Madrid are not overly interesting this weekend. Instead, Deportivo is the place to keep on eye on, with one club pretty much run by super agent, Jorge Mendes, hosting another, in the bat-like shape of Valencia.
It’s a battle between one panting club that would have embraced the international break and another that would have wanted to keep on, keeping on. Here are some more points of order of week eight in La Liga...
Will Atlético show some stones against Espanyol?
It was a glorious, angry Diego Simeone in action in Thursday’s training ahead of the weekend's visit of Espanyol to the Vicente Calderón, as he welcomed back his international players with open arms. Well, aggressive, crossed arms. “I don’t give a s*** about your national teams,” yelled the Argentinean. “The only thing that matters to me is Atleti. Show some balls, nothing else matters here. Anyone who doesn’t work, is out of here. I don’t care who it is. Someone’s tired, someone doesn’t want to run...”
All LLL can say is swoon, swoon, swoon, sigh.
Atlético Madrid v Espanyol: Sunday 12.00 CEST
Will Eibar players miss out on Camp Nou magic memories?
Poor plucky Eibar. The club have spent an eternity battling for the experience of going to the Camp Nou and taking on Barcelona’s finest, and instead they may be stuck facing also-rans, like World Cup winner Pedro.
Recent friendlies for Brazil and Argentina saw Neymar and Leo Messi earning millions for their international federations in far flung parts of the globe such as Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore, trips that might leave the pair a little funky and flustered.
To this end, both could be left on the bench, with bigger clashes against Ajax in the Champions League and the Clásico around the corner. LLL suggests that might actually be a very astute move from Luis Enrique, judging by the attitude taken by Eibar defender, Abraham Minero, who promises to “go to the Camp Nou with a knife between our teeth,” and phones ready for a few selfies in the pre-match warm-up perhaps.
Does Gerard Piqué need a win bonus against Eibar?
Being played in the smaller matches these days for Barcelona might help swell the coffers of Gerard Piqué, who may have some legal bills headed his way. Last Sunday night the defender was out on the town with his brother, who ended up being fined for leaving his car in a bus lane, outside a night club.
The Barcelona defender did not take to kindly to this happening and was charged by the police with a “lack of respect and light disobedience,” according to ‘Marca’. ‘La Vanguardia’ reported that the fine ticket was thrown from the car window with Piqué observing that “you’re jealous of me, because I’m famous.” “I’m sorry and it won’t happen again,” was the Tweet from the footballer, who now faces a fun visit to court to resolve the affair to sit on another type of bench.
Can Valencia overcome a fear of failure?
Despite a new coach, new players and (almost) new owner, there will always be an inherent tendency for Valencia to implode at the faintest whiff of distress. Currently, the Mestalla men are far from suffering that fate, just two points off the top of the table and unbeaten in La Liga.
That record should remain in tact against Deportivo, a team with just the single win and where Nuno used to be goalkeeper, all be it loaned out for much of a four year spell. However, midfield cleaner-upper, Javi Fuego, is well aware of the dangers of a spiraling Valencia implosion at any moment. “We need to be ready for the bad times,” warned the former Rayo rampager. With all the hugs in the world towards Depor, hopefully the bad times are at least another week away.
Deportivo v Valencia: Sunday 19.00 CEST
Will Athletic build on a rare piece of good news?
Before the international break, Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde said that the rest would be used to reboot what has so far been an awful campaign in La Liga - one that sees the Basque side currently floundering in the relegation zone. After a fortnight of wound-licking for much of the squad, the Bilbao outfit face a feisty Celta Vigo side in San Mamés and trying to repeat the healthiness of the club off the pitch, on the footballing side.
This week, Athletic announced the rarest thing in Spanish football, a hefty profit. In fact, last year the club made €28 million after the sale of players and the inability to buy many due to the Basque-ish restrictions.
The other bright spot in an otherwise bleak period for Athletic was utility genius, Oscar de Marcos, renewing his contract to 2019. A few goals and a repeat of his form from two years ago, would be a fine way to repay that deal.
Athletic Bilbao v Celta Vigo: Sunday 17.00 CEST
Can Lass Bangoura end a tough week against Granada?
The Rayo Vallecano winger is more renowned in La Liga for overhitting crosses, however the footballer was more in the news in recent days for withdrawing from the Guinea training camp for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers due to the fears of the Ebola outbreak. This provoked some rather unfair comments on social media - imagine that - that Lass had caught this horrible disease.
“It’s as if (Ebola) appeared just two minutes ago,” said Rayo coach, Paco Jémez, in a moving defence of his player, “but it has been killing people for 40 years.”
“In Cataluyna, since September, 10 people have died of Legionnares disease and no one has said anything. What’s more four others are very seriosuly ill.”
Can Levante keep up the pressure on Real Madrid?
Levante have been a bit of a thorn in the side over the past three years, in their own home. In the Santiago Bernabéu, the clash is a one-sided affair but in Valencia Levante tend to push the visitors hard and dish out the odd bloodied nose. Indeed, two years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo, scored a goal with just one eye open having suffered a flying elbow.
Unfortunately, this season’s Levante is far from the rumbustious outfit of old, having won just the once and conceded 15 in seven games. “I’ll take a draw,” said under-pressure José Luis Mendilibar, “I am not mad.”
Levante v Real Madrid: Sunday 16.00 CEST