La Preview: Barca bid farewell as Atletico look to take advantage

A preoccupied Barcelona, determined Atleti and resurgent Ronaldo provide Tim Stannard's talking points this week - not to mention Gary Neville's La Liga debut...

For some unknown but hopefully soon-to-be-identified reason, La Liga Loca is feeling rather tingly and excited about this weekend’s fun-stuffed action. Most unnerving. Even Friday’s opener between Getafe and Real Sociedad appears intriguing with the recent revival of the Basque side post-David Moyes and Getafe still being bafflingly unpredictable. And Merciful Zeus, Levante against Granada looks like a doozy too, with the possibility of a 3-3 draw, despite all the evidence to the contrary. But here’s a bunch of questions to whet the appetite for the weekend, focussing on some big cheeses of La Liga.

Will Barca jet off to Japan with La Liga lead intact?

And so Barcelona head off to Japan to play in the wonderfully prestigious Club World Cup, both a globe-spanning celebration of football and a fine way to ruin a perfectly good season, as Real Madrid discovered last year. With the visit of Deportivo not expected to be anything other than an unnecessarily nervy 2-0 win, the gossip around the club has been Luis Enrique’s disgruntlement that Barca might not be able to go into the transfer market in the winter to find another forward. Called Nolito. Although Friday’s Sport touted the intriguing story that they have approached Alvaro Negredo and Valencia over a loan deal.

The failure to use a substitute at Valencia has been interpreted by La Liga’s entrails-readers as a hair-shirt message to the Catalan club’s bean-counters to scrabble around in the coffers for some cash in Barca’s run for another Treble. That message was reinforced with the news of an injury to Neymar that may see him out until the end of the year. It was a reminder that the imperious Messi-Neymar-Suárez trident is not always going to be feasible either through form, injury, or court appearance regarding alleged tax fraud.

Barcelona vs Deportivo: Saturday 16.00 CET

Is Ronaldo finally in his happy place?

In just the space of a few weeks, the Ronaldo-Happy-O’meter dial has moved into the ‘very content, seeing out the rest of my contract at Madrid, thanks very much’ zone, when it’s abundantly clear that the Portuguese-Man-of-Phwoar will be off to PSG over the summer, for a two-year spell before hooking up with David Beckham’s Miami franchise. For the record, when LLL says ‘fact’ it means ‘wild speculation’.

Four goals against Malmo in the Champions League turned Ronaldo into a chatty type on Wednesday evening when telling the press that he was going to stay true to his contract, that he was merely swapping pleasantries with Laurent Blanc last month on the pitch, and that he would only play in France if Lacoste build him a mansion literally made from popped collar polo shirts.

There was also the hint that he may have been playing injured, a story that Friday’s edition of Marca lead with, suggesting that the forward has been suffering from achy tendons of late. His left knee, now in its fourth decade of use, will be off to the Madrigal on Sunday to take on a Villarreal side that is Sevilla-esque in that it could simultaneously beat Real Madrid quite comfortably, or get rolled over.

Villarreal vs Real Madrid: Sunday 18.15 CET

Can Atlético set up ultimate Christmas party?

With Barcelona popping off to Japan to fulfil their FIFA duties, the team that might well be top of the league at the end of the next weekend and then Christmas will be Atlético Madrid. Not that most of the Spanish media will notice. Instead, the name of the team in first place in the league tables will appear fuzzy, with much head-scratching and temple-rubbing like victims of mind control in a Sci-Fi film.


Atleti are once again fighting for the La Liga lead

The first part of the two-pronged mission is to squeeze a result out of the clash against Athletic Bilbao - a match that could both be great and awful at the same time like a football version of Schrodinger’s cat - and then follow up with a win at Málaga in a game that was designed for Atlético’s relentlessly grinding nature.

Atlético Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao: Sunday 20:30 CET

Can Gary Neville survive La Liga debut?

Within seconds of Valencia’s defeat to Lyon in the Champions League, the hashtag of ‘Nevilleout’ was already in use. Admittedly, it was LLL that kicked it off, but that is going to be the new existence for Gary Neville with supporters that are not in the least bit interested in the medium-to-long term.


Neville's Champions League bow with Valencia ended in defeat

The Neviller now faces another dose of reality in La Liga, a trip to Eibar - a team who are like an undersized air mattress in that they delight in making life very uncomfortable in very compact surroundings. The ninth-placed Basque team are currently in nose-to-the-grindstone mode avoiding the talk of a European place, by channelling Leicester in looking to get to the 40-point mark. If the former Manchester United player was missing the days of an FA Cup clash against Kettering, then his desires will be fulfilled on Sunday.

Eibar vs Valencia: Sunday 16.00 CET

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