La Preview: Gary Neville has a saviour, and Atlético Madrid a striker saga

Neville's on the brink, Atleti are delighted about Jackson Martinez's exit and Sevilla are sick of the sight of Celta. Tim Stannard previews the weekend in Spain...

In a move that will delight La Liga Loca’s editors, the mentions of Real Madrid and Barcelona this week will be at a minimum. The blog is still curious to see whether Zizou's new über project will flounder at Granada as it did at Betis two weeks ago, though, despite some home hammering of lowly cannon fodder.

And as for Barcelona… well, the league leaders will be on the road at Levante. The combination of a post-Valencia hangover and a midday kick-off suggests a slow 3-0 win in what will be two trips to the city next week. Speaking of Valencia, there really is just the single place to start this weekend’s big preview...

Is Javier Bardem the only man who can save G-Nev?

The biggest problem for Gary Neville on the completion of the Mancunian’s internship at Valencia – whether it be at the end of the season or Sunday night after the Betis clash – is what will happen should the former full-back decide that coaching may not be his beef, and opt for returning to punditry. If you can’t do then teach, and all that.

Nevilles

The Neville brothers had to endure a tough evening against Barca on Wednesday

All it would take is a Mick McCarthy type to yell "What did yer win in Spain, yer git?! You know nuthin’ Gary Neville!" after a harsh bit of post-match criticism to blow up a previously promising TV career.

Marca report that Neville no longer has “a shield” despite being the owner’s best friend, and that it's all or nothing against Betis on Sunday

But all that potential destiny is still uncertain, as Neville still has a life left after the debacle of a 7-0 defeat by an admittedly unplayable Barcelona on Wednesday night. Marca report that Neville no longer has “a shield” despite being the owner’s best friend, and that it's all or nothing against Betis on Sunday.

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With a dressing room whose collective chin is on the floor from setback after setback, and two matches of being abused by angry fans, the job for the former Manchester United man is to turn some frowns upside down. How? With the help of an 'anger translator' who will need to deliver a heck of an Oscar-winning performance akin to the one used by President Obama (below). What’s Javier Bardem up to this weekend?

The one tenuous straw that Neville may be able to grasp is that Sunday’s opponents Real Betis are in just as much of a mess. The Seville side haven't won in their last nine league games, with the sparkling Real Madrid performance of a fortnight ago being a fluke more than anything else.

Club president Juan Carlos Oller resigned earlier this week, admitting that he only took the post in the first place because “no one else wanted to do it”. The Betis sporting director admitted that a huge mistake was made in signing Rafael van der Vaart last summer. “I’m still here!” may have been the response from the Dutchman, had he been in earshot.

Rafael van der Vaart

"Hi" ... "bye"

Thursday did see the ship steadying a little with a temporary president taking over who ratified the position of manager Juan Merino until the end of the season, ending a short interim spell after the firing of Pepe Mel. The new president then reversed the decision not to sign the former Brazil (and out of contract) striker Leandro Damiao.

Betis vs Valencia: Sunday 16:00 CET

Atlético and Eibar's tale of five strikers

It sounds like Jackson Martínez won't be getting hugely fond exit when the Colombian striker leaves for China in a rather surprising €42 million deal. Both Marca and AS write that the forward was a less-than-sparkling personality in the dressing room, preferring to keep himself to himself, and didn't fit into the philosophy of Diego Simeone – running until your eyes bleed.

Martinez

Martinez's eye-watering transfer fee for his move to China raised a few eyebrows

The next move for the team will be to spend the money bringing another former striker into the fold, with club president Enrique Cerezo admitting that Diego Costa will be a summer target. This will be especially important as yet another former and current striker, Fernando Torres, is set to return from whence he came (Milan) after largely failing to do anything notable this season for the Rojiblancos.  

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The next move for the team will be to spend the money on bringing another former striker into the fold with club president, Enrique Cerezo, admitting that Diego Costa will be a summer target

Actually, there is room for more talk of a former and possible future striker. Please keep up. Borja Bastón, currently on loan with Eibar, Saturday afternoon's opponents at the Vicente Calderón, is pulling up both daisies and worms in La Primera with 15 goals this season. Unfortunately for the Basque visitors he won’t be able to score anymore this weekend after Eibar declined to pay the €150,000 required to field him in the Spaniard’s loan clause.

That blow might have been softened by the arrival of new forward Kike from Middlesbrough. Unfortunately, Eibar ‘did a De Gea’ in the registration process and the deal missed the deadline by one minute which means that the striker won't be able to play for the rest of the season. Doh.

Atlético Madrid vs Eibar: Saturday 16.00 CET

Celta and Sevilla continue week-long triple date

Well, that was a bit of a letdown for the Spanish FA, who may have been hoping for a bit of tension in the second legs of the Copa del Rey semi-finals next week. As reported in previous dispatches, Valencia capitulated in some style to write off one tie. The problem is that Celta Vigo went down the same path with a 4-0 defeat to Sevilla in the Sánchez Pizjuán.

At least the Galicians have had a dress rehearsal for this big game – the two teams meet again in Vigo on Sunday to perhaps try out a few moves to help perform some miracles in a week’s time.

In terms of a decent final, it might be for the best ultimately: Sevilla’s experience as a big-match team could potentially act as some kind of antidote to Barcelona’s increasingly brilliant football.

Celta Vigo vs Sevilla: Sunday 18.15 CET

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