Raúl’s return, Athletic’s exile & Villarreal’s two-month match

FFT's Spanish correspondent, Tim Stannard, previews the upcoming action in La Liga...

Friday

Getafe vs. Almería - 20.00 CEST
Long-time Getafe-fancier, La Liga Loca, was a little perplexed to discover that the massed ranks of the Coliseum crazies - about two dozen cranky, middle-aged men - were most unhappy about last weekend's away defeat to Real Sociedad. However, the blog found the familiar manner of Getafe’s limp display rather comforting in this ever-changing world in which we live.
Midfielder Pedro Leon was wheeled out to put a positive spin on the result and the campaign to come, with an air of gloom already surrounding the club. “There has only been three changes to the squad last season,” argued the former Real Madrid man. “And with all respect to Miguel Torres, he didn’t play much last year. We didn’t give off a great image against La Real, but we are waiting for the Almería match to change this image and above all, win.”
LLL Prediction - Home win

Athletic Bilbao vs. Osasuna - 22.00 CEST
It is all gone a bit Challenge Anneka in Bilbao, as builders beaver away to get the new San Mamés ready for action - the three sides that are going to be in use for this season, at least. However, it was always going to be an uphill battle to have the ground ready for Athletic’s first home game; a local clash that is 100% Basque - from its hair follicles to its tippy toes.
Athletic will be facing Osasuna in the ground of Real Sociedad, a perfect day for those with far too many ‘X’s in their name to be properly pronounceable. In an impressive display of mass transport, AS report that 328 buses will be used to transport fans from Bilbao to San Sebastian. The return leg will be taking place at midnight, so LLL can only imagine the fun of organising that late night trip.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Saturday

Elche vs. Real Sociedad - 19.00 CEST
Elche certainly had a bit of a rude awakening to life in La Primera by being thumped 3-0 at Rayo Vallecano on Monday night. An even sterner test awaits the Alicante outfit this weekend, with the visit of the mighty Real Sociedad, a team on the brink of the Champions League proper after a 2-0 win at Lyon.
The coach of the top-flight newbies, Fran Escribá, has been mulling over the heavy defeat. He noted that his team were “defensively weak and innocent up front.”
Elche president José Sepulcre agreed, and insisted that the team “can and must give much more.”
LLL Prediction - Home win

Jéremy Mathieu: Valencia's fiery Frenchman

Espanyol vs. Valencia - 21.00 CEST
The mad men of Mestalla managed to make it a full three days into the new season without a very public dressing room blow-out. The guilty party was defender Jéremy Mathieu, who is not one of Miroslav Djukic’s favourites these days, apparently. “I do not close the door to leaving the club,” fumed the fiery Frenchman. “It depends on the games to come, if I do not enter into the plans of the coach.”
Strong stuff indeed. Except a beep-beep-beep reverse took place just hours later, with a retraction from the player on the Valencia website. “I feel very good here,” was, in fact, what Mathieu had meant to say.
“It was just a hot-headed moment,” claimed club president, Amadeo Salva, “Valencia must be respected, and the coach.”
This looks like being just the first of a number of player tiffs in Mestalla. Next up will be goalkeeper, Vicente Guaita, then Sofiane Feghouli...
LLL Prediction - Away win

Villarreal vs. Real Valladolid - 23.00 CEST
The best thing about Villarreal’s return to La Primera after a year in exile is that they are a club most people in Spain have a great love for, and enjoy watching. So of course, the Powers-That-Be in television planning land want to make this leisurely pursuit as tricky as possible.
Villarreal’s first match was jammed on a Monday night at the helpful time of 10pm. Still, that is a slight improvement on the first game in El Madrigal, which is being played on Sunday at 11pm. That, in turn, is slightly worse than their round three fixture, a game that has Villarreal up in Pamplona taking on Osasuna on Saturday at 11. The beauty of that match is that, given the match starts on August 31st, the Yellow Submarine will start playing in one month and finish in another.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Sunday

Atlético Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano - 19.00 CEST
While Atlético are still basking in the fuzzy glory of giving Barcelona a bloodied nose in the Spanish Super Cup - and bloodied legs, knees, chest and arms - there is still movement in the Rojiblanco squad. Adrían’s days are numbered on the grounds that the striker is not that good. Just ask Diego Simeone, who refuses to ever pick him.  
Rather bizarrely, Martín Demichelis may well be leaving the side despite having only just joined from Málaga a few weeks ago. Rumour has it that Manuel Pellegrini wants to be reunited with his defensive stalwart from last season. The blog hopes that the swarthy Argentine has not unpacked his boxes yet. Another footballer who might be making another swift transfer is Jérémy Toulalan, who has only just joined Monaco. Atlético wanted the midfielder when he was at Málaga but found the Spanish side unwilling to sell. The French outfit might be more amenable to the idea it seems.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Levante's Pape Diop (right) is in demand

Levante vs. Sevilla - 21.00 CEST
Another tough week for Levante who lost the rather key midfielder Vicente Iborra to Sevilla. The plight of the Valencia club may well worsen with another player in the centre of the park, Pape Diop, also attracting the attentions of clubs outside La Liga.
In a statement which suggests the sale of the Senegalese sensation is imminent, club president Quico Catalán announced that “Pape Diop is going to remain a Levante player. He is not for sale.” However, Levante’s head honcho did admit that the situation with the departure of Obafemi Martins - when the player paid himself out of his own contract - could be repeated.
LLL Prediction - Away win

Málaga vs. Barcelona - 21.00 CEST
It is easy to see why Barcelona and Real Madrid players are generally reluctant to ever speak in public. Whenever it happens, trouble tends to brew. Xavi Hernández was reminded of this when noting that under Jordi Roura, there was not a great deal of emphasis on tactics. Of course this was seen as a giant tabloid “XAVI SNUB SHOCK,”. This, in turn, forced the Catalan footballer to come out and try to give a little bit more meaning to what he was trying to get over.
“What I said was miscommunicated,” claimed the Barça man. “I only wanted to say that with Tito we were working more on the tactical aspects.” To LLL’s slow-witted ears, that was pretty much what Xavi had said the first time around.
LLL Prediction - Away win

Betis vs. Celta Vigo - 23.00 CEST
A bit of a grueling campaign for Betis kicked off on Thursday night with a Europa League qualifier against Czech side, Jablonec. But the Seville side completed a fairly perky week for Spanish clubs in Europe with a 2-1 win away from home. “Looking back at the game, it was the best result possible,” said a surprisingly glum Pepe Mel, with the Betis boss ruing that “when we don’t have the team we are too vulnerable, at least at the moment.”
LLL Prediction - Home win

Monday

Granada vs. Real Madrid - 21.00 CEST
LLL has no idea why Real Madrid are playing on a Monday night, aside from a token “hey, look everyone has to endure it,” message from La Liga’s busy-body organisers. The week in Mordor has revolved around Gareth Bale (again) and the return of Raúl to the club, after his rather sudden departure of three years ago.
The Madrid legend returned to his old stomping ground with Al-Sadd in an exhibition match on Thursday night, but ended up playing a half of football for both sides. Raúl managed to score Madrid’s opener but noted that the comeback to the club was “a bit delayed by it was the perfect tribute.” The former club captain also offered himself up as alternative should the Gareth Bale deal collapse into itty-bitty- pieces. “I told Ancelotti: if ‘Bale doesn’t come, I would cost a lot less,’” joshed the other man-of the moment for Madrid.
LLL Prediction - Draw (yes, draw!)


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