The meeting between eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid isn't as exciting as it could be, but there's a key relegation clash to look forward to says Tim Stannard...
La Liga Loca has a sneaky feeling that the season is going to produce two more Clásicos in the Champions League. And these will be more of the traditional variety, in that people will be genuinely excited by them.
That’s not to say that Saturday’s version in La Liga isn't noteworthy, it’s just that it’s possible to watch it with some multi-tasking action going on, like tidying up the kitchen. But let’s not forget that there are nine other games taking place, including a Madrid derby relegation special and Valencia facing life PG – Post-Gary...
Will Zizou succeed either way?
Saturday’s Clasico is more like a slightly competitive game of chess between two old men who never really got on
If the Clásicos of yore between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were Flash Gordon and Timothy Dalton duking it out on a moving spiky platform, then Saturday’s latest edition is more like a slightly competitive game of chess between two old men who never really got on, after one pinched the other’s girlfriend when they were 17.
The 10-point difference between the two teams is an obvious reason for the lack of tension, only worth a '1' on the Clasico-drama-meter. The match isn't really a referendum on either of the two bosses.
Luis Enrique is as safe as house, and if the match is a heavy beating for Zinedine Zidane it will potentially give the Frenchman some wiggle room in rebuilding the squad over the summer, away from the interfering clutches of Florentino Pérez.
Should Zidane prevail and come up trumps in the Camp Nou, then the Madrid president will probably renew the manager’s contract to 2025 on Monday, to keep the subsequent positive news cycle spinning that little bit further forward.
However, that is quite unlikely, as Saturday’s Clásico combines two Achilles heels for Real Madrid – playing away from home, and an opponent who is quite good. Which is why Gerard Piqué might be gearing up for some trolling and taunting across his numerous social media platforms on Saturday night as Barcelona take a 13-point advantage over their Clásico cousins.
Will Rayo’s dog go to doggy heaven against Getafe?
There are some people whose dog dies, and it doesn’t really matter. Others would be destroyed
The real drama of the weekend might not be at the Camp Nou but at the equally spectacular setting of Rayo’s three-sided arena in a relegation scrap against cross-city cousins Getafe. Indeed, Marca have branded the match as being worth ‘four points’ which may be news to the organisers of La Liga and the fellow relegation-threatened teams.
Getafe are currently third-from-bottom in the table, an unusual spot for a side that normally waves affectionately at the relegation zone from across the room, but rarely engages.
Sitting above them but currently only on goal difference are Rayo. At the end of the season, the head-to-head record between the pair will count… and LLL has now just understood why the game is worth four points. Sorry Marca. Getafe currently hold that advantage after a 3-1 win in the Coliseum earlier this season.
Rayo boss Paco Jémez was caught between wanting to recognise the importance of the match, while refusing to call it ‘a final’. Apparently a defeat would depend on the manner it was received by himself and his players.
“There are some people whose dog dies, and it doesn’t really matter,” noted Pac. “Others would be destroyed.” LLL would be in the latter category if anything ever happened to sweet Bucky Buck Bucks. And the blog feels the same way about these two plucky Madrid outfits.
Are Valencia built for relegation fight with new, new, new boss?
LLL’s Valencia radar is now completely out of whack. Before, it could boldly predict that the side’s clash at Las Palmas on Saturday would be a dead cert defeat.
I cannot give any assurances that we are not going to sell players
On second thoughts, the blog has just been reminded that the one club in La Liga that is definitely not built for bonding together and scrapping – aside from Getafe – is Valencia, with the dressing room as fractured as an iPad screen dropped from an inch.
And all that is the case despite the departure of an Englishman in what will forever be known as ‘The Week of Gary Neville’ in La Liga. His former and very temporary No.2, Pako Ayestarán, is now in charge for the rest of the season before what is set to be another tumultuous summer for the institution which doesn't have Champions League income pouring in.
“I cannot give any assurances that we are not going to sell players,” admitted the Valencia president Layhoon Chan, in the downbeat presentation of Neville’s replacement and the team’s third coach of the season – four if you count the stint by Phil Neville.
Listening to the jeers of the crowd throughout the year, that news of player departures might be music to the ears of some Valencia supporters.
Can rebooted Atlético prosper with Clásico attention suck?
Aside from a bunch of players picking up knocks and niggles on international duty, the fortnight break came at good time for Atlético, a team last seen losing to Sporting.
Saúl and Yannick Carrasco are now sidelined, adding to the absences of first-choice centre-back pairing Diego Godín and José Giménez, but it gave everyone a chance to forget the existence of the Rojiblancos once again – the stealthy cover preferred by the low-key Diego Simeone.
That, combined with El Clásico hoovering up the attention in Spain, means that Atleti’s home clash with Betis will be largely overlooked, although it will allow Simeone’s side to either pull away from Real Madrid in third, or close in on Barcelona at the top. Or both.
While the club’s Argentine boss kept himself to himself, the No.2 – former Atlético Madrid keeper Mono Burgos – revealed one of the secrets of the team’s success. Aside from fear. “He tells each player to win every 15 minutes,” hushed Diego’s right-hand man.