Tim Stannard poses the questions from Spain this weekend ahead of a tantalising set of clashes...
It feels good to have a weekend without a Clásico to clog up the works.
A weekend where there's a little more wriggle room in the spotlight for players who don’t happen to be Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Unless the first breaks the league scoring record and the latter bangs in five against Granada before turning into liquid gold, of course.
ELSEWHERE IN España
Barça have a tantalising game against a splendid Celta Vigo side that has got LLL’s juices going, while Joaquín Caparrós will hope to park his Granada Dreamliner against visiting Real Madrid.
Meanwhile, second-placed Sevilla will need to step up to the proverbial plate away at Athletic while a newly-enriched Valencia are heading off for a local derby against Villarreal. A Clásico-free weekend in La Liga is looking better by the second.
Will Messi be able to hobble through Celta Vigo test?
Kerthumph. There was the story that LLL was waiting for. The story that always comes out in the Spanish media whenever Messi or Ronaldo have a stinker. Of course, a failure to perform was nothing to do with a temporary dose of big-game bottling, but because the player in question was secretly struggling through the match with a wooden leg, one lung, anti-gravity boots or hypnotised by the opposition into believing they were Julien Faubert. Messi’s no-show in the Bernabéu last week was supposedly because the forward was playing with pain-killing injections in his ankle. Mmm.
Still, the Clásico drubbing is behind Barcelona now after a glorious victory in the prestigious Cataluyna Cup against Espanyol. On penalties, no less. Scary.
Barcelona vs Celta Vigo - Saturday 20.00 CET
Will Carlo Ancelotti win back his manager of the year award?
If the FIFA Ballon d’Or is as much of a Real Madrid love-in as the Football League awards then Carlo Ancelotti may have been looking very cosy in a position to pick up the best manager gong. That is until the sometimes-irate Italian took umbrage to Sepp Blatter on Wednesday and suggested that the FIFA president didn’t know when to shut his gob, after he opined that Manuel Neuer should have won the World Cup Golden Ball award.
Unfortunately, Ancelotti had misunderstood the question and took it to meaning that Blatter was spouting about the Ballon d’Or - also the Golden Ball - an award that the Madrid manager feels strongly about Cristiano Ronaldo winning.
LLL surmises that the damage is already done and that Ancelotti’s side is going to have go great guns and wrap up the league by Christmas if Carlito is going to get anything from January’s prize-winning jamboree.
Granada vs Real Madrid - Saturday 16.00 CET
Can Atlético turn anger into an advantage?
To be fair, the Rojiblancos don’t normally need extra incentive to win games - being beaten to death by Diego Simeone for underperforming normally does the job in that department - but the Snub-Gate at the Spanish Football League awards has certainly got their beans a-jumping.
The suspicion of dark hands interfering with the votes from club captains - results that will never be published - are still rife, but the Atlético boss did have a solution to make sure that the league champions are not overlooked in the future. “If we win the league again, perhaps they will give us something next year,” joked the Argentine, trying to find humour in the debacle.
Atlético Madrid vs Córdoba - Saturday 18.00 CET
Is Rayo Vallecano the greatest club in the world?
A rabble-rousing, barricade-storming LLL has always been of that opinion. Many an hour has been spent watching some of the most passionate, noisy, drunken fans packed into Rayo’s three-sided stadium cheering their team on, win or lose. Or thrashed.
Rayo would like to see more of those kind of patrons in the stadium, but that was looking like a bit of a challenge on Monday night - a dead zone of going out - with Eibar as visitors. But that’s why the club launched 'Mad Mondays', where residents of Madrid, the unemployed or those accompanying season-ticket holders can see the game for €4.95 or €9.95.
Rayo Vallecano vs Eibar - Monday 20.45 CET
Will Pedro León and his boss be ready to make nice?
Pedro León is still out on the sidelines while his legal battle to be registered by Getafe rumbles on. The midfielder was officially dropped from the squad after the former Real Madrid man’s wage tipped the club over the edge of a salary cap.
León is not happy about this at all and has been merrily tweeting insults to his club president, Angel Torres, ever since. The latest came this week when León observed that “the more he talks, the less we believe”. “I’m indifferent to him,” came the reply from Torres, “we are not planning to use him and he knows it. I don’t want to lose a single second on this topic.”
Deportivo vs Getafe - Friday 20.45 CET
Can Real Sociedad’s boss get bladdered in the last chance saloon?
La Real bosses reportedly want to keep Jagoba Arraste in his job until the next international break in two rounds' time, which gives the poor fella two matches to put to the test those pledges from his players that they are all behind him. The dressing room “knows what it has to do” according to Sergio Canales, midfielder for the side hovering above the relegation zone.
Fortunately, those two matches are in Anoeta. The downside is that the first is against Málaga, a feisty team that is doing surprisingly well this season. The second is against Atlético Madrid, a team not known to be of a charitable persuasion to help out a side in need.
Real Sociedad vs Malaga - Saturday 22.00 CET