Hi-ho, it’s to a Barça-less La Liga weekend we go. But Tim Stannard’s got plenty else to talk about…
At least one big question was answered this week: whether or not Florentino Pérez had given instructions to Real Madrid’s TV station not to film his bald spot. The Bernabéu big cheese denied this and said that he would get hair plugs if he was that concerned. Pérez also said that he was standing by Rafa Benítez, which was less interesting quite frankly.
Anyhoo, La Liga this weekend is like a TV show trying to get by without one of its major characters missing, what with Barcelona off galavanting in Japan, so it’s up to everyone else to club together and deliver some drama. Here are some potential flash points...
Will it be two men in, one man out at Real Madrid vs Rayo?
Despite AS and Marca clamouring for the sacking of Benítez, Flo Pérez went on Spanish radio on Thursday night to once again give his backing
LLL has been spending a significant chunk of its powers of concentration – about two minutes’ worth – pondering if there was a sweet spot result that leave both Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano’s managers without jobs by the end of the weekend. A really flat, listless 8-0 win at the Bernabéu perhaps.
Despite AS and Marca clamouring for the sacking of Benítez, Flo Pérez went on Spanish radio on Thursday night to once again give his backing to his manager. Everything will probably have to wait until after Christmas for another Real Madrid turkey stuffing.
Rayo being a bit useless at the moment doesn’t help either. The Madrid side gallantly tend to get crushed by big teams that they insist on going toe-to-toe with. And that’s when the Vallecans are in good form. At the moment, the side led by Paco Jémez are in the relegation zone and were beaten 3-1 in the cup by Getafe on Wednesday. Still, Jémez was able to put things into perspective ahead of Sunday’s match. “I’d switch Madrid’s crisis for ours,” said the Rayo boss.
Real Madrid vs Rayo Vallecano - Sunday 16.00 CET
Can Fernando Torres finally reach a century?
The moment of truth has arrived for Atlético Madrid. Actually, two moments, the first being whether the Rojiblancos can take advantage of Barcelona’s Club World Cup duties by being top of the Primera table at Christmas with just a point required at Málaga. They probably will, with a 1-0 win after an early goal from Antoine Griezmann.
But that would leave poor Nando Torres stuck on his total of 99 goals for Atlético Madrid, having missed the chance to make it a round century in the Copa del Rey clash against Reus on Thursday night. The poor ex-Chelsea man has now failed to score in his last 15 appearances.
Málaga vs Atlético Madrid - Sunday 20.30 CET
Will Valencia overcome another La Liga lightweight?
LLL now likes to think of Gary Neville as having a touch of Coach Lasso, the brilliant American manager from the NBC Premier League commercials, with Phil Neville as his trusted, wise assistant.
"Who are we playing next?"
"Who are they?"
"Tiny team. Not a lot of fans. Budget of about 28 pounds a year."
"I thought that was Eibar and Barakaldo?"
"I love Spain."
Valencia vs Getafe - Saturday 16.00 CET
Can Betis overcome home hoodoo in time for demolition derby?
The local affair has been considerably less troubled since the departures of presidents José María del Nido (in prison) and Manuel Ruiz de Lopera (not in prison)
There is a time and a place to stuff things up at home. Actually, there isn’t, but there you go. Betis have been rather struggling of late in the Benito Villamarín, having picked up just the single point in their last five games there. Another blunder wouldn’t go down with the happily inebriated Betis massif, because Sevilla are in town for one of the most enjoyable derbies in Spain which always offers something tasty.
The local affair has been considerably less troubled since the departures of presidents José María del Nido (in prison) and Manuel Ruiz de Lopera (not in prison), though, and somehow all parties were keen to give off a vibe of brotherly love at a function with Unai Emery, Pepe Mel, Joaquín and José Antonio Reyes. And that would be a heck of a pup session after. “Betis welcomes Sevilla with open arms,” said Mel, echoing how his team have been receiving teams at home for the past few months.
Betis vs Sevilla - Saturday 20:30 CET
Can Espanyol forge bright future with another old boy?
Two of Galca’s predecessors were fired – including Mauricio Pochettino, who has apparently done reasonably well since leaving
Normally, LLL gets a slight wind (actually LLL also gets heavy wind, but that’s another topic for another day) if there is to be a sacking in La Liga. But this time, the firing of Sergio González from Espanyol came a little bit out of the blue. Although the Pericos had only won a single game in seven Primera attempts and were going through a regular ‘meh’ phase, this was not that unusual for the cuddly Cornella club.
But then the news broke on Monday that Sergio was gone, despite Espanyol being 12th in the table, to be replaced by former player and Steaua Bucharest coach, Constantin Galca. The Romanian will be the fourth manager in a row to be hired who once played for the club. “We like that profile,” beamed Espanyol president Joan Collet, although two of Galca’s predecessors were fired – including Mauricio Pochettino, who has apparently done reasonably well since leaving.
New owners might have something to do with the decision, but the notion that the Espanyol bigwigs were bored and looking for something to liven up a Monday is the feeling from LLL. Still, Galca won his first game in charge – a 2-1 victory over Levante in the Copa – and should have another home win in the bag on Saturday against Las Palmas.
Espanyol vs Las Palmas - Saturday 18.15 CET