Match Previews

10 big questions in La Liga: Can Gareth Bale stand up to the challenge?

FourFourTwo's Spanish expert Tim Stannard has a few head-scratchers ahead of this weekend's action in La Liga...

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Will Levante harness the power of the best midfielder in the world?

Real Sociedad (5th) vs. Levante (9th): Sunday 19.00 CET - see Stats Zone

A bit of a blast from the past turned up at Levante this week, with Mohamed Sissoko waving a big hello to the massed dozens at his presentation, having joined the club until the end of the season.

The free agent, who was released by PSG last year, was close to ending up with Crystal Palace or Valladolid, but has wound up at long-ball merchants (but eternally admirable) Levante, instead. It’s a base where the footballer hopes to “be one of the best midfielders in the world again.” It’s good to aim high, supposes LLL.

Do Getafe have the stomach for Pamplona punch-up?

Osasuna (16th) vs. Getafe (12th): Sunday 12.00 CET - see Stats Zone

Three things are required to defeat Osasuna - a strong will, iron-clad shin pads and the ability to be half-decent. After all, despite the fearsome reputation of the the Pamplona club (who have picked up eight red cards so far this season), scoring one or at most two goals against Osasuna will normally do the job, with the northerners racking up just 19 league strikes this season, an even worse record than Betis.

Unfortunately, Getafe do not look up to the task on Saturday, given they're a team with a will made of soggy tissue paper and just three more goals than Osasuna to show for the season’s work in La Liga.

Can Athletic deliver without their supporters?

Celta Vigo (11th) vs. Athletic (4th): Monday 22.00 CET - see Stats Zone

“It will be a tremendous game for the fans,” enthused Celta Vigo full-back Jonny on the upcoming clash with Athletic Bilbao. And indeed it will. Or rather it would be, as the one set of supporters who like to travel around the country to see their team, Athletic, will not be able to due to the game kicking off at the ludicrous slot of 10pm local time on a Monday night.

“We have to play the same, no matter what,” was the lament from Athletic’s Markel Susaeta, “but (the journey) really is a huge undertaking for the fans.” It will also be a huge bind for the bar owners of Vigo, who will be missing out on a heck of a lot of trade due to some hopeless scheduling.

Who will be on the bench for Málaga in Vallecas?

Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs. Málaga (13th): Saturday 18.00 CET - see Stats Zone

A sending off and two-match suspension for scuffling German coach Bernd Schuster in last week’s fiery win over Sevilla means Málaga have a bit of an issue with who will be patrolling the touchline against Rayo.

Normally, that role would be fulfilled by the club’s number two, but on this occasion it isn’t possible as Fabio Celestini does not have the correct national licence. “We have a week to find someone to sit there,” joked Schuster last weekend, as LLL remained bemused to learn that managers actually needed licences in Spain.

Will Valencia play their non-Valencia defender against Betis?

Valencia (8th) vs. Betis (20th): Saturday 16.00 CET - see Stats Zone

Valencia, being the peculiar club that they are, decided to follow up a historic, triumphant victory against Barcelona in the Camp Nou with a rather typical farce. The club was tremendously busy over the final days of the transfer window and it appears that they may have accidentally signed a footballer for €12 million, money they don't really have. 

The unfortunate soul in question is Porto centre-back Nicolás Otamendi. His Portuguese club originally maintained that he was under the stewardship of Valencia after late transfer window talks left him out of the list for the Europa League. Valencia felt that a deal was never done due to the Spanish institution discovering the stopper did not have a European passport, with all the team’s non-EU places already taken up.

Club president, Amadeo Salvo headed off to Oporto to get to the bottom of the situation, and a day later the club announced that the defender had been signed after all but will only be able to play for Valencia from 1st July.

Can Villarreal take advantage of a Ronaldo-less Real Madrid?

Real Madrid (3rd) vs. Villarreal (5th): 20.00 CET - see Stats Zone

Although the Yellow Submarine have one or two injury problems of their own, with Ikechukwu Uche out of Saturday’s match due to a leg strain and Cani still missing, there may be hope of taking advantage of a Real Madrid without Ronaldo, who is suspended for three league matches.

In many ways, the east coast club have nothing to lose, with the initial target of 40 points having already been achieved, allowing Villarreal to focus on a push for a European spot of some kind (and a subsequent relegation, Real Betis-style, potentially).

“Up to this point, we have been very clever in facing every match as if it was a final,” said manager, Marcelino, “and this is how we need to continue.”

Will muscle-knacked Bale be ready for visiting Villarreal?

Real Madrid (3rd) vs. Villarreal (5th): Saturday 20.00 CET - see Stats Zone

For a €100 million player, the Welshman is looking even more expensive by the day. Bale pulled out of Wednesday’s squad for the Copa del Rey clash late doors, with Carlo Ancelotti wanting the expensive import to be properly, properly, properly ready for Saturday’s clash with the Yellow Submarine.

Although Bale has looked good in patches, the former Spurs man is still a long way from finding the form of last season, and has only played in half of the possible minutes for his new club. However, there is the chance to do a scoring double in the Santiago Bernabéu, with Bale facing the team against whom he made his debut, and scored his first Madrid goal.

Will Barça be facing their new wife in Sevilla?

Sevilla (7th) vs. Barcelona (2nd): Sunday 21.00 CET - see Stats Zone 

If Barcelona were looking for a footballer with both the skills and stones to take them through the next few years of being battered by big bullies such as Bayern Munich, then Ivan Rakitic is a good bet. The Sevilla man was a transfer hot potato in January; the Camp Nou club were linked with a bid, and that transfer may take place in the summer instead.

However, the Croatian playmaker maintains that he only has eyes for the Sánchez Pizjuán, where Sevilla will be hosting Barça on Sunday night. “Girlfriends have come by, but I have a wife,” joked Rakitic, breaking a longstanding Andalusian tradition of marital infidelity.

Are Barcelona more at home…away from home?

Sevilla (7th) vs. Barcelona (2nd): Sunday 21.00 CET - see Stats Zone

Even ahead of Barcelona's Copa del Rey clash with Real Sociedad, there were concerns over a possible low crowd turn-out due to the lateness of the 10pm kick-off and the inclement weather. Those low expectations were met with just 38,505 at the Camp Nou to witness a 2-0 victory over the Basque visitors.

This turnout very much displeased Dani Alves, who fumed after the game that “people here are very pessimistic: those who didn’t come are not so culé as they say".

Naturally, a footballer speaking the truth caused quite the kerfuffle, so the Brazilian was forced to explain himself a little more the following day through social media: “If we are not together, then we cannot achieve our goals.”

Indifferent fans are no problem on Sunday with Barcelona heading to the sizzling Sánchez Pizjuán to take on a Sevilla side that's in a spot of iffy form, but always capable of giving the Catalan visitors a game.

Will Atletico Madrid bounce back against Almeria?

Almeria (17th) vs. Atletico Madrid (1st): Saturday 20:00 CET - see Stats Zone

Of course they will.