10 big questions in La Liga: Can Messi end his 'slump'? Can Espanyol make a fist of derby?

FourFourTwo's Spanish expert Tim Stannard has a few pressing posers ahead of the weekend's action in La Liga...

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Can Leo Messi dig himself out of his slump?

Barcelona vs Espanyol: Friday 21.00 CET
Outrageous! Lazy! Work-shy fop! That’s what La Liga Loca thinks about Leo Messi, who has now gone three league games without a goal. Three! Imagine that! Lazy Leo is simply allowing his teammates to pick up the slack in front of goal, while Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa pull ahead in the Pichichi stakes. True, Messi is still dishing the killer passes and trying to get the Barcelona attack to click, but Merciful Zeus, someone needs to buck their ideas up. Must try harder. Especially in Friday’s local derby against some less than perky Pericos.

Can Espanyol make the Catalan derby competitive?

Barcelona vs Espanyol: Friday 21.00 CET
While the Espanyol players psyche themselves up for this big city derby, Friday’s Camp Nou clash is not really a thrilling bin of cheese for the hosts. Barça don’t really have as many hang-ups over their city rivals as the permanently fuming Pericos, who accuse the Cule collective of borrowing the Catalan identity and refusing to give it back like a regional hedge trimmer in the hands of a naughty neighbour.
Besides, this particular clash is not exactly a huge task for Tata’s team, with Espanyol failing to score in the past four league clashes. The last victory in enemy territory came in the 2008/2009 campaign, and that was their first victory since 1982. At least there is some fighting talk from Espanyol goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, who claims none of Barça’s big stars are worth fretting over. “If you are afraid then you should stay at home,” growled the stopper. 

Will Almería against Valladolid live up to expectations?

Almería vs Valladolid: Saturday 18.00 CET
While this question may cause some tittering at the back of the classroom, for once, LLL is not being sarcastic or attempting any kind of sleight. Both teams have been a lot of fun to watch of late. Almería have been a bit like a geriatric gigolo of late - busy up front, yet leaking like crazy at the back. The southern side are also on an enormous high after their first win of the season in Mestalla against Valencia.
Valladolid were also good value for viewers after coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Real Sociedad on Wednesday night, a match that could have been a victory had a late penalty not been missed. That result came off the back of a 3-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano, and owed a lot to three stars of the midweek victory; Patrick Ebert, Daniel Larsson and the old-school striker, Javi Guerra.

Are Rayo about to be rollicked by Real Madrid?

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Madrid: Saturday 20.00 CET
Saturday’s clash really doesn’t look good for Rayo at all. Recent incarnations of the Vallecas side have, over the past two years, shown themselves to be stubborn, solid sorts when facing the Bernabeu boys. Although Madrid eventually came out winners, the fancy pants visitors from up the road were made to work hard for their 1-0 and 2-0 wins.  Yet Rayo are currently a mess in so many different ways from top to bottom. After Wednesday’s loss, a 3-1 defeat at Osasuna, manager Paco Jémez ranted that his team were “like a team of kids playing in a league of grown-ups.”  Having stuck seven past Sevilla on Wednesday with Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and even Karim Benzema having fine nights, it seems the childlike Rayo are about to get an almighty spanking in Vallecas.

Can Unai Emery survive a session with Celta Vigo?

Sevilla vs Celta Vigo: Saturday 22.00 CET
It is fair to say the Sevilla manager has some explaining to do. First off, there is the inability to win away from home in over year, something Emery is about three-quarters responsible for. Throw in conceding seven against Real Madrid on Wednesday night and Saturday’s late clash is a biggie for both coach and players, as a quick response in the Sánchez Pizjuán is required. “We cannot collapse after this debacle,” announced Ivan Rakitic, who scored a brace in the Bernabeu, “we need to lift ourselves up and prepare for Saturday’s game against Celta.”

Sevilla coach Unai Emery was in seventh....hell....on Wednesday evening.

How long can Getafe keep things going?

Getafe vs Valencia: Sunday 12.00 CET
Boom, there goes the dynamite. Another win for Getafe away at Villarreal sees the Madrid club in sixth, one point from the Champions League places. However, Thursday’s 2-0 victory on Spain’s east coast owed itself to a two defensive howlers from the Yellow Submarine which should have had a 80s sitcom soundtrack behind them. Getafe boss, Luis García, was happy to admit that his team got away with a smash and grab in El Madrigal, but also showed concern that his players were beginning to flag.
“The team is really tired, you can see that in the performances during games,” said García, who may be able to squeeze one last big effort from his footballers for the visit of a nervy Valencia to the Coliseum on Sunday.

Will Valencia’s president keep holding his nerve?

Getafe vs Valencia: Sunday 12.00 CET
According to the vibe from the men that matter at Mestalla, Miroslav Djukic is safe as houses, despite Wednesday’s disastrous home defeat to Almería, a team that had previously failed to win a match all season. Club president, Amadeo Salvo, has been quite consistent in his mantra that the Serbian is the right man for the job, come hell or Mestalla hankie-waving. Salvo himself was having to spread the message from China, where he is currently on the hunt for investors. If the Mestalla big boss stands by his promise even if the visit to the Coliseum on Sunday goes badly for Valencia, Salvo is going to be moving into the  top five of La Liga Loca’s good guys running the Spanish game. All the blog has to do now is find four more.

Will Atlético Madrid keep on keeping on against Athletic?

Atlético Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao: Sunday 17.00 CET
Sepp Blatter is not the only FIFA-related person to raise some heckles in the Spanish capital, this week. Anyone involved with the voting in the World Coach of the Year awards is also now being besmirched. The gripe is the absence of Diego Simeone, a manager who has turned a club around by getting Atlético back into the Champions League and winning the Copa del Rey in the process.
That victory was against a team led by José Mourinho, who did manage to find his way onto the short list despite a less than glorious campaign last year. Still, Simeone does not seem to be too bothered stating that he “does not look for acceptance elsewhere, only at the place where I work.”
On Thursday night, Simeone led his players to yet another victory - a 2-1 win at Granada - to leave Atlético still just a point from Barcelona and facing a whopper of a game against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Who will win the Andalusian derby of despair?

Málaga vs Betis: Sunday 21.00 CET
LLL likes a little bit of drama, as do those down in Andalusia, who wail songs of pain and hardship and call it music. Málaga are hosting Betis on Sunday in another humdinger of a clash. Málaga have not scored in four games now and are just happy not have conceded any in Tuesday’s goalless draw with Espanyol.
Meanwhile, Betis have steadied the ship a little in another goalless draw on Thursday against Levante, with coach Pepe Mel admitting that his team “can sleep a little bit easier” after a better performance, despite being down to ten men for an hour.

Can Villarreal still keep it real?

Elche vs Villarreal: Monday 22.00 CET
Villarreal are a club begging to become victims of their own success. A flying start means that whenever there is a slip up, there may be eyebrows raised that the Yellow Submarine is starting to sink. The reality is that Villarreal are performing waaaay above expectations, so not too much should be read into a home defeat to Getafe on Thursday that was completely self-inflicted due to defensive blunders. In the words of the great Marcelino the Manager before the loss, "playing in Europe should be a dream more than an objective,"