Match Previews

Big Weekend Preview: Barça’s new look and a big shift from James

FFT's Spanish whizz Tim Stannard on another dose of new-look Barca, running Rodriguez and a tough time for Gerard Deulofeu...

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Unlike last week’s headline-busting Madrid derby, the Spanish fare this week is definitely for the die-hards. Barcelona may have a bit of a plod at Levante, Valencia will be hoping to take advantage of what will be a lot of midweek rests while Real Madrid... well. Anything could happen there. Here are some bits and pieces to look out for this weekend. 

Are Barcelona the new Atlético Madrid?

Just think about it. José Mourinho took all of Atlético’s best tricks over the summer, so why shouldn’t Barcelona do the same? Of course, everyone is getting a lizard in their britches about Munir and the Leo Messi-Neymar connection, but the Catalan club’s performances so far have been about letting nothing through at the back and grabbing late goals. This was the case in the league victories against Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao, when the breakthroughs were not made until the last 10 minutes of the game.
On Wednesday in the Champions League against APOEL, it more was more classic Atlético – grab a set-piece winner and hang on for dear life. After all, if you are going to borrow, then borrow from the best. 
Leo and Neymar: best buds 4eva

Will James run about a lot in La Coruña?

It’s as if the mobile phones of the AS and Marca editors both trilled merrily on Wednesday with a Mordor area code telling them that James wasn’t completely useless against Basel, and that both papers may want to write about that, voluntarily of course. 
Both papers on Thursday have big features about the Colombian forward running 11.2km in the Champions League clash, just 200 metres less than Toni Kroos, who in theory should not be all that mobile supposedly squatting in front of the back four. 
Of course, this means nothing at all, as LLL’s five-a-side days saw the blog chasing after the ball like a very poor man’s David Batty. Unless straws are being grasped to cover up annoying stuff like selling Angel Di María...

Have Atlético picked their man between the sticks?

Thibaut Courtois is a hard act to follow. However, former Getafe keeper Miguel Moya was managing it without too many problems after a move of about four miles up the road in Madrid. The fella who was supposed to be No.1 at the Vicente Calderón, Jan Oblak, has had less luck. 
The Slovenian was injured for much of pre-season and only got his shot in the Champions League against Olympiakos, which ended in a 3-2 defeat for the travelling Rojiblancos, criticism in the press and sympathetic support from his opposite number. “I was with him at Lisbon,” said Roberto, “I know he’s a great keeper.” 
We may not get a chance to find that out for a wee while, as Moya is set to return to settle a few nerves on Saturday against a sparky Celta Vigo. 

Can Valencia take advantage of simpler season? 

Largely due to being a bit useless last year rather than by design, Valencia have ended up with nice free midweeks. No trips to take on Qarabag or Astra for the men of Mestalla. Instead a nice whole week to work on getting a top-four finish while competitors Villarreal, Sevilla and Athletic potter about Europe. 
Considering Valencia are already second, life may only get even better for Nuno’s charges, who are a Levante shutout against Barcelona away from moving to the top of the table. The downside is that the team will have to wait all the way until Monday to achieve this feat, with the east coast side sitting on the Primera naughty step which is Monday night football in Getafe. 
Valencia are enjoying their so-far carefree campaign

Will Sevilla fans get the cold shoulder?

So much for Andalusian brotherly and sisterly love. Traditionally when clubs from this region get together there's a big love-in with drinking, free tapas and a shared passion for intolerable local Flamenco music. But feisty Córdoba have bucked the trend with the visit of Sevilla and are looking to cash in during the one season the team will stay in La Primera. 
The club are selling tickets to their guests for a whopping €70, with the Córdoba director of communications admitting that “we have not taken this decision lightly”. This sparked off a Twitter hashtag thing calling for “no Sevillistas in Córdoba” in an attempt to stick one up to The Man.
It is easy to see why Sevilla supporters may be a little miffed. Watching the club is getting a little expensive these days for diehards, what with the southern side’s tradition for taking the Europa League seriously and winning the thing. The defence of the trophy got underway with a 2-0 home win over Feyenoord.

What on earth happened to Gerard Deulofeu?

Well, it seems the Barcelona starlet has made a few enemies in Spain. The forward returned from a loan spell at Everton and was expected to play the role that Munir currently has. Then the 20-year-old was loaned out to Sevilla where he is supposed to develop with regular first-team football. That may not happen either, though, considering the player has managed just 19 minutes in three league games, with as many substitute appearances. Even worse, he was even forced to take part against Feyenoord in the Europa League on Thursday.
The rumour mill has it that Deulofeu exasperated Luis Enrique over the summer with a lack of interest in defending and a less-than-exhaustive work-rate – perfect for last year’s side. It would appear the equally demanding Unai Emery is of the same opinion. 
Former Toffee Deulofeu has been banished to the Europa backwaters