We are at Defcon 2 this weekend in the fruit bowl of La Liga. 'Tis true that the league title race may be pretty much over, but there is enough juice and pips in each encounter once the skins are peeled.
The flakey-away-from-home Sevilla are in Camp Nou but are still one of the few teams capable of giving the Catalans a proper run for their money.
Villarreal are set to keep up their record of becoming the new Atlético Madrid with no goals conceded and just one scored against Levante, while Granada travel to Deportivo with a new coach. But most beady eyes will be on the Bernabeu to see if Diego Simeone can spook a new manager on the Real Madrid bench.
Guti back in business
La Liga Loca has to be honest and say that it wasn’t sure what to say about the Madrid derby that wouldn’t be said elsewhere, but more coherently. Real Madrid used to win it all the time, then Diego Simeone came along and it is the Rojiblancos that tend to dominate, much to the chagrin of Florentino Pérez. But then a glorious blast from the past came along to save the day - Guti, a figure that has not been mentioned in the blog’s ramblings for nearly two years and then only in passing. Speaking at a promotional event on Thursday night, Guti claimed when asked which one of the players in red and white could play in his team that he couldn’t “think of one who’d cut it at Real Madrid.”
The former midfielder - and the man who should be running FIFA but is instead coaching in the club’s youth academy - may be overlooking Diego Godín, Antoine Griezmann and Koke, but the blog is willing to give him a break, just for past glories. Guti also had the chance to take a walk down memory lane to see how the Madrid derby used to be. “Back in the day, going down to the Calderón used to be a stroll in the park, shall we say,” sighed Guti about an era when Atlético Madrid failed to win a derby between 1999 and 2013.
Real Madrid v Atlético Madrid - Saturday 4.00PM CET
Neville closer to staying
LLLwas desperately hoping that Gary Neville would find his inner Jesse from Breaking Bad and address the press on Thursday with a curt, “what do yo think of that, b***h?!” Valencia had just got through their Europa League tie against Rapid Vienna with a 10-0 aggregate and put together four wins in a row. Then again, that exhortation may not have had the same impact with a Mancunian lilt.
The next couple of challenges that await are in La Liga starting with Athletic Bilbao coming to a considerably more made-up Mestalla, which could play a large part in whether the Englishman remains at the helm, something that was considered unfeasible a couple of weeks ago. AS reported this week that Neville has already been involved in pre-season planning, recommending that any promotional tours to Singapore should be done at the end of the current season and not at the beginning of the next.
Meanwhile, the team’s president Layhoon Chan revealed to Marca that the board never lost faith in their imported manager during some very dark times, saying that “the players believed in him” and that Neville has been a unifying figure after some disgruntlement over previous manager, Nuno, and the club’s overly close ties to super-agent Jorge Mendes.
Valencia v Athletic Bilbao: Sunday 16.00PM CET
Rayo fans await mating ritual
Like a couple of birds of paradise, Rayo manager Paco Jémez and the club’s president, Raul Martín Presa, are starting to go through an annual mating ritual concerning the renewal of the coach’s contract. It normally begins around February when the team have pulled a little bit clear of the relegation places and everyone is feeling a little more... relaxed.
The Madrid side have now gone six games unbeaten in La Liga to leave the Vallecans four clear of the relegation places. Jémez was the first to fluff his feathers this week and make eyes at other birds by hinting: “if I were to manage Spain, then I would have to turn down the chance to go to a bigger club.”
This caused a reaction with Presa who said that “we are both happy, and if two people want [the same] thing, then it’s just a question of time." With Rayo always able to find enough porridge in the bowl to stay up despite flirtations, it looks more than likely that Jémez will be at the helm next year for a fifth campaign. It’s just that there may be more beak-rubbing to come first.
Real Betis v Rayo Vallecano - Saturday 8.30PM CET
Night out goes wrong
Well, having a football club in one of the carnival centres of Spain was always going to be a temptation too much for some. Last Saturday night, Las Palmas midfielder Nauzet Alemán decided to break club rules and go disco-dancing the night before a training session. Unfortunately, the excursion went very south with the 31-year-old returning home with 18 stitches in his face, and facing a two-week club suspension by Las Palmas for breaking a ton of rules. A curfew was also broken by the very underperforming forward Saúl Araújo, but the Argentine escaped a ban despite accompanying Alemán by not requiring hospital treatment and being remorseful.
Judging by statements made to the police this week, there was an altercation with another party who doubted the footballer’s commitment to both Las Palmas and Sparkle Motion. The courts will decide what happens next, while Las Palmas boss Quique Setién picked up the Canary Island pieces. “Both Nauzet and Araújo made a mistake but there is a huge gulf between the behaviour of one and the other.
It was all a bit unfortunate after a gutsy performance against Barcelona last weekend which will need to be repeated in Eibar on Friday if Las Palmas are to move out of the relegation zone this weekend. The prize for the Basque side for a win is 39 points, a total that should be more than enough to stay up for another season, as weird as that sounds for a team currently in seventh. But La Liga can be an odd place.
Eibar v Las Palmas - Friday 8.30 CET
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