La Preview: La Liga’s Rasputin faces next 'last chance' as Valencia boss

It's Gary Neville's last stand at Valencia (again), while Zinedine Zidane has been experimenting with his Madrid players. Tim Stannard previews the weekend's La Liga action...

Barring some kind of spooky February weirdness – and with Getafe in the mix, anything can happen – this weekend will probably see the top three racking up comfortable wins. That means 6-0 for Barcelona and Real Madrid and 1-0 for Atlético.

So that leaves plenty of elbow room in the headlines for what is undoubtedly the match of the week in the entire world. Except maybe Napoli vs Juventus. Or Arsenal vs Leicester. But never mind that, it’s off to Mestalla for our first stop on the weekend tour bus of fun.

Will it be ‘Gary on regardless’ if Valencia mess up?

Gary Neville is the Rasputin of football managers - he can suffer the game’s equivalent of being poisoned, shot, beaten and drowned, and yet he is still popping up day after day on the bench

This is going to be fun. A clash branded as a 'dumpster fire derby' by a far wittier colleague could see a ‘Thunder-dome’ scenario, where it’s two managers in and one manager out. The coaches in question are Gary Neville of Valencia and Constantin Galca of Espanyol. The pair aren't so much beleaguered as mewling kittens, caught in the rain and trying to clamber into a firmly hinged cat flap.

Valencia – who have been having some problems, regular readers might remember – haven't won a league game in 12, while Espanyol's winless streak is at seven, with the most recent setback arriving last Monday in a truly dreadful 5-0 home loss to Real Sociedad.  

Valencia sign

Valencia fans have even been practicing their English to get the point across

But on further thought, it does seem that Neville is the Rasputin of football managers – he can suffer the game’s equivalent of being poisoned, shot, beaten and drowned, and yet he is still popping up day after day on the bench when many La Liga management mortals would have been jettisoned by now.

The pundit-turned-punchbag can even survive fans in Mestalla taking the time to learn how to say “Gary, go home!” in English, just so Neville could completely understand the message from the handful of fans that turned up for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey clash with Barcelona.

Valencia vs Espanyol - Saturday 8.30 CET

Athletic look to avoid another beating in the Bernabéu

Whenever a new coach takes over, it's the tradition for the Madrid press to parp chirpily that the ball was the main ‘protagonist’ and the players were smiling from ear to ear like one of The Joker’s victims

It doesn’t take much to confuse and befuddle LLL. The blog spent a week fretting that its cleaning robot negotiating the house without getting jammed under a sofa for once proved that Skynet was about to become self aware. Turns out that the whirling dervish of doom wasn't actually leaving its launch pad in the first place, with the timer having been incorrectly programmed.

So when it read in Thursday’s Marca that Real Madrid had a training session which consisted of running around without a single football being kicked – a bit like Cristiano Ronaldo’s last match – the blog thought that this was a very bad thing.

After all, whenever a new coach takes over, it's traditional for the Madrid press to parp chirpily that the ball was the main ‘protagonist’ and the players were smiling from ear to ear like one of The Joker’s victims. A sign of a great new beginning.

Madrid training

"Someone snuck a ball in!"

But on this occasion it was apparently the end of a tough mid-season training camp for the players, who still seem to be running out of gas 60 minutes into games despite having a fairly easy calendar in January.

An hour of decent football in the Bernabéu – or even eight minutes with a fast start – might be enough to beat Athletic Bilbao in one of those matches that always seems tough in theory, but turns out to be a rout. The Basques have conceded 13 goals in their last three games at the Bernabéu.

Athletic Barca

Athletic defenders will hope to fare better than they did against Neymar's Barcelona

When confronted with the notion that Madrid had being scoring a bundle of goals in their previous matches at home, as well as against Athletic, Ernesto Valverde proved himself to be very much part of the card-carrying manager’s union in supporting Rafa Benítez. “Before (Zidane) they scored 10 in one game,” he noted. Ouch.

Real Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao - Saturday 16.00 CET

Will the good times keep rolling for Sevilla?

Despite the pouring rain and complete lack of any chance of Sevilla slipping up, a soaked-to-the-skin Unai was still celebrating on the touchline as if the Champions League had been won

That’s exactly what makes Unai Emery such a wonderful specimen of humanity. Sevilla were 5-2 up on aggregate against Celta in the Copa del Rey semi-finals with three minutes to go, when Yevhen Konoplyanka popped up to make the score 2-2 on the night.

Despite the pouring rain and no chance of Sevilla slipping up, a soaked-to-the-skin Unai was still celebrating on the touchline as if the Champions League had been won.

Emery

Unai Emery, animated as usual

Instead, there's a place in the final to take on Barcelona which could well end up in the Camp Nou, such is the peculiar manner of choosing the venues in Spain. “I’d rather play in China,” remarked Unai, probably giving the Spanish FA heads some ideas.

With Sevilla nestled nicely in fifth, the path is now very much open to some more cup glory. The Andalusians were the last team to beat Barça, 29 games ago, and the Europa League gets underway on Thursday when they face Molde in the last 32. An already-sprighly week could continue with a win against lowly Las Palmas on Sunday.

Sevilla vs Las Palmas - 16.00 CET

Will anyone find love in Getafe’s Colosseum of desires?

Time to drop in on those wacky funsters at Getafe. While the players have been doing their usual trick of winning a lot of games in a row, then losing a lot of games in a row, the marketing department have been as busy as ever.

Late last year, a partnership with a software company produced an app where fans could hook up in the nooks and crannies of the stadium.

Getafe

Getafe are currently on a three-match losing streak

There are more suggestions of the flowery, romantic kind for the visit of Atlético Madrid on Valentine's Day, with a spot from the club suggesting that the supporters fall in love with Getafe instead. All LLL can say is… already happened. 

Getafe vs Atlético Madrid - Sunday 18:15 CET

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