Hell’s bells and Merciful Zeus, La Liga Loca is tingled silly and tickled pink about the most exciting event in the Spanish capital in the sporting calendar year. Two forces are coming together. Two histories, cultures… two proud institutions. It’s the weekend of the Madrid derby: Getafe against Rayo! There’s also a bunch of other matches taking place, too. Here’s some stuff to look out for...
Will Benítez and Ronaldo survive Bernabeu referendum?
The trick to covering and reporting on Clasicos, especially those in La Liga, is to paper over the fact that unless they pop up with about five games to go, the matches are largely irrelevant in terms of title destiny and all that kerfuffle. Which is why the way to shift papers, fill airwaves and get the internet clicking is to multiply any kind of tenuous storyline and blow it up by the factor of a thousand.
In the see-saw existence in La Liga, Real Madrid are currently plonked on the floor with feet on the ground, trying to gain some traction. And this is despite the fact that the side has only lost one game this season. But for those dipping into El Clasico for the day and then retreating, wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s a very potted Real Madrid and Barça side of the story in terms of media obsessions. And that includes LLL.
Rafa Benítez is boring and will send his players out onto the pitch with shovels and barbed wire. Indeed, the captains – including Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos – have reportedly implored their boss to be allowed to cross the halfway line. Gareth Bale needs to do something. Again. Finally, the match could be a bit of a referendum on Ronaldo, with the Portuguese Man of Pwhoar having spent the past fortnight playing badly against Sevilla, and then telling every media outlet going that he would like to kick a ball about anywhere but Real Madrid.
Not too much going on in the Barcelona camp – disappointing, really – with the team happily atop the table and not having to worry too much about whether Leo Messi will play or not. Luis Suarez and Neymar have carried the collective can over the past two months, while the Argentine has been busy showing off his household upholstery on social media and giving it the thumbs up.
Real Madrid v Barcelona: Saturday 18.15 CET
Can Atletico find attacking mojo against less-than-brilliant Betis?
In the ding and dong of the Clasico, the team that gets at least some of the benefits is the one sitting on the Big Two’s coat tails. For the past few seasons that's been Atletico Madrid, and the situation remains the same with the Rojiblancos four points from the top of the table. To help close that gap – as well as hoping for a draw – Diego Simeone’s men are going to have to pull their fingers out in the shooting department. Goals have been hard to come by, despite having five good forwards.
That's perhaps been the problem for Atleti this season. Over the past 10 years or so, the club has routinely had one performing striker – Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Radamel Falcao, Antoine Griezmann, and A.N. Other to come off the bench for 20 minutes. Raul Garcia was always handy for the odd goal two.
But now Atletico have the choice of Torres, Griezmann, Angel Correa, Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto, and finding the right balance has been Simeone’s biggest challenge. That continues against a Betis team that has lost its past three games in the Benito Villamarin.
Betis v Atlético Madrid: Saturday 20.30 CET
Will Mestalla enjoy human side of Nuno?
Boss Nuno at Valencia has one less headache to deal with. Alvaro Negredo's absence for six games (after daring to give an honest opinion over the team not delivering too much up front) was a bit of a pain in the bum for the Mestalla boss, with constant claims that the striker’s exile was personal. “I’ve never left out a player who shows me he can help the team,” was the latest declaration to AS. But then Negredo’s appendix had to be whipped out, putting the forward out for a month. This time with a sicknote excuse.
Valencia are returning to their happy band of supporters buoyed by a 5-1 win at Celta a fortnight ago, a win that made life a heck of a lot easier for Nuno, who popped over to Singapore to meet with owner Peter Lim, and also promised to speak more often to the media. “I have felt under attack. I’m a normal person, not a monster.” The Portuguese boss will be demonised again, if three points and a bunch of goals doesn't come back from Saturday’s visit of struggling Las Palmas.
Valencia v Las Palmas: Saturday 22.00 CET
Will it be D-Day for Málaga camp against Espanyol?
Two teams of a similar spiritual plain, but heading in different directions. Espanyol are still all with the chill after the announcement of a buyout from a Chinese consortium that will help pay off debts and maybe invest in a bit of talent.
Technically speaking, Malaga have mega-rich owners. The problem, though, is that they don't seem particularly interested in splashing any cash on the team of late, causing a fair amount of friction both on a supporter and institutional level.
This week, stories filtered out that orders had come from owner Abdullah Al Thani to fire the team’s sporting director, Mario Husillos, with the team only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. Apparently those orders were refused by the Malaga-based leadership team, causing the owner’s son and club VP, Nasser Al Thani, to act as enforcer. “Everything that has appeared in the media about changes in the administration are rumours. But if there are changes, it will be to lift Malaga to a higher level,” said Nasser. Those changes could be forthcoming if there isn’t a decent result against the clappy-happy Pericos.
Espanyol v Málaga: Saturday 20.30 CET
- 6 reasons why Cristiano Ronaldo's form has slumped for Real Madrid
- Has Neymar done enough to keep Messi sidelined for Barça's own good this weekend?
- How James Rodriguez highlights Rafa's balance act predicament
- Hat-tricks, hell-raising and high treason: 10 huge Clásico debuts
- Analysed: Sergi Roberto is effectively plugging the gaps in Barcelona's squad
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