La Liga Preview: Madrid Trio Look To Bounce Back While The Basques Do Battle
Madrid might boast one more club in La Primera than Barcelona, but at the moment is is the Catalans who are coming out on top. The thrashing of Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Monday evening was hugely impressive and, coupled with Espanyol’s win over Atletico Madrid at the weekend, gave the capital clubs plenty of thinking to do heading into the next round. Indeed, of the three Madrid sides in action, it was only the smallest who did Madrid proud – their 3-1 victory at Sevilla lifting them to a comfortable mid-table slot just three points behind the Andalucian club. Nevertheless, Getafe had their fair share of misery in the week too, as they conceded late on against Odense to wave goodbye to any hopes of Europa League progression this season.
All in all, not a good week for the capital sides, and they will all be hoping to bounce back strongly this weekend. The most significant fixture, and certainly the one which will garner the most attention, will be Real Madrid’s clash with Valencia at the Bernabeu. Following the battering they took against Barcelona, Madrid simply have to take all three points against los Che or else they will begin to fall further away from the champions. How they come back from their first defeat under Jose Mourinho will be intriguing to watch and will also show the mental strength of the team. To further add to the pressure, los Blancos will be without the injured Gonzalo Higuain and so will be relying on Karim Benzema up front, which, considering his dismal showing at the Camp Nou, could be a concern. For Valencia, it is either the best or worst time to play Madrid, but they have been in good form lately and will be looking to push themselves back into the top four places. Worryingly though, in a game where they are likely to have to repel plenty of attacks, they are without both Cesar and Miguel Moya, meaning that third-choice goalkeeper Vicente Guitia will start.
On the other side of the city, Getafe face a tough test against Mallorca, who have won their last two matches and lurk just below the Champions League places. The home team will have to be at their best defensively if they are to take anything from the match and they have shown signs of improvement lately, following rumours that coach Michel might be facing the sack. His position appears to be safe for now but should they lose to Mallorca they then face a tough test in Villarreal and the pressure could yet again be on.
Over in Valencia, Atletico desperately need to pick up all three points against Levante to ensure they don’t lose more ground on the top four. Their performance in the defeat to Espanyol last weekend was below-par and then against Aris in the week it was dismal, as they conceded soft goals and put themselves in a tough position to qualify for the next stage of the Europa League. Quique Flores made no excuses following the mid-week loss and both he and the players know they have to win against a Levante team that has lost five of their last six matches. Failure to win could see Atletico slip eight points behind Espanyol in fourth spot – a huge margin considering the current form of both clubs.
Espanyol themselves will be disappointed if they don’t manage to continue their impressive form when they take on Sporting Gijon in Barcelona. The visitors have lost their last three matches and Mauricio Pochettino’s team should be full of confidence following their win at the Vicente Calderon last weekend. Similarly, Barcelona should be flying after their demolition of Madrid but, as is his way, Pep Guardiola has been careful to not get too excited and has reminded all and sundry that it was just one match and his team now have to take three points from Osasuna – never an easy away fixture. The Pamplona club might be useless on the road but at home they are a force to be reckoned with and they should provide a stern test for Barcelona on Saturday evening.
While the world-famous El Clasico took place on Monday, there is a less famous but just as passionate derby taking place on Sunday when Real Sociedad welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Anoeta. The last time the two Basque teams met was back in January 2007 when Andoni Iraola scored twice to give Athletic the win and it promising to be an intense clash, with tickets already sold out. To make it even more interesting, both teams are level on points in the Primera table and both boast exciting attacking talents in the shape of Joseba Llorente and Fernando Llorente.
Elsewhere, Villarreal will look to continue their good form against Sevilla – who have been terribly inconsistent this year and have not yet been truly revitalised under Gregorio Manzano. The Andalucian club lost 4-2 to Paris St. Germain in the week and now cannot afford to lose their last match if they want to progress further in the Europa League. Villarreal on the other hand were comfortable winners against Dynamo Zagreb and if anyone is going to catch Barcelona and Real Madrid at the top of the table it is them, even if they are already seven points behind the leaders.
Down at the the bottom there is a huge clash between Almeria and Real Zaragoza, both of whom have been poor this season and find themselves 19th and 20th in the table respectively. Between them they have just two wins from 26 matches and there is little doubt that this match is hugely important to both teams – perhaps more so for Almeria considering they are at home and have lost their last three on the spin. Malaga and Racing Santander have carried on from where they left off last season and they are in danger of slipping down to Segunda too. Even with Manuel Pellegrini in charge, Malaga have struggled and they currently sit in the third relegation spot, four points behind Racing who have been nearly as bad as the island club this season.
Finally, on Monday night, Deportivo la Coruna take on the surprise package in La Primera, Hercules. Depor made a dismal start to the season but have improved lately and they will be hopeful of taking all three points against a team who has blown both hot and cold this year. While wins over Barcelona and Sevilla were impressive, defeats to Malaga and Osasuna were damaging and, if Hercules are to stay up this year, they will surely have to win more games against the teams around them, like Deportivo.