A peek into this weekend’s La Liga action with some vital top-ten clashes.
Real Ready to Reboot
Sometimes a little break is all that’s needed to re-energize a unit. Carlo Ancelotti is hoping for just that as a large chunk of his dressing room returns from international duty. And though that “duty” doesn’t exactly translate to “off time,” it gets them away from the downer that the Santiago Bernabeu has been in recent weeks, and that’s a good thing.
Amidst three losses in their last four matches — including a title-denting Clasico loss to Barcelona — Real Madrid will hope to bounce back this weekend against 19th place Granada.
The form of Gareth Bale has been a topic of discussion in Madrid all year. With loads of unfair and unrelenting abuse being sent his way for reasons unknown, it’s been a trying season for the Welshman. Of course, there isn’t much merit for the hate he’s accruing: his 12 goal tally is only one less than Karim Benzema, who is universally adored at the Bernabeu. And considering the massive goals Bale scored during the run-in of last season’s Champions League and Copa del Rey triumphs, you’d expect some leeway to be granted for the 25-year-old. Looking ahead, Bale should win back his detractors against lowly Granada. His match-winning contributions for Wales in European qualifying are a clear indication that he’s in-form. Whether or not that room of Madridistas choose to see it is a different conversation altogether.
But there has been some universally good news for Madridistas ahead of Saturday’s clash, as the club announced the £31.5 million signing of Brazilian fullback Danilo on Wednesday. Real Madrid had to fight off many clubs for the right-back’s signature, including Barcelona, who saw Danilo as a logical replacement for the soon-to-be-out-of-contract Dani Alves. It was certainly a bit of a coup for Real due to the fact that the Catalans offered Porto £5.5 million more for the player. Where this leaves the futures of current Merengues right-backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Dani Carvajal is a mystery, but the purchase is a difficult one to criticize on Real’s end considering the Brazilian’s quality. Danilo will stay at Porto for the remainder of the season and meet up with his new club in the summer.
Lucho Returns to the Balaidos
The relationship of Celta Vigo and Barcelona has blossomed into something special in the last few years. While Celta have been using Barca as a quick-loan-shop, Barca have been using Celta as a conduit for their young La Masia graduates. We saw just last season with Rafinha that a quality showing for Celta can certainly be a route to Barca’s first-team. Beyond just loanees, the Celestes currently employ a host of ex-Barca products including Nolito, Andreu Fontas, Sergi Gomez, and Carles Planas.
Then, of course, there’s Luis Enrique. Prior to his present Barca role, Lucho spent a year heading a resurgence at Celta. Behind his Catalan flair and judgement, the Sky Blues went from pretenders to a legitimate force, finishing 9th in 2013/14 after staving off relegation by a single point the previous season and playing in the Segunda the five years prior to that.
They might not quite be the EuroCelta of the early 2000’s, but with the recent assistance from Enrique and Barcelona, Celta Vigo have carved themselves a nice little niche within the hierarchy of Spanish football. In the current climate, that’s about the best that a club their level can hope for. On Sunday, Celta will hope to maintain their place in La Liga’s top-half, while Barca will try to stay above Real Madrid at the top.
Top Half Tango
Unlike most weeks, the jewels of this week’s La Liga action lie just outside of the top two. This weekend’s bouts between Valencia and Villarreal, and Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao are sure to captivate. On top of carrying enormous European implications for the league, it’ll be tough to find two games throughout the globe that’ll be better adverts for top-flight football.
The strain of Atletico Madrid’s title defense was always going to cause the champs to slip-up at some point. With so many inspired sub-elite teams ready to strike just below the Colchoneros, it was just a matter of time before one overtook them. Valencia have been that team.
Los Che have recently taken over third-place from Atleti on the back of a bounceback campaign. Perhaps surprisingly, Valencia have matched the Madrid club in the league up to this point with both teams accruing 18 wins with a +30 goal-differential. One extra draw in Valencia’s favor is all that stands between the two contenders.
Valencia’s will be taking on Villarreal on Sunday. Though the Yellow Submarine sit in sixth place by some distance, they’ve inarguably had an uplifting year thus far. 21-year-old Luciano Vietto has been one of the stand-out forwards of the entire Liga, scoring 12 goals in his first European season. Additionally, Real Madrid loanee Denis Cheryshev has dazzled from midfield, contributing nine assists. Though both starlets’ (Cheryshev is 24) futures are unsure at this point, Villarreal’s outlook towards the years ahead remains encouraging.
In the other sure-to-be barnburner, Sevilla welcome Athletic Bilbao. The Rojiblancos have matched another deep Europa League run with a strong Liga record. At present moment, they sit fifth and trail Atletico Madrid by only four points. Unfortunately, Sevilla face the hottest side in all of Spain in Athletic Club.
The Basques come into the weekend on a five game winning streak that has seen them catapult from thirteenth place all the way to eighth in the process. The reverse fixture saw Athletic come out victorious at the San Mames by a 1-0 scoreline. The saving grace for Sevilla, however, is their magnificent home form. They’ve yet to lose a league game all season at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pijuan. In-form or not, Athletic Club will have quite the task stepping into that fortress.