La Liga returns after a two-week hibernation and Week 18 could be a potentially explosive one. League leaders Real Madrid are guaranteed Winter Champions and Levante will remain rock bottom after this weekend’s round of matches but all other things could change.
The pick of the games in the Spanish first division this weekend is the third versus fourth clash at the Montjuic in Barcelona. High flying Espanyol are third in the league, just 1 point behind city rivals FC Barcelona and host Villarreal who are 1 point and 1 place below them. On the face of it, this game might well be an entertaining one.
Espanyol have 33 points from 17 matches in the league so far and are on a 13-game unbeaten stride. The last time that Ernesto Valverde’s side lost a league fixture was way back on September 23 and since then the Perequitos have beaten Sevilla, Valencia, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid among others. Espanyol’s football has been pretty to watch too. Carlos Kameni is a giant between the sticks, Daniel Jarque (who misses the match with an injury) is a rock at defense, Albert Riera is demonstrating his talent in midfield and upfront Espanyol’s darling Raul Tamudo is weaving magic. Tamudo has scored 8 goals already in the league while his strike partner Ferandez Luis Garcia has hit the back of the opposition’s net 5 times. Together Tamudinho, as his club President Daniel Sanchez Llibre once declared him, and Luis Garcia have accounted for half of Espanyol’s league goals. Injury plagued Ivan de la Pena could start the match after having gaining full fitness.
Manager Valverde says:
We couldn’t have had a better 2007. We ended the year close to the top of the table and now we want to consolidate that position by getting a good result against Villarreal. Getting into a good position in the table isn’t that difficult, but staying there is. We want people to take us seriously and that will happen if we maintain this sort of consistency.
On the other hand, Villarreal would be glad to have stepped out of December. The last month was a terrible one for manager Manuel Pellegrini in which they could garner only 4 points out of a possible 12 and suffered back-to-back defeats against relegation candidates Valladolid and Real Betis. The Yellow Submarine are 1 point adrift off Espanyol and should they look over their shoulders, they would discern a rejuvenated Atletico Madrid side rushing towards the prized fourth position in the table. Villarreal have played pleasing football inspired by the back-to-full-fitness Robert Pires. They’ve appeared incoherent and awry at the back when they’ve conceded 24 goals in just 17 league matches. Recent form too doesn’t favor them. Villarreal have won just 1 of their last 5 matches, losing twice.
However Villarreal will be boosted by the return of Italian-American striker Giuseppe Rossi. Rossi has already netted the ball 7 times in La Liga this season and his Turkish strike mate Kahveci Nihat out for at least a week, Rossi’s return should inflate Villarreal’s confidence once again. Defenders Josico and Gonzalo Rodriguez are sidelined with injuries and it would be interesting to see how the Villarreal defense cope with the Espanyol attackers.