It’s Week 14 in La Liga but the table is still congested as if it were still the opening weekend. Real Madrid are top of the table with 29 points, Villarreal are a mere 1 point off the pace in second while 6th placed Valencia are just 4 point further off. The chart appears equally ridiculous at the other end of the tunnel with 10th placed FC Sevilla just 4 points ahead of 19th placed Real Betis.
The possibility of the advent of daylight amidst the heavy traffic appears somewhat slim but it does appear nevertheless. And nowhere is the window of opportunity more open than at the top of the table where city rivals Barcelona and Espanyol lock horns at the Olimpic de Montjuic.
For former Spanish and European champions Barca their third position in the league table is very much wonted but for minnows Espanyol, who have so often been painfully engaged in relegation dogfight, the fourth spot that they currently occupy is indeed uncharted territory. Ernesto Valverde’s Espanyol are just two points behind Barca and when club captain Raul Tamudo shakes hand with his Barelona counter-part Carles Puyol on Saturday evening, memories of how Tamudo snatched the Spanish title out of Barca’s hands and gifted it to bitter rivals Real Madrid would come galloping back and you can rest assured that there will be a distinct element of revenge marking the complexion of the occasion.
Real Madrid manager Bernd Schuster has been criticized by some quarters of the Madrid press and supporters alike for failing to maintain a certain consistent tempo and rhythm and he would be severely scrutinized when Racing Santander come to pay a visit to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. The past week has been an insipid one for the reigning Spanish champions and league leaders with a draw with relegation threatened Real Murcia on Saturday last and a 3-2 defeat to Werder Bremen in the UEFA Champions League in midweek. On the other hand, Racing are on a high. The team that is so habituated to survival fights is seventh in the table and manager Marcelino Garcia Toral says that his team would look towards nothing less than a victory at the Bernabeu.
Second placed Villarreal and fifth placed Atletico Madrid both are away from home this weekend. While Manuel Pellegrini’s team has demonstrated that they are not a Juan-man Roman army by any means exhibiting some entertaining football and should comfortably beat a nondescriptive Valladolid side, Atleti’s recent goal scoring madness implies that they could well tuck past three or four against a beleaguered Real Betis team that has won just two matches at home so far this season.
Valencia CF might have a new manager at the helm but their football hardly inspires anything novel. Ronald Koeman was drafted in to turn around not so much as Valencia’s results as their playing style but so far the Dutchman has managed to do neither. Valencia’s 0-0 draw with Schalke 04 in the UEFA Champions League in midweek means that they are now looking for a backdoor entry to the UEFA Cup and although they are still only 5 points behind leaders Real Madrid, last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Racing mean that the Los Che have to win their match against Athletic de Bilbao at the Mestalla to save their blushes and the agony of losing ground so early in the season. Although the myth about the Mestalla being a fortress for Valencia has been ripped apart, the fact that the Basque side has failed to win there since 1988 should inject a healthy dose of optimism to Koeman and co.
Now to the other end of the tunnel (since the concept of midtable doesn’t exist in La Liga!). The “survival of the fittest” theory would be in full swing at the Estadio Municipal de Riazor on Sunday when Deportivo la Coruna welcome Osasuna in a relegation six-pointer. Depor are 16th in the table while Osasuna are one place below them in 17th and both teams know that a draw won’t help either’s cause in the long run. But as so often happens in such matches, a draw is the most likely outcome and one that won’t engender many goals either—Depor and Osasuna together have scored just 26 times so far this season in the league.
The three other matches in La Liga this weekend are Real Mallorca versus Real Murcia, Recreativo de Huelva against Real Zaragoza and Getafe against Levante. Mallorca are 8th in the table and although 13th placed Murcia haven’t won at the Son Moix in top flight Spanish football, Lucas Alcazar’s men would be much buoyed by last weekend’s heartening 1-1 draw with mighty Real Madrid.
The encounter between Getafe, who have won just once in their last 5 matches, and Levante, who are rock-bottom with just 7 points and 10 goals in their 13 matches in the league, promises to be a dull one but the same cannot be said for sure between Recreativo and Zaragoza. While Recre with just one win in their last 8 matches are looking more and more like the team what they are expected to be, that is relegation contenders, Zaragoza’s early season form has blunted their title challenging aspirations. But with the likes of Pablo Aimar, Andres D’Alessandro, Diego Milito and Roberto Fabian Ayala in their side, Zaragoza are the favourites to get past Recre.
Your predictions for the weekend?