Preview to another weekend of the beautiful game in Spain and there are some mouth-watering encounters for us!  Sevilla are back in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán and will play host to Valencia, while Athletic Bilbao will leave the Basque country to visit Valencia to take on Villarreal.  This weekend will mark the debut of former Villarreal and Real Madrid coach Pellegrini at the helm of his new team, Málaga.  And, ofcourse there is the grande match this weekend- El Derbi Madrileño!

Real Sociedad vs Racing Santander

Real Sociedad will be back home to welcome Racing Santander to the Anoeta.  Both teams are coming off a win in their last encounter and they will be hoping that this could carry over into this weekend’s match up.  Real Sociedad are sitting in mid-table 6 points clear of the drop zone while their opponents are only one place and three points adrift them. Both teams have had a fairly decent start to the season with Racing probably having the harder of the exchanges in the opening 9 games.  The last time both these teams met in La Liga at the Anoeta it ended in a stalemate.  Both teams however have been evenly matched in the last 4 encounters between each other in La Liga each recording a win a piece and two draws.  Sociedad is having somewhat of an injury “crisis” (mini-crisis maybe) as Sarpong injured himself in training this week and it is possible that he may miss the encounter while Bergara and Ansotegui will definitely miss out.  However, both Tamudo and Ifran could well be back for the match.  Racing on the other hand have a close to full squad, Arana the only player that will definitely miss out as he is set to undergo an operation.

Espanyol vs Málaga

After that embarrassing loss at the hands of Deportivo, Espanyol are back in Barcelona and will be looking to put that performance behind them as they receive a visit from a Málaga team that will have a new man at the helm.  Both teams are coming off losses but one’s loss was more consequential than the other.  Although, Espanyol lost on the road they remained in 5th position while the visitors slumped to their 5th consecutive home defeat this season and their coach was subsequently fired.  However, Málaga can look to put the past behind them and begin anew with the brilliant Pellegrini at the helm.  Despite the new beginnings awaiting the anchovies they will have a tough task ahead in getting something out of this match as Espanyol have been nothing short of perfect at home and have conceded a mere two goals at the Cornella El Pratt and it doesn’t help that in the last three visits to Barcelona Málaga haven’t won against the home team, the last visit ending 2-1 in favor of the home side.  Espanyol have quite a few injury concerns: Duscher will be missing for the match this weekend and could potentially be out longer with a muscular injury, Chica will also be missing due to tendonitis, Galan is still out with a broken leg, De la Peña and Mattioni continues to be missing.  Málaga has some key players out: Luque, Rondon and Rubén will all be missing for the trip to Barcelona.

Real Zaragoza vs Mallorca

Real Zaragoza are probably the most unfortunate side this season and were very unlucky to not have beaten Valencia and beaten them rather comfortably.  However, there is improvement in the blanquillos, they certainly seem to be getting things right and sooner or later some one will have to pay when they do.  Could it be Mallorca? I am not sure because here we have a team that doesn’t normally travel well but recently they have begun to pick up the points earning themselves a draw and a win in their last two road matches, which have both been against tough opponents (Barcelona and Valencia).  Zaragoza have yet to pick up a victory and are at this time rooted to the bottom of the table but with a victory could remain close to the rest of the teams as they are only three points behind 18th place.  And they need to be picking up the points where they can especially before the Christmas break comes around because then they will have almost gotten to the half way mark and at that point it will become a struggle to save themselves from relegation.  Mallorca are sitting comfortably in 7th place 10 points ahead of their opponents and they will certainly be looking to climb up the table with yet another win.   Past statistics show that this fixture hasn’t been kind to Zaragoza at all, losing four of the last five and drawing the other.  Also, this was the very team that beat Zaragoza on the last day of the season back in the 2007/08 season in a 5 goal thriller.  Hence, the blanquillos have their work cut out for them.  The hosts had some good news regarding Ander’s red card last weekend as the FA overruled the referee’s decision and lifted the match ban on the youngster.  The only doubt for the hosts is Contini who may miss through a twisted ankle he picked up in training this week.  Mallorca’s only concern is the Uruguayan Castro.

Villarreal vs Athletic Bilbao

After their wonderful start to the campaign, Villarreal have now twice slipped up to opponents they should have beaten comfortably and last weekend’s near debacle against Sporting is the latest slip from the yellow submarines, needing a late penalty call to earn a draw.  After their unfortunate loss to Sevilla, Bilbao rallied back and punished Getafe dearly last weekend at San Mames recording a 3-0 victory over the Madrid based team.  Bilbao have had a good start to the season losing only to tougher opponents thus far in matches that if one or two calls had gone their way they might have won.  They find themselves sitting in 9th on 13 points, while their hosts fell to 3rd, following their disappointing draw against Sporting, on 20 points.  Despite that, Villarreal have been brilliant this season and are still undefeated in their last 8 league games, some bounce back after losing their opening game.  They have also remained perfect at home winning all four games, scoring 9 goals and conceding none.  Bilbao’s last two visits to El Madrigal ended in defeat and even more in their last five league meetings with Villarreal they have won only ONE and lost the remainder.  Gonzalo will be absent for the home team after being sent off last weekend while Senna and Rubén are doubtful.  Bilbao’s Ibai Gómez and Igor Martínez will certainly be unavailable for selection due to injuries while regulars Amorebieta and Ocio will continue to be absent because of their respective injuries.

Levante vs Deportivo la Coruña

The visitors are coming off a high and morale must be boosted somewhat after they recorded their first victory last weekend in front of their home fans and they hope to thrill their travelling fans this weekend by earning another victory against fellow relegation candidates, Levante.  Both teams are separated by a solitary point and a win for either team could see them pull away from the relegation zone and a draw would see them remain in their positions.  Hence, both teams will be battling for the win.  Levante looked to be on the up and up especially after they earned themselves that valuable draw against Real Madrid.  Prior to that grand point against los blancos, Levante had picked up their first win away to Almería and there after battled to a draw against Madrid followed up by a draw away to Osasuna and then finally a home win against Real Sociedad– a wonderful undefeated stint for the granotes!  Unfortunately they visited a tough Espanyol team that ended their undefeated run.  The last four league meetings between these two teams have been kinder to the Galicians, winning 2, drawing 1 and losing the other.  Coincidentally, their last road trip to Valencia ended in Depor walking away with a 0-1 victory back in 2007.  Both teams are struggling with injuries.  Levante will be without Munúa, Del Horno, Xavi Torres, Xisco Muñoz, Iborra and Pérez.  On the other side of the pitch, Depor will be without Guadardo, Urretavizcaya, Míchel and Tomás.  While, Laure, Zé Castro, Rindarøy and Pablo Álvarez are doubtful for the encounter.

Almería vs Sporting Gijón

Both teams are separated by two points.  The home team have only won once all season and drawn more games than any team this season while their opponents have won 2 games but lost 4.  Both teams are only just above the relegation zone by virtue of 2 points.  Sporting’s last two visits to Almería have both ended in defeat for the team from Gijón.  Maybe the home team can look to this past history to give them some motivation on their way to possibly collecting three points.  A win for either team can easily take them a step away from the drop zone and 3 points closer to salvation.  Apart from their long term injuries, the hosts have a clean bill of health.  Sporting’s Álvarez, Canella and Morán are the only doubts and will require late checks to determine if they will be match fit to make the trip to Almería.  Mate Bilić will definitely miss out as he only just recovered from his recent injury.

Osasuna vs Hércules

After their heavy defeat away to Racing last weekend, Osasuna are back in Pamplona and hoping to pick up where they last left off at the Reyno de Navarro.  Eight of Osasuna’s nine points have been earned on home turf and they remain undefeated in Pamplona and it will take a huge effort from their rivals to gain points there considering they have only let in two goals thus far.  Hércules last weekend succumbed to defeat by a persistent Real Madrid despite going ahead in that match within the first three minutes.  They [Hércules] have been recognized as the giant slayers this season and as commendable as that may be they have been unable to replicate that fight and hunger they often show against the bigger teams when they meet up against the “weaker” teams in the league.  Both teams are on 9 points and Osasuna are sitting above the visitors in the table by virtue of goal difference.  Although they are both above the drop zone they are only 2 points above the drop and if results go against them, a draw will only see them plummet down the table.  Osasuna were dealt a huge blow as their point man Pandiani was ruled out once again with a calf and hamstring injury, the former injury he has been struggling with since the start of the season.  Camuñas will also continue to miss for the home team.  Hércules will welcome back Drenthe who was unable to play last weekend because of a clause in his loan contract while Valdez is the only real concern who had picked up an ankle injury in the match up last weekend.

Getafe vs Barcelona

Getafe are back in the Coliseum after their 3-0 defeat at the hands of Bilbao and coincidentally they fell by the same scoreline at home to German team Stuttgart mid-week in their Europa Cup encounter.  Getafe have been pretty disappointing this season and as such find themselves in mid-table sitting on 13 points and currently having some ups and downs and right now I would say they are on the down picking up 2 losses and a draw in their last three matches in all competitions.  European competitions have hurt them more than helped them this season and have stretched their squad to breaking point thus far.  Barcelona are coming off a strong win against Sevilla in the league and a frustrating draw mid-week against Copenhagen.  The visitors are sitting in 2nd place only a point off first place knowing that a win could send them into first and put their title rivals, whose match kicks off immediately after theirs, under pressure.  Getafe have a tough meet against Barcelona despite being the home team.  El Geta haven’t beaten Barcelona in their last 5 league encounters, picking up only 2 points from the last 15 and with the kind of form Getafe have been in, it will be hard to see them picking up any points but miracles happen and this is a funny ol’ sport.  As a result of their participation in the Europa Cup, Getafe have been struggling with injuries; their only long-term injury is Mario Álvarez.  However, Parejo, Manu, Gavilán and Torres are all out injured for this weekend’s encounter.  Barcelona, may have a close to clean bill of health but Pep’s medical staff has advised him to rest key playmaker Xavi who is still suffering from tendonitis.

El Derbi Madrileño

The grande match of the weekend, not the grandest match of the season but certainly the 2nd most anticipated derby in the entire La Liga season next to El Clásico.  Atlético are coming into this match on Sunday off the back of a frustrating result against Almería last weekend which they managed to bounce back from mid-week in their 2-1 win against Rosenborg in the Europa Cup.  Their opponents on the other hand are coming off a great comeback in league against Hércules last weekend and some how saved themselves from the pits of defeat mid-week against Milan in a match they should have won easily– both Casillas and Pepe will be very happy to put their mid-week performance behind them and focus solely on avoiding any mistakes in their upcoming match this Sunday.  A little history for you, Atlético haven’t beaten Real Madrid in 10 years!  Their last defeat (1-3) coming in 1999 the same season Atlético was last relegated.  Casillas will remember that defeat clearly; firstly because he is the only player that is still on the team from that season (Karanka is also still at Madrid not as a player but as Mourinho’s assistant) and secondly he came on as a substitute because Argentine goalkeeper Bizarri was sent off.  That is coincidentally the LAST match Casillas lost against Atlético.  A win in this match will certainly help Real Madrid in their title bid this season and further extend their wonderful start to the season.  Kaká, Garay and Gago are still out with injuries for the the home team while the visitors will be missing Colombian defender Perea through suspension after picking up his 5th yellow card last weekend, both Godín and Asenjo will both miss out due to their respective injuries while Reyes is a doubt heading into the game.

Sevilla vs Valencia

Both teams are in somewhat of a slump.  Sevilla keep turning out up and down performances while Valencia have been on the down ever since that defeat to Barcelona in the Camp Nou a few weeks ago.  Sevilla were absolutely embarrassed after their poor performance against Barcelona last weekend while Valencia were very fortunate to escape defeat by lowly Zaragoza.  Both teams are separated by 3 points and certainly Sevilla will be looking to secure all three at home and climb back into a European Competition spot.  Valencia will on the other hand be hoping to secure all three points to keep close to the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Villarreal.  This match is always a close encounter but never lacking in entertainment.  Valencia haven’t won in the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in the last three visits losing all three games.  As I’m writing this the only injury update is from Sevilla who will be without Navas for around 6 weeks with an ankle injury.

Top matches of the weekend

  • Villarreal vs Athletic Bilbao: Villarreal have been perfect at home, yet to concede but Bilbao is always that one team that despite the team they’re playing they will fight until the final whistle and they are a strong team with the in form forward Llorente who will try his best to be the first player to score at El Madrigal this season.  It is also a match that Bilbao will be trying their best to break their recent run of NO wins in their last two visits to the Valencian club.  Quality players on both sides and some silky, quick passing, wonderful build up play from Villarreal will be on display and that wonderful attacking trio of Rossi, Nilmar and Cazorla will be a joy to watch while Bilbao’s direct style will be hell for Villarreal to deal with.
  • El Derbi Madrileño: it doesn’t get better than a derby match! Real Madrid playing hosts to Atlético Madrid, a team that has been living in the shadow of their cross town rivals for as long as many of us know football and despite Atlético’s wonderful season last year they were still 2nd in command to the whites.  They have been shadowed by Real Madrid for 10 years now in the Madrid derby and will be hoping dearly that they can turn it around this time.  However, they have a few factors working against them: Real Madrid’s form, Mourinho’s 140 unbeaten home games record in league and ofcourse their inability to win a derby since their last in the 1999/00 season.
  • Sevilla vs Valencia: two great teams that are currently not in top form and despite both their impressive mid-week performances, they are still a step off in the league and both teams will be fighting to secure all three points.  Always a close, intense and very entertaining game and I hope it will be as such on Monday night.