Isco’s dilemma: Should the playmaker be given more playing time?

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Isco celebrating his goal against Argentina 

He was once one of the most sought after young Spanish football talents before agreeing to a €30 million move to Real Madrid in 2013, signing a five-year contract with the club.

The bandy-legged Andalusian playmaker struggled for playing time under Ancelotti in his first two seasons. Despite his struggle for game time, the Spaniard managed 11 goals and seven assists in 44 games* in his first season and four goals and nine assists in 39 games* the following season.

Although, Rafa Benítez replaced Ancelotti for the start of the 2015/16 season, Isco continued to struggle for game time but then started to earn some regular play time at the turn of 2016, when Benítez was fired half-way through the season and replaced by Real Madrid and France legend, Zinedine Zidane. The Spaniard finished the season with three goals and ten assists in 42 games* and his second Champions League trophy in three seasons.

The 2016/17 season still didn’t change much in terms of minutes on the field but his significance for Real Madrid was undeniable, with opposing players virtually incapable of defending him. He contributed to the team’s cup double success with his 11 goals and eight assists.

In spite of his lack of minutes over the past four seasons, Isco consistently turned in impressive performances, bamboozling opponents when the opportunity presented itself with his nimble feet and silky smooth dribbling skills. Due to his performances, he was regularly given plaudits and was often compared to his famed coach during his glory days— a praise that also cascaded from the mouth of the French legend himself.

However, with the rise to prominence of his equally impressive yet younger compatriot, Asensio; Isco found himself slipping down the pecking order, becoming essentially a distant memory replaced by a newer, more intriguing one— almost like a child who tosses his older, yet once favourite toy when presented with a newer, shinier and [what appears to be a] more entertaining toy.

Nevertheless, given Isco’s history, his consistency for the national team and Real Madrid’s abysmal season in the league, Zidane should be handing the playmaker far more minutes than he’s been given this season and Isco has made that clear.

After turning in yet another extraordinary performance for the national team— scoring his first hat-trick for Spain, Isco slyly took a swipe at Zidane and in essence alerted clubs interested in him, that he is unhappy with his current club situation and may be available after the World Cup in Russia.

Isco is a special player and he should be an integral part of Real Madrid. When played with regularity—  and his performances with Spain demonstrates this— the bow-legged playmaker can conjure up magic in a split second, almost as good as— but not quite like— Messi.

* Copa del Rey appearances weren’t included

Has Real Madrid done enough in the summer transfer window?

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Team celebrating their European Super Cup win against Manchester United

After an extraordinary season and having etched their names into the annals of history, Real Madrid looked a magnificent team that never really needed any additional [big name] signings given their strength in depth. However, based on the wants of players, there were always going to be adjustments. Some of which could either propel the team to the brink of invincibility or see them unravel after a near perfect 2016/17 season.

The team’s goal is to maintain stability and bolster the squad, where necessary. Selling too many [important] players would be a disruptive path to continued stability, which raises a number of questions: how has the club performed in the transfer window so far? Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little? Are they making reasonable moves?

Before answering those questions, we should ask ourselves: what were Los Blancos’ weaknesses despite a glorious double — winning the Champions League and La Liga, an accomplishment not experienced by the whites for more than 50 years — and making history by becoming the first team to win the continental title back-to-back since the era of the Champions League?

The first answer that comes to mind, is the need for bolstering the defence. Real Madrid would have actually lost quite a few games without the likes of Navas, who was in especially fine form towards the end of the season and their incredible players in attack, who just enjoyed outscoring their opponents in games.

Then there was the problem of keeping everyone happy, including those who played a fringe role — James, Coentrão, Danilo, Nacho, Kovacic, Mariano and Casilla — and those who wanted to be more than just a regular substitute — Isco, Morata, Vazquez and Asensio. Zidane was clearly an excellent motivator and had for the most part convinced the majority of players of their importance to the team, even when they didn’t play as regularly as they’d have liked. He even managed to persuade Ronaldo that he needed to be fresh for the final lap of the season and to achieve that he had to accept that he wouldn’t be able to every game.

That was last season and while he succeeded, some players were not going to be convinced for the upcoming season and wanted to seek opportunities outside of Real Madrid.

Los Blancos has since sold Danilo (ca. €30M), Morata (€65.6M plus add-ons) and Mariano (ca. €8M) to Manchester City, Chelsea and Lyon, respectively. James has been sent to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal, Coentrão was loaned to Sporting Lisbon for a season and Pepe wasn’t offered a new deal, thereby making him a free agent.

Fairly good business, as Coentrão was injury-prone; James, though brilliant, apparently had a poor attitude in training  — if the rumours are to be believed — and he obviously wasn’t a favourite of Zidane’s; Danilo never quite unlocked his full potential at Real — partly down to Carvajal’s constant brilliance —, and was especially prone to mistakes in defence. Pepe was an ageing defender, who at some point had to be replaced, granted Real could’ve done a better job of “phasing” him out; Mariano showed flashes of his brilliance when he was given the opportunity to play and if he can fine tune his talent at Lyon, Real will certainly activate his buy-back clause; then there is Morata, a special case. Incredibly talented player, who in his own right had to move on if he wanted to become more than a super sub, as there was no chance of him breaking into the starting line-up as long as the BBC was still active in Madrid. And at 24, it was now or never and he chose now.

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L-R: Ceballos, Mayoral, Asensio, Vallejo, Llorente and Raúl.

Has the club sufficiently replaced the players gone?

Returning to the club is centre back Vallejo, who spent a year on loan at Frankfurt and was a main stay in the starting 11 for the Bundesliga club. The 20-year-old had a solid loan spell at the Eagles and helped his team to the German Cup final. He has extremely good concentration on the park, rarely loses the ball and is a tidy passer. He does need to work on his aggressiveness when trying to win the ball back and his aerial duel —he had a meagre 1.2 tackles per game according to WhoScored and he won on average 2.2 aerial battles per game last season in the Bundesliga. He does have promise and under the tutelage of both Ramos and Varane and with experience overtime he could develop into a defensive super star. His signing is an overall useful and reliable one both for the present and future.

Grade: B+.

Also returning to the club is Marcos Llorente, who had an impressive loan spell at Deportivo Alavés. Llorente comes from footballing royalty — his great uncle is Real Madrid legend Paco Gento and his father is Paco Llorente Gento, a Madrid legend in his own right. Young Llorente seems to be following in their footsteps, as he was a constant in the starting line-up at Alavés and helped lead his club to the Spanish Cup final. He was able to exhibit his quality, while gaining experience with the Basque side. He doesn’t have any explicit weaknesses, has excellent tackling abilities and is great at breaking up the opponents’ play. Per WhoScored he had an average of 3.8 tackles per game, better than Sergio Ramos’ season average.  He’s also a neat passer —he had an average pass quota of 87%  last season. Llorente is without a doubt a rising star and is only 22. He will have the chance to hone his skills under the guidance of players like Ramos, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Varane, et al. His return has bolstered los Blancos’ already strong midfield and provides necessary cover for Casemiro.

Grade: A

Borja Mayoral, is one of Madrid’s most promising forwards and has already been compared to club legend Raúl. He had a torrid time on loan at Wolfsburg last season, not because of his lack of quality but rather the perpetual chaos that broke out at the club and the problems that ensued —the club changed coaches several times. However, Zidane has always been a fan of him and the 20-year-old looks set to replace Morata in the squad, even taking over the Chelsea man’s old squad number. His lack of playing time at the Wolves meant he hardly played a role for Spain at the U21 European Championship this summer and made a solitary appearance as a substitute. Considering the scarcity in playing time and inadequate experience, his presence in los Blancos’ squad doesn’t seem all too encouraging but he at least deserves a chance and he’s excelled at the youth level, which may translate into success for him in the first team.

Grade: C+

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Theo on his pre-season debut against Manchester United

With Coentrão gone, Marcelo needed a deputy. The club needed a player who isn’t prone to injury and capable of stepping up to the plate when called upon. Theo Hernández is exactly that player and at just 19 he could develop into a long-term fixture at Real Madrid, especially under the tutelage of the brilliant Brazilian. Theo, like Marcelo, loves to dribble and can deliver lethal crosses into the box. He also has a wicked left foot and can punish teams from dead ball situations— not that he’ll have a chance to put it to use often, if ever, but it is nice to know he has it in his arsenal. And in a team as fluid as Madrid, his runs down the left could see him start cutting into the box more and punishing the net with that left foot of his. Excellent signing.

Grade: A

Replacing James and bringing in ample cover for Kroos and/or Modric was crucial for the club this season. As we saw last season, los Blancos had trouble at times filling the boots of both the German and Croatian. That’s where Spanish football’s newest prodigy comes in. Dani Ceballos, with his nimble feet and stunning dribbles, enjoys breaking ankles and leaving players dead in his wake. The young Spaniard had an outstanding U21 European Championship and was named player of the tournament. He holds the ball well, can deliver scrumptious passes, tends to get fouled a lot because of his sensational dribbling and gets involved defensively with strong tackling. He does however, need to work on his finishing. It must be frustrating for a player with his skill and talent, who can’t finish off one of his menacing runs. He is nevertheless a massive talent and a player capable of filling the boots of Modric and/or Kroos, when they’re injured or when they choose to move on. One for the future.

Grade: A

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L-R: Luca Zidane, Borja Mayoral, Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente

Have they done enough to ensure continued success or have they done too little?

The club has done some good business so far, with the exception of not filling the spot left open by Danilo’s departure and the apparent faith placed in the inexperienced Mayoral.

The open right back position may well be filled by either Álvaro Tejero or Achraf Hakimi, both talented young players, who’ve both been impressive for the youth team and were standouts during the club’s pre-season tour. However, like Mayoral, they could either turn out to be brilliant players, who can handle the weight of wearing the white shirt or they could all crack under the pressure.

Placing confidence in these youngsters is a bold move from Zidane but their performances in pre-season show they may well be ready for the demands that come with the badge.

The fact los Blancos has been able to keep their core team together and replace fringe players sufficiently, they seem set to continue their success. Additionally, all the signings made so far means the club has also made an effort to build for the future —the average age of the squad is 25.6 years.

They’ve thus far performed shrewdly in the market and don’t necessarily need another signing but if they do bring in one, say…Mbappé, it’d be fine. But signing the French man seems to really be a stretch, especially since Monaco wants €180M for the player and he is demanding a net salary of €12M/year.

Overall Grade: A-

 

Croatia could go all the way

At every championship there is at least one team we expect to cause all sorts of problems for the household names and this year’s Euro had names such as Belgium, Poland and Croatia being tossed around for but only Croatia has really laid claim to that label and ran with it.

They had an impressive showing against Turkey in their opening game but only secured a narrow win through a brilliant Modric volleyed-goal, but they controlled the game, created chances and defended resolutely.

In their next game, they dashed into a two-goal lead against the Czech Republic but a few of their nitwit fans decided to interrupt the game by throwing flares onto the field, which ended up doing their team more harm than good and moments after the restart they conceded the equaliser. A disappointing end to what was an otherwise great performance from the Croatians.

croespThey went into the final game of the group in second, two points behind the Spanish. La Roja were expected to have a fairly easy game and to finish top of their group. However, that wasn’t the case and the Croats came out aggressive, pressed the Spaniards ad prevented them from playing their possession-based game. They also did well forcing Iniesta out of the game, not allowing the little wizard any chance to dictate play. Majority of the Spanish’s play came through either Silva or Fabregas and a combination between the two led to the eventual opening goal. It wouldn’t last long though, as the Croatians would hit Spain on a perfectly executed counterattack just before the half through Perisic, who galloped down the left wing, broke Juanfran’s ankles and whipped in a lovely cross for Kalinic, who flicked the ball pass De Gea.

In the second half, the Croats didn’t change their game plan and continued to press the Spaniards, creating loads of chances but just couldn’t finish. The referee almost gave Spain an opportunity to “restore the order” by awarding them an incorrect penalty but justice was served because Ramos hit his penalty straight at the goalkeeper and later, the Croatians would deliver the knockout punch of the night in the 88th minute from a blitz counterattack with the scorer of the first, Kalinic returning the favour for Perisic to beat De Gea at his near post.

The Croatians shocked La Roja by not only defeating them through some lovely football and steadfast defending but to finish as group winners, thus leaving Spain to face Italy in the next round.

perisicTheir performance was commendable considering they had to do without Modric, who was injured. Additionally, Brozovic was rested, neither Strinic nor Vida played and Mandzukic was replaced by Kalinic. It was an outstanding game for the Croats, who’ve really been performing amazingly in the championship and this win will have given them bags of confidence. Their winning the group was probably more a let off the hook for the Italians than it was for the Croatians.

They have a wealth of talent, the likes of Modric- he picked up his second Champions League trophy with Real Madrid this season; Rakitic- was key in helping Barcelona win the domestic double; Mandzukic- an erratic character but the Juventus man can be clinical and though he’s struggling to hit form in this tournament can still deliver an unexpected blow to opponents; Brozovic- an undoubtedly talented, energetic and creative midfielder; Perisic- the Inter Milan man is a talented attacker who has a few tricky moves and can deliver deadly crosses into the box; and then there are the stallions: Corluka and Srna. Additionally, they have young players, who possess bags of talent, like Rog, who had a tremendous game in midfield against Spain, which was his fourth game for the national team. There’s Jedvaj, another 20-year-old, who had a terrific game in defence against the Spanish- also his fourth appearance for Croatia. Kalinic started the game in place of Mandzukic and did what the Juve man had failed to in the previous two games- not only scoring but providing an assist. Pjaca also made his 9th start against Spain and turned in a tremendous performance on the right. They also have Real Madrid’s talented young midfielder, Kovacic, who can play in a range of midfield positions.

The Croatians have a well-balanced team of both youth and experienced players and they have showed us that they possess all the right ingredients to be our Cinderella at the ball and I’m looking forward to them fulfilling that role and making it all the way to the final.

Spain: The most convincing team yet

The last game of the day saw Spain take on Turkey

sspainThe game was surely the best of the day and probably the most outstanding performance by any team in the tournament thus far. Spain destroyed their Turkish opponents 3-0. Former Real Madrid player, Morata scored a double, while ex-Barcelona youngster, Nolito scored the other.

Spain looked like the complete team; their passing was delightful, the defence was firm and their finishing was razor sharp. They created chance after chance, testing the ability of Volkan Babacan with every one. The Turkish defence came under constant pressure and at times seemed out of their depth. They struggled to deal with Nolito’s quick feet and speed and had absolutely no answer to the ever radiant Iniesta. Alba’s overlaps were also dangerous.

Iniesta is the M-A-N

There are no more words left in the English language, which haven’t been used to describe Iniesta’s genius before and no one word can perfectly express his dexterity.

The Barca man controlled the game with his scintillating, well-weighted, inch-perfect passes and was the main creative hub of the team. He hardly put a foot wrong and ini_turhas yet to turn in a lax performance in this tournament. He has had a hand in every goal the Spanish have scored so far and will be pivotal in their attempt to complete the treble.

The complete team?

The brilliance of Iniesta aside, Del Bosque’s men looked sturdy and had variety to their game, much unlike the opener. They frustrated the Turkish with their passing and occasionally switched up the tempo through Nolito and Morata- a partnership looks to be developing between the two and alongside the prowess of Iniesta could be essential to La Roja. The defence also looks robust- from the central pairing of Pique and Ramos to the fullbacks and their menacing runs down the flank during the team’s attacks. It would be careless to not mention the contribution of Busquets, who at times is an unsung hero in the Spanish midfield. He labours diligently in midfield, snuffing out any and every attempt at an attack by opponents.

La Roja delivered the best and most convincing performance of any other favourites in the tournament and seem to be going from strength to strength. They weren’t touted as strong favourites but today’s performance provided the most compelling argument in their favour and if they put in another strong performance against a very tricky Croatian team, there’s no doubt they could go all the way.

 

Group stage openers down and still no clear favourite

Portugal and Iceland completed the “final” group stage opener of this year’s European Championship and yet there are no clear favourites.

A regular among favourites in tournaments and reigning world champions, Germany are along with defending champs, Spain and host, France the teams really being tipped as the teams best equipped to win the Euro.

France

The host, France are naturally the leading favourites by default, considering the tournament is on home soil but if we are to be honest, their opening game wasn’t at all impressive and without the inspiration of Payet, they’d probably have earned a mere draw against Romania.

The French looked anything but a cohesive unit and the man we all expected to be France’s star and a major force in midfield turned in a somewhat underwhelming performance. Yes, I’m looking at you Pogba. There was none of his clever shimmying or cheeky yet killer passes nor did we see his usual energetic runs from box to box. Things we’ve all gotten use to seeing from him week in, week out in Juventus’ midfield.

Defensively they are suspect and that was demonstrated by a clumsy tackle from Evra, which led to a penalty for Romania. Not to mention, the Romanians constantly cut through that defense like a knife through butter, creating far more opportunities than I had anticipated they would; chances they should’ve converted.

It was, however, important to start the opening game with a win and that they did. It was a win birthed from a moment of individual brilliance but a win that could also spur them on to become eventual champions.

Germany

Reigning world champs Germany turned in a strong performance against Ukraine but were still caused a great deal of trouble by most of their attack, especially in the first half and had it not been for the ever impressive Neuer and some magical, yet logic defying defending by Boateng, they may have finished the game levelled. Germany’s defence were, however missing their defensive leader, Mats Hummels and it manifested itself through Ukraine’s copious chances.

Nevertheless, Germany had some stand out performers, chiefly Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos. Based on stats by Squawka, he missed all of two passes in the entire game. He absolutely dominated the midfield. Özil also had an impressive game and his form with Arsenal has spilled over to the tournament, evidenced by his two assists.

The opening performance by Germany, though not as disciplined as we are accustomed to, delivered the all important win, which will probably propel them to the title. It was without a doubt the best performance by a favourite in the tournament thus far.

Spain

Defending champs Spain, who are hoping for a much better performance in this tournament following their debacle in the last World Cup, turned in a very patient, typical Spanish performance and rightly secured a narrow win over the Czech Republic.

The Spanish seemed to have recovered some of their swag that won them the 2012 European Championship but they are still struggling to put the ball in the net, a feat that could be detrimental to their hopes of retaining the title for a third straight tournament, but their aptitude to keep possession and frustrate opponents has been their fortitude during their run of three successive International titles and it could be what fires them to a third consecutive European title.

Are there any others worth mentioning?

England is a name also being thrown around as potential favourites- mostly by the British media. Their opener against Russia was a testy one- probably more in the stands and streets than on the pitch.

The English dominated the game and should’ve rightly won but for a terrible lapse in defense which allowed Russia to take a point late on. That said, if the English are unable to finish their chances and their defense is going to be plagued by such costly lapses then the role of favourites should be given to someone else because if they come up against a defensively stronger and more creative opponent they will struggle and they will lose. Roy Hodgson has some assessment to do before they come up against the Welsh, mainly benching Sterling, starting or eventually bringing on Vardy as a late substitute and choosing a better person to take the corners. They are however, a group that has piqued my interest and I’ll be watching their next game against Wales closely.

Italy, as always, are considered favourites in any tournament even if they have nothing special about them and this tournament is no different. Such is the Italians effectiveness. They have a knack for turning in awful performances but still manage to grind out the win. Something we’ve seen on countless occasions. The effectivity of the Italians came in to play in their opener against Belgium. It was a solid performance from the Azzuri and their wing backs caused Belgium all sorts of trouble and the likes of Giaccherini and Pelle, both considered on the average side were clinical. Another performance like this for the Italians in their next game will certainly see them qualify for the next round. After which, we can really discuss what their potential is as far as this tournament goes.

Dark horses?

Croatia and Poland are worth mentioning as the possible dark horses of the tournament. Both teams have a wealth of talent and their own superstars, who’ll probably draw the attention of their opponents leaving the other, younger talented players to wreak havoc.

But if one had to choose, Croatia would be hands down the pick to cause a likely upset. The wealth of talent they have in Modric- he picked up his second Champions League trophy with Real Madrid this season; Rakitic- was key in helping Barcelona win the domestic double; Mandzukic- an erratic character but a clinical striker nonetheless; Brozovic- an undoubtedly talented, energetic and creative midfielder; Perisic- despite Inter Milan’s average season, he’s still a talented attacker and he displayed that in the first game with a few tricky moves and some wonderful crosses into the box; and then there are the stallions: Corluka and Srna. Croatia has all the right ingredients to be our Cinderella at the ball and I’m looking forward to them fulfilling that role.

La Liga Preview: Match Day 29

Round 29 of La Liga is getting set to kick-off and will be the last round as the league is set to go on two weeks break.  The madrileño derby will take center stage on Saturday, while Valencia welcoming Sevilla to the Mestalla will also be an intense match up.  Villarreal’s trip to San Mamés should also be an entertaining game.

Mallorca vs Real Zaragoza

Mallorca will welcome Zaragoza to the Iberostar on Saturday.  Mallorca last weekend managed a draw on the road at Levante while, Real Zaragoza recorded an emphatic win over Valencia at La Romareda.  When these two sides met at the beginning of November, the blanquillos earned a 3-2 victory.  Coincidentally, the team’s first home victory of the season.  Mallorca have been win-less in their last two league games and have only won once in the last five, drawing one and losing three.  Meanwhile, Zaragoza have won twice, drawn once and lost twice in their last five.  The home team haven’t lost against Zaragoza at home in the last four league matches between the two.  There has been no fresh report of injuries from the Mallorca camp.  However, Zaragoza will be without Lanzaro as he suffered an injury to his adductor muscle.

Barcelona vs Getafe

Barcelona will welcome Getafe to the Nou Camp in this weekend’s second match.  The blaugrana, earlier this week, received some devastating news about defender Abidal, who underwent surgery for a liver tumor and the French man is expected to miss approximately five to six weeks.  Barcelona last weekend drew against Sevilla, while Getafe came from behind to salvage a point against Athletic Bilbao.  Getafe have never won at the Camp Nou in their seven games played there and have only ever left with a point on two occasions.  Incidentally, both coming in April and November of 2008. In fact, Barcelona hasn’t lost to Getafe in league since November 10, 2007 when Manu and Albín scored for el geta.  Getafe are currently on a poor run of form, winning only once in their last ten league games, drawing four and losing five.  Also, el geta are on a win-less streak of six games. Puyol and Abidal will definitely miss the game on Saturday while Messi, Pedro and Maxwell are all doubtful.  Getafe themselves have a long list of lengthy injuries- Rafael will be out for four months, Colunga will be out for five weeks, Gavilán will be out for six months and José Ortíz will be out for another two weeks.

Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid

El Derbi madrileño will take place this weekend and will be the final game on Saturday.  Real Madrid on Wednesday made it through to the quarter-final stages of the Champions League, after a seven year hiatus, by defeating Lyon 4-1 on aggregate.  The visitors have not lost to the colchoneros for the past 11 years, the last defeat coming October 30, 1999 when Atléti traveled to the Bernabéu and earned a 3-1 victory- Hasselbaink with a brace and José Mari with another for the colchoneros while Morientes scored the only goal for Real Madrid.  Atléti have won only twice in their last ten games and have lost five of those ten games, drawing the other three.  Both teams have met three times already this season; once in league and twice in the Copa Del Rey with Real Madrid winning all three encounters outscoring their rivals six goals to one.  Despite being back on the pitch, Higuaín will continue his recovery process for a herniated disc and Kaká will also continue to miss out due to a knee injury.  Atléti have not reported any new injuries in their camp.

Sporting Gijón vs Almería

Sporting will face Almería at El Molinón on Sunday.  Both teams are coming off important draws last weekend against Villarreal and Atlético Madrid, respectively.  When these two teams met earlier this season, Sporting left the Mediterráneo with a point following a 1-1 draw with the Andalucians.  Of the seven meetings between these two at El Molinón, Almería has only ever won once, that victory coming in April of 2007.  Sporting has only won once in their last five league games but has also only lost once.  While, Almería has a similar record to the Asturians.  Sporting will miss both Rafael Sastre and José Angel as both men were dismissed last weekend against Villarreal.  The Asturians will also miss Cuéllar who is out injured and both Bilic and Carmelo are doubtful for the encounter.  As for Almería, the only major concern is that of Piatti, who continues to recover from his injury.

Hércules vs Osasuna

Relegation threatened Hércules will welcome a visit from Osasuna at the José Rico Peréz Stadium on Sunday.  The visiting team are undefeated in their last three league games, winning the last two.  Hércules, however, are on a five game win-less streak and have lost their last three games.  Osasuna are the league’s worst visiting team and only in their last away fixture did they manage to earn a victory after a year and 34 days without doing so. Osasuna have only ever won once at the José Rico Peréz, which came January 1982.  Of the last five fixtures between the two in Alicante, Osasuna have walked away with a point on two occasions, losing the other three fixtures.  Osasuna welcomed Oier back to the group on Thursday as he trained without limitations, Rúper partially trained with the team, while Aranda began physiotherapy and Pandiani trained on his own.  Trezeguet is the only injury concern at the moment for the home team.

Racing Santander vs Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad will travel to Santander where they will face off against Racing.  Both teams are coming off losses last weekend and are looking to rebound.  The verdiblancos are currently on a four game win-less streak, losing two and drawing two.  La Real is also win-less in the last four games- losing three and drawing one.  Of the last five league meetings between the two at El Sardinero, Real Sociedad has won three, drawn one and lost one.  Both teams are separated by five points but the home side is too close to the bottom three for comfort as they sit 16th with four points between them and 18th place, Hércules.  Real Sociedad’s only injury concern at the moment is Demidov.  Racing will be without Henrique, who has to serve a one match ban following his fifth yellow card last weekend.  Also, the verdiblancos will miss the injured Arana, Adrián, Serrano and Tziolis.

Málaga vs Espanyol

The anchovies will welcome a visit from Espanyol on Sunday evening.  Los Periquitos have been disastrous on the road this season and had it not been for their solid home performances probably wouldn’t sit in fifth as they have only picked up thirteen points from a possible 42 points.  Málaga, however, are doing  just as badly at home and in fact, are the league’s worst home team with only 11 points from a possible 39.  When these two met back in early November, Espanyol edged the Andalucians 1-0.  However, Málaga will have their chance at revenge on Sunday as the parakeets have a poor away record and coupled with that, the home team have only ever lost to the Catalans twice at home in their nine meetings at La Rosaleda.  The home team will continue to be without Baptista and will also miss Cala.  Both Javi Márquez and Duscher are doubtful for the visitors.

Deportivo la Coruña vs Levante

Levante will travel to Galicia on Sunday where they will face off against Deportivo in El Riazor.  Deportivo are currently in 14th with a five point edge over 18th and a point behind their opponents, who are 13th in the table.  When the two teams met in round ten of the league this season Levante fell 2-1 at home to the Galicians and will be seeking revenge when they meet on Sunday.  However, the granotes have only ever won once at the Riazor, albeit, that came in a second division meeting in 1980.  The last five matches between the two at the Riazor have ended in four wins and a draw for Deportivo.  The home team’s only injury concern at the moment is to that of Riki and Morel.  While, Levante hasn’t reported any injuries.

Athletic Bilbao vs Villarreal

Bilbao will on Sunday be seeking revenge against Villarreal following their 4-1 defeat in week 10 of the league this season.  Villarreal on Thursday qualified for the next round of the Europa League after downing Bayer Leverkusen 5-3 on aggregate and will be seeking to add to that success with a victory in San Mamés.  Of the last five meetings in the cathedral between the two teams, Villarreal have won three, drawn one and lost one- that loss coming last season.  The yellow submarines have won only once in their last five league games, drawn three and lost once, whereas, los leones have lost three, drawn one and won one.  Athletic will be without Toquero who is suffering from a muscle injury.  Meanwhile, Villarreal haven’t reported any injuries.

Valencia vs Sevilla

In the final game on Sunday and of the round, we will see Sevilla travel to the Mestalla where they will face Valencia.  Sevilla are coming off a huge point after they came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with league leaders Barcelona last weekend.  Valencia, however, were well beaten by Real Zaragoza, 4-0.  In round 10 of the league, when Valencia visited the Andalucians, were beaten 2-0 and will on Sunday look to “repay” the visitors by defeating them.  Sevilla’s last five trips to the Mestalla have ended in four defeats and a victory for los nervionenses. The last three visits for the Andalucians ended in defeats, being outscored eight goals to three.  Aduriz, Maduro and Albelda are all doubtful for the encounter, while Sevilla’s Cáceres and Fernando Navarro will miss the encounter due to suspension.

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