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

Isco_Disco
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

Bale to pull Real Madrid out of mini crisis?

Three months into the 2017/18 European football season and Real Madrid is struggling.

After winning back-to-back Champions League titles and a major double last season, los Blancos were expected to continue their dominance. And they looked set to do so after their performance against Manchester United in the European Super Cup and their thrashing of Barcelona over the course of two legs in the Spanish Super Cup.

It was the Merengues who were flying while their arch-rivals were — and technically still are —  in the midst of a bureaucratic crisis, which everyone anticipated would spill over to the field. Instead, it is the Blaugrana and not Real Madrid who find themselves having a good run in all competitions— sitting comfortably atop the league, look set to top their group in the Champions League and have comfortably progressed to the next round of the Copa del Rey.

Real Madrid, in contrast, are sitting fourth in La Liga — eight points behind Barcelona,  are most certain to finish second in their Champions League group, and turned in an embarrassing performance at the Bernabéu against third league team Fuenlabrada  in the Copa del Rey.

There are a number of reasons behind the club’s misfortunes. They haven’t been able to field the BBC in months, players are off-form, Ronaldo and the team in general are shooting blanks, injuries have taken a toll— Bale and Kovacic both suffered serious injuries— and most importantly, the club hadn’t sufficiently replaced Morata, Mariano and James.

Things could get worse for the team too.

They are about to begin a rather difficult schedule. They travel to Basque country to meet Atheltic Bilbao on Saturday, who are themselves in the midst of a small crisis. Los Leones currently sit 16th in the league but when it comes to, their league position doesn’t matter. The San Mamés is a notoriously difficult stadium to play in and can be a source of disappointment for Real Madrid.

Los Blancothen welcomes Dortmund to the Bernabéu on Wednesday for their final Champions League group game of the season, followed by Sevilla three days later. The club then travels for the Club World Cup semi-final and final between December 13th and 16th, and then it’s back to Spain for El Clásico on December 23rd in the Bernabéu.

This is a very crucial period for Real Madrid and they are all must win games, with the exception of, maybe, the game against Dortmund.

The tides could— and have to— begin to change for the club starting on Saturday. Zidane was able to welcome back Bale to the team on Tuesday and his return could coincide with a turn in the team’s fortunes. His cameo against Fuenlabrada was what prevented Real Madrid from being the laughing stock of La Liga teams in the Copa, as he had a hand in both goals.

A lack of goals and an out of sync backline has been a great source of pain for Real Madrid this season and Bale’s return could remedy that to an extent.

Real Madrid’s second place finish: a blessing or a curse?

last-16
Photo courtesy of Uefa.com

Heading into yesterday’s Champions League final group stage game, there were still a few undecided groups- who’d take top spot and who’d play Europa League. One such group was group F, which consisted of defending champions Real Madrid, last season’s Bundesliga runner-up Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon and Polish league winners Legia Warsaw.

Real Madrid went into the game needing a win to secure top spot, while Sporting Lisbon needed a mere point to secure a spot in the Europa League. However, things went sour for both the Spaniards and Portuguese.

Sporting Lisbon had one job to do, in order to secure third spot in the group and continue their European adventures but they were stunned by the Polish, who secured a 1-0 win thanks to Guilherme’s 30th-minute goal.

Real Madrid led 2-0 after 53 mins into the game only to have Dortmund mount a comeback just after the hour mark through Aubameyang and then went on to hit the equalizer in the 88th minute through Marco Reus. Thereby, pipping the defending champs to the top spot.

However, Real Madrid’s blunder could well be a blessing in disguise for Zizou’s men. The teams that have qualified for the last 16 are as follows:

Group winners: Arsenal (Group A, ENG), Napoli (B, ITA), Barcelona (C, ESP), Atlético Madrid (D, ESP), Monaco (E, FRA), Borussia Dortmund (F, GER), Leicester City (G, ENG), Juventus (H, ITA)

Group runners-up: Paris Saint-Germain (A, FRA), Benfica (B, POR), Manchester City (C, ENG), Bayern München (D, GER), Bayer Leverkusen (E, GER), Real Madrid (F, ESP), Porto (G, POR), Sevilla (H, ESP)

Based on Los Blancos’ second place finish they could be drawn against either of the following teams on Monday: Arsenal, Monaco, Leicester City, Napoli or Juventus.

Whilst, had they won the group, they could have been drawn against either: PSG, Manchester City, Bayer Leverkusen, Porto, Benfica or Bayer Munich.

In their current predicament, Real Madrid’s worst case scenario would be Juventus- a strong defensive team, which has proven tough for them to defeat over the past few years, while Arsenal on a good day could pose some threat. The other teams aren’t without their merits and could all provide a serious threat to the defending champions, but they would all be considered outsiders when placed alongside the Merengues.

However, had they taken top spot, there are at least three teams they’d want to avoid so early in the competition: Bayern Munich- the team they’d most want to avoid and PSG and Manchester City- two teams that could be tricky on a good day.

Based on that, I believe Zidane and his men have possibly dodged an extremely difficult opponent in the round of 16 and could take this second place finish as a blessing in disguise.

Let’s see what happens on Monday and who Real Madrid are pitted against. Both Leicester City and Monaco would be the perfect choices but also not teams to underestimate.

The draw will take place on Monday at 12CET.

 

 

 

 

Takeaways from Real Madrid’s win against Lisbon

Real Madrid kickedrmavspo off the new Champions League season with a late, late win at home to Sporting Lisbon, who must be feeling hard-done after producing a good first half and early second half performance, while the hosts’ performance was subpar at best. However, the Madridista-never-say-die attitude coupled with Zidane’s second half substitutes and Ronaldo’s brilliant free kick produced a much needed victory.

There were some things that were on display during the game which are worth highlighting. Here are a few:

The BBC’s fluidity is being disrupted by injuriesbbc

Not long ago the BBC was being touted as the best attacking trio but have since been displaced by MSN. Injuries have been a colossal problem for Real Madrid’s attack in the past and Morata’s signing as well as holding onto Asensio was a step in the right direction to provide some cover when either member of the trio goes down injured. Benzema’s absence was obvious last season and is to some extent still noticeable- Morata hasn’t quite settled in completely as the out-and-out striker.

The BBC is lacking harmony and it was on full display last night. Miscommunication led to missed passes and less opportunities created among the three. Bale’s pass rate was a meagre 71.4%; Benzema had no shots on goal. It was necessary to substitute both in the second half and it paid off handsomely. It’s understandable that the trio needs more time to rediscover their form and it may take some time to find that fluidity as neither Benzema, Bale nor Ronaldo had a pre-season. Regaining fluidity will happen only if they can stay injury-free long enough.

James should be given a fair chance

The situation with James is bothersome. There are some reports that his attitude in training is rotten and that’s the main reason Zidane doesn’t believe in him as much. However, he has been in splendid form for Colombia and last night’s cameo saw some of his abilities on display. In the fifteen minutes he played he created three chances and provided the assist for the winning goal- it was a brilliant, well-placed cross from the left to find the head of Morata. If he can produce that in a quarter of an hour, imagine what he could in an hour or more. And for that reason, Zidane should give him a fair chance at proving himself and regaining the confidence and form he had during his first season with the club. Hopefully, James is willing to work hard- if the rumours are true- and not rest on his laurels.

Vazquez should work on his finishing

Lucas Vazquez appears to be a fan favourite and while that is absolutely justified he could endear himself even more to the fans IF he improves his shooting. After coming on for Bale in the 66th minute he created two wonderful chances for himself with some clever dribbling but his shots were weak. One could surmise that both chances were anaemic because they came from his weaker left foot but he’s also had some feeble shots on goal with his right. For example, in the Champions League final against Atletico and the European Super Cup against Sevilla he had clear cut chances which he fluffed; hit with no direction. The video below is just one visual illustration of Vazquez’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. If you wish to not watch the highlights in its entirety you can fast forward to 14:30. In the clip he had time and space and should have done much better with his opportunity. Further proof of his ineptitude in front of goal was his four goals in 25 appearances last season. The upside is that he’s still fairly young and can still develop that side of his game. He also provides the team with lovely crosses, draws plenty fouls with his dribbling and contributes defensively.

Last night’s performance won’t fly against Dortmund

Here’s the thing: on any given day, as long as Real Madrid are on song they are unbeatable. Yesterday’s showing also told us something: they can also win while not at their best. However, there are some opponents that will punish their mistakes and if luck is against them and the attack isn’t gelling then they won’t be able to out-score the opposition. Dortmund is one such opponent and if their start to the league season in addition to their opening performance against Legia Warsaw are anything to go by Los Blancos will fail if they turn in such a display against them. They must improve upon yesterday’s performance.

For laughs: Another Vazquez howler in front of goal

 

La Liga: The Final Lap

The final lap of the 80th La Liga season is fast approaching and with only nine more games left to go we are in for quite an entertaining run until the final day.  The title chase gets interesting between the top two and the bottom half of the table is tight to the point that the difference between a win and a loss could mean relegation.

Title Chase

The title chase is hotting up as both Real Madrid and Barcelona are battling it out atop the table with the blaugrana holding the advantage over their arch-rivals with a five point’s edge.  However, there is still that one “major” game to be played at the Santiago Bernabéu on April 16, El Clásico.  Prior to the clásico, both teams will have three difficult games- Barcelona will meet Villarreal at El Madrigal, where most Madridistas will be hoping to see them drop maximum points, followed up by a visit from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and then finally they will welcome relegation threatened Almería to the Camp Nou.  Meanwhile, Real Madrid will first face Sporting Gijón at the Bernabéu, followed by a visit from English outfit, Tottenham Hotspur and then a trip to the hostile, San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao.  If things all go Madrid’s way then a win in the Bernabéu will be good enough to see them climb to first and it would be up to them to survive the final six games.  But that’s all precognitive.  When one looks at the final stretch post-clásico, Barcelona will be in better shape than Real Madrid as los blancos will have the likes of Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal away from home whilst, the only stern test for Barcelona in the final six games will be a home game against cross-town rivals, Espanyol and with the parakeets’ road form this season, I’d say the game may prove not much of a test for the blaugrana but who knows.

European Club Competitions

The race for a berth directly into next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage is at stake as both Valencia and Villarreal are neck and neck, tied on points with Villarreal holding the advantage of a far better goal difference than their cross-town rivals.  The two teams still have a game against each other in the Mestalla in round 31.  Villarreal’s final stretch may prove far more difficult than their rivals as they have games against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla, with the games against the big two taking place in front of their home fans.  Valencia on the other hand, has only Villarreal and Real Madrid to think about and both games will be at home for los che.  Also, a tough away game against Espanyol might turn out to be a banana skin for the boys with the bats on their shirt.  A fourth place finish for either side might not be so bad as they are assured a spot in Europe but will have to begin their season earlier as they would have to qualify for the Champions League group stage.  Failing that, they are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League.

Next season’s Champions League is not the only continental club football that most teams are looking to qualify for.  Others have their sights set on the Europa League and quite a few teams are within a chance of qualifying.  Currently, Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao hold on to the final spots, respectively.  However, Sevilla are just outside on goal difference, while, Atlético Madrid is only three points behind Sevilla and Bilbao.  Mallorca also has an inside shot, sitting only four points behind Athletic Bilbao.

Mid-table and the relegation battle

The bottom end of the table is just as tight as the top.  In fact, it is far more congested at the bottom end of the table.  Teams sitting mid-table are not entirely “impregnable” as tenth place Osasuna has only a nine point lead over 19th and 20th and has a slim six point lead over 18th- two bad games coupled with a few good games from the bottom three could see them slip into a battle for the remainder of the season.  And if you remember, it took until the last day two seasons ago for the Pamplona side to save themselves from relegation when they defeated the mighty Real Madrid in the Reyno de Navarra 2-1.  Tenth to 12th are all tied on 35 points, whilst, 13th place Getafe is only a point behind and Racing only two behind in 14th.  However, Getafe and Racing are most threatened by a potential relegation fight as they hold only a meagre five and four point cushion, respectively, over 18th.  A rather hapless Deportivo side, that not so long ago was referred to as “Super Depor” is in quite a precarious position as they sit 16th on 31 points, two points above 18th and five out of 19th and 20th with away games against prime relegation candidates Málaga in round 31 and Hércules in round 33, but also has a difficult away match against league leaders Barcelona in round 37.  Additionally, they host tricky games against, Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Racing Santander and Athletic Bilbao.  In between, they will have a game against another team desperately close to the bottom three in Sporting Gijón away from home and one against European competition hopefuls, Mallorca.  Real Zaragoza face the threat of  relegation also as they sit 17th, one point above 18th place Málaga and four above 19th and 20th.  Málaga, Almería and new-comers Hércules are the league’s worst teams this season and find themselves 18th-20th respectively.  All three teams are well off the “acceptable” 43 points mark, which is described by many as the minimum amount of points to accumulate in a season if a team is to avoid relegation.

With nine games left in the final run to the end of the season and so many unpredictable outcomes it should certainly make for fantastic entertainment.  Will Real Madrid prevent arch-rivals Barcelona from winning their third consecutive league title, thereby ending their drought of two seasons without a major trophy?  Or will the blaugrana slip up in the final stretch thus handing the merengues their 32nd La Liga title?  Who will finish third- Valencia or Villarreal?  Which teams will be playing in the Europa League next season?  Which teams will be relegated?  Will Almería’s “fairy tale” run of four consecutive seasons in the top flight come to an end this season?  Will Hércules survive their first season back in the top flight after a 13 year hiatus?  Is Málaga’s three year stint in the top flight close to an end?  Is Deportivo’s first division life coming to an end after 19 consecutive seasons of top flight football?  Will Zaragoza escape the drop?  Many questions to be answered but can only be justly answered come season’s end- in what should be quite an intriguing final stretch of games.

El Derbi Madrileño takes centre stage

It’s that time of year again when Spain’s Capital City is once again divided into two with Real Madrid travelling to the Arganzuela district of Madrid where they will face off against rivals Atlético Madrid.

“The respect we have for fans doesn’t allow us to joke around in the derby. We will give our all at the Calderon and we’ll see if that’s enough. We will try to showcase our quality. We are very motivated because it will be a very important match. Games preceding a Champions League match are difficult because you risk losing focus. Games following a Champions League match are different and usually tinged by physical and psychological exhaustion. They are equally dangerous. The derby will be tough because we’ll face a great team, but it will also be easier to play because everyone will give their all.”– Mourinho

Atlético are desperate to break the “curse” against their cross-town rivals on Saturday, since they have not beaten the whites in all competitions since the 1999-00 season a total of 20 games.  In fact, the last victory for the colchoneros came October 30, 1999 when Hasselbaink scored a brace with José Mari scoring the other for the rojiblancos in a 3-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabéu which would be the last time the derby would take place at the Bernabéu until the 2002-03 season as Atlético Madrid were relegated at the end of the 1999-00 season.

Both teams have met three times this season, once in league and twice in the quarter-final stage of the King’s Cup.  During the first meeting this season at the Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid ran out comfortable 2-0 winners; Carvalho and Özil the goal scorers.  The second meeting saw Real Madrid come from behind in the first leg of the King’s Cup to defeat the colchoneros, who had taken the lead seven minutes in through Forlán.  However, Ramos, Ronaldo and Özil ensured victory for the whites.  In the third meeting, Real Madrid went to the Vicente Calderón and came away with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Ronaldo goal.

There have been 172 official matches between both teams with Real Madrid dominating the fixture with 92 wins, 38 draws and 42 losses; 295 goals for and 225 against.  But when it comes to a derby, all history and statistics are thrown out the window and all that is left is both teams showing their character; giving their blood, sweat and tears in every minute of the game until the final whistle and today will not be any different.  So, despite Atlético Madrid’s recent run, which has seen them win only three games out 15 for the new year, it will be a different team that takes the pitch seeking to put an end to their misfortune, not only in league but also against their hated rivals, whom their fans refer to as “el equipo del gobierno, la vergüeñza del país”–the team of the government, the shame of the country.

it doesn’t matter in what kind of form you go into a game like that; they’re always special matches for both teams. It’s going to be a tough match in which we’ll have  to give our all on the pitch.”– Sergio Agüero

Last Five Games

Atlético Madrid’s last five games are as follows:

W @ Real Zaragoza 0-1

D vs Sevilla 2-2

D @ Getafe 1-1

W vs Villarreal 3-1

D @ Almería 2-2

Real Madrid’s last five games are as follows:

D @ Deportivo La Coruña 0-0

W vs Málaga 7-0

W @ Racing Santander 3-1

W vs Hércules 2-0

W vs Lyon 3-0 (Champions League)

“Cristiano would be fitter to play if the derby took place on Sunday. It’s only natural he’s not in top form after missing so many training sessions and playing 70 minutes against Lyon. Playing him would be a risk.”– Mourinho

Injuries and Suspensions

Real Madrid’s Ronaldo is still nursing a slight hamstring injury and is likely to be available only as a substitute to Mourinho if the need arises.  Higuaín, Gago and Kaká are the only other players that will definitely be unavailable to the Real Madrid boss as both are out injured.  Quique Sánchez Flores, on the other hand, has a full strength squad to pick from.

Squad Lists

Atlético Madrid’s squad list is as follows:

Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel

Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Perea

 

Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Raúl García, Elías, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Juanfran, Koke

Forwards: Forlán, Agüero, Diego Costa

The squad list for Real Madrid is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Adán, Dudek

Defenders: Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Arbeloa, Albiol, Garay, Carvalho

Midfielders: Lass, X. Alonso, Khedira, Granero, Canales, Özil, Di Maria, Pedro León

Forwards: Benzema, Adebayor, Ronaldo

 

Follow Kim on Twitter

La Liga Preview: Match Day 28

Round 28 of La Liga is getting set to kick off and on Saturday, Real Madrid will welcome a woeful Hércules to the Bernabéu, while rivals Barcelona travel to Seville where they will face off against Sevilla.  Villarreal and Valencia both have relatively easy games against the likes of Sporting Gijón and Real Zaragoza, respectively but will both need to respect their opponents as they are facing two teams fighting against relegation.

Almería vs Atlético Madrid

Fresh off the back of their convincing victory over Villarreal last weekend, Atlético travels south to visit Almería.  The Andalucians also earned a very important 2-1 victory against Hércules last Saturday, having to come from behind in that game.  The home side sit in 19th on 25 points while their opponents sit seventh on 38 points, two points out of a European cup spot.  Los Colchoneros have not won at the Mediterráneo, in league, in their three games there- the most recent trip ending in a narrow 1-0 loss; Piatti with an 86th minute game winner.  The home side haven’t lost in their last three home games, while Atlético are undefeated in their last two road games.  The Andalucians are the league’s second worst home team with only 14 points from 13 league games; two wins, eight draws and three losses.  Altéti on the other hand, is La Liga’s sixth best road team with four wins and two draws from 13 games.  The home side has been receiving great news for much of the week which saw the return of Juanma Ortiz to training after a month on the sidelines while Carlos García and Juanito trained normally on Thursday.  Also, Piatti is not completely ruled out of Saturday’s fixture and is currently awaiting clearance from the medical staff.  Atlético, on the other hand, had only one minor injury concern as Juanfran on Thursday trained on his own but is expected to be available for selection.

Real Madrid vs Hércules

Following back to back impressive displays from Real Madrid, they are back in the Santiago Bernabéu where they will welcome a woeful Hércules team.  Los Blancos continue to trail Barcelona by seven points but will have the opportunity to shave three points off the lead with a win on Saturday against the Herculanos as the leaders will play on Sunday.  Real Madrid have been impressive at home this season and is one of two teams to remain undefeated at home from the top five European leagues but are the ONLY team with a perfect home record.  However, los blancos will be wary when they take on the team from Alicante as this is the team, who on match day two sent shock waves all across Europe when they defeated Barcelona 2-0 in the Camp Nou.  In spite of that memorable victory, the Herculanos have been unable to collect maximum points from the games that subsequently followed.  Also, Hércules have lost their last six away games and have failed to score in the last nine.  Real Madrid, however, seem to have rediscovered their goal scoring touch, having scored ten goals in their last two league matches.  The first meeting between the two sides at the end of October, saw los merengues having to come from behind to earn a 3-1 victory.  Of the 19 league games played at the Bernabéu between the two, Hércules have only ever left with points on three occasions- two wins and a draw; their last win coming all the way back on April 21, 1985.  On Wednesday, Khedira was able to participate in the practice match against Castilla and seemed to have recovered fully from his recent knee injury.  However, the likes of Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Arbeloa, Gago, Garay, Higuaín, Carvalho and Pedro León did not participate in the practice match.  Hércules’  Tote, Trezeguet, Peña and Drenthe will not make the trip to Madrid because of injuries and a clause in Drenthe’s contract but will see Valdez return to the squad after his recent muscular injury which prevented him from taking part in the last five league games.

Real Zaragoza vs Valencia

Real Zaragoza after a hard fought loss against Barcelona is back at La Romareda, where they will welcome Valencia.  Valencia are coming off a heart-breaking loss to Schalke in the Champions League, which saw los che dumped out of the competition 4-2 on aggregate.  However, they will be looking to bounce back with a victory against the blanquillos.  Zaragoza is the league’s third worst home team collecting a meager 18 points from a possible 42, while Valencia is the third best road team.  Los Maños have only won once against Valencia in the last meetings, home and away, losing four and drawing five.  However, their last win against los che did come last season at home- a convincing 3-0 victory, Diogo, Arizmendi and Jarošík responsible for the goals.  The home side is absolutely struggling this season and have been in and around the bottom three and are currently sitting 17th with a point advantage over 18th.  The home side welcomed Sinama-Pongolle back to training on Wednesday, however, Boutahar continued his recovery process.  Valencia hasn’t reported any recent injuries.

Osasuna vs Racing Santander

Racing Santander will travel to Pamplona where they will face Osasuna at the Reyno de Navarra on Sunday.  The home side finally managed a victory on the road after more than a year without doing so.  Meanwhile, Racing fell at home to Real Madrid ending their six games unbeaten streak.  Osasuna has been solid at home and are the ninth best home team in league with six wins, six draws and one loss.  Racing, however, holds a poor record away from home- winning only twice and drawing four of 14 games.  The good news for the visitors is that they are currently unbeaten against los rojillos in the last 13 games; hasn’t lost in Pamplona in the last six games- winning the last five.  Aranda will be missing for approximately four weeks following surgery on his right adductor muscle on Thursday, while Pandiani continues to train on his own and both Oier and Rúper has been partially training with the group.  The Cantabrian side will welcome back Henrique and Cisma, who both missed the clash against Real Madrid due to suspensions, however, they will continue to miss Arana, Adrián, Serrano and Tziolis due to their respective injuries.

Real Sociedad vs Málaga

Real Sociedad will welcome Málaga to the Anoeta on Sunday.  The home team last round, lost to Deportivo, whilst, the Anchovies fell at home to Osasuna.  La Real has been strong at home this season winning 61.54% of their home games and is the seventh best home team, while their opponents have been less than impressive on the road with three wins out of 14 away games.  The visitors are win-less in the last five road games, of which they have lost three, while la real haven’t lost in their last four home games- winning three and drawing one.  In addition to Málaga’s dismal season, they have not won in the Anoeta for the past three games and have now lost four games on the trot against the Basques.  The Andalucians are rock bottom with only 23 points from 27 games- an average of 1.2 points per game and a 22% win rate.  Gámez, Weligton, Apoño and Rubén were having injury problems earlier this week in training but should be available for selection on Sunday.  There were no reports of injuries from the Sociedad camp.

Espanyol vs Deportivo La Coruña

Espanyol are at home and will welcome Deportivo to the Cornella El Pratt.  When these two met on the back end of October, Deportivo had managed an emphatic 3-0 victory, coincidentally their first of the season.  The parakeets will be seeking revenge when they host the Galicians.  The Catalans are sitting in sixth place currently, exceeding expectations and are in the hunt for a European cup spot.  Deportivo, however, has been largely disappointing and are hovering above the drop zone.  The visitors have not beaten Espanyol at home in the last four attempts; their last win coming June 17, 2007.  The home side are currently on a two game losing streak, while the Galicians have not lost in the last five.  Collectively, los periquitos have been solid at home with a 64.29% win rate, losing only four times in the Cornella El Pratt this season.  Depor, on the other hand, has been woeful with a 14.29% win rate and are the sixth worst visiting team this season.   Espanyol’s only injury problem was that of Dátolo who was to have surgery on his ankle in Argentina on Tuesday.  Laure is the only new injury concern for the Galicians after picking up an ankle injury against Real Sociedad on Monday.

Levante vs Mallorca

Levante will welcome Mallorca to the Cuitat de Valencia Sunday evening.  The Granotes have been on a tear recently, winning five and drawing one of their last seven- the only loss coming against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu.  Even more impressive is their goals scored to goals conceded ratio, 8:4 (two of which came against Real Madrid).  Mallorca, on the other hand, have won only twice in their last nine games and drawn once.  However, los bermellones are currently undefeated against Levante in the last five games- winning four and drawing one.  Both teams lie 10th and 12th in the table and are separated by three points.  Levante’s coach had the luxury of having all his men train on Thursday with the exception of Sergio González.  There have been no fresh reports of injuries from the Mallorca camp.

Villarreal vs Sporting Gijón

Following their impressive 3-2 away victory mid-week in the Europa league against German side Bayer Leverkusen, Villarreal are back in El Madrigal and will welcome Sporting Gijón on Sunday.  Both teams are coming off different results last weekend, as the Asturians secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Getafe, whilst Villarreal fell to Atlético Madrid 3-1.  In their four visits to El Madrigal, Sporting has only even won once, that coming October 24, 1999 in a Segunda Division meeting but has since then lost in their last three trips there.  Villarreal are currently sitting comfortably in fourth, the last Champions League spot and are chasing cross-town rivals Valencia, who are in third, for that third automatic Champions League group stage spot.  Sporting, on the other hand, are trying to avoid relegation and a win is critical for the Asturians if they are to put some distance between themselves and the bottom three as they are currently in 16th with a two points advantage over 18th.  Villarreal has not reported any injuries following their game against Leverkusen on Thursday.  Sporting will miss Lora after he saw two yellows against Getafe last weekend and they may also be without Nacho Cases who turned up for training on Thursday with a bout of gastroenteritis.

Sevilla vs Barcelona

In perhaps the most anticipated game this weekend, sees Barcelona travel to Sevilla where many a Madridistas around the world will be rooting for the Andalucians hoping that they can get something out of this match up especially if Real Madrid takes care of business at home on Saturday.  However, the Culé fans will be looking for the statistics to mean something, as the blaugrana hasn’t lost in the last seven league games against los nervionenses– the last encounter ending in a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing.  In fact, Sevilla hasn’t scored in the last two competitive games against Barcelona and has conceded nine goals.  Following their mid-week “controversial” victory over Arsenal the visitors may be a little tired as they have played three games in the space of three days and surely that is something the Andalucians will be looking to exploit and following their loss at the weekend to Athletic, how better than to rebound with a victory over the league leaders?  There has been no fresh report of injuries for Barcelona, while Sevilla on Thursday reported that Perotti had to retire from training early following a slight muscle injury in his left leg.

Getafe vs Athletic Bilbao

Getafe will welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez on Monday night.  Athletic Bilbao just recently ended their four game losing streak last weekend much to the displeasure of Sevilla, while Getafe continued their win-less streak with a loss at Sporting Gijón.  Athletic Bilbao has never won at the Coliseum and of their six games played there has drawn three and lost three- their last trip ending in a 2-0 loss.  As things stand, there are no injuries or suspensions to report for either side.

Follow Kim on Twitter