We welcome back club competition after the international break, with the highlight of the round being the minnows Eibar hosting the mighty Real Madrid at the Ipurua, total capacity of 5,250 – a true David vs Goliath clash. Barcelona host high flying Sevilla, with both sides hoping to break a spell of bad form and Leo Messi has Telmo Zarra’s record in his sights. In the other games up top, Atletico Madrid host Malaga and Valencia travel to Levante. Elsewhere, David Moyes will make his Spanish managerial debut as Real Sociedad travel to Deportivo La Coruña.
It’s been one of the most anticipated fixtures in the calendar, the first time the Ipurua in Eibar hosts one of the big two, and first up its European champions Real Madrid. The David vs Goliath comparisons have been drawn repeatedly. Ronaldo earns more money than the entire Basque club put together. The entire population of Eibar doesn’t even fill a third of the Bernabeu. Real are expected to be big winners, although Eibar have been far from a disgrace since making their debut in the top flight, only losing one game at home so far this season. It will be a massive opportunity for Eibar, as they’ve got a special sponsor just for the match, so the financial bonuses will be substantial for a club that had to use a crowd-funding campaign to raise enough cash to fulfill the financial requisites to be eligible to play in La Liga. For them, it seems like an opportunity – a reward almost – but that won’t be the approach of Los Armeros come kick off. As we saw against Atleti, where they only lost narrowly against the champions, they are not afraid of the big boys, despite the gulf between them.
Madrid have some decisions to make, with Bale coming back into the side, but Modric is looking likely to missed the rest of 2014 after being injured in international duty. At his disposal Ancelotti has two natural central midfielders in Sami Khedira and Asier Illarramendi, but on recent form Isco certainly warrants a place in the XI. Whether they can still balance the side with an extra attacker in place of Modric remains to be seen, and Eibar have shown to be tough to break down and capable on the break, so in what will be a rather unique atmosphere for his Galacticos he may opt for the more natural option and leave Isco on the bench.
Barcelona host Sevilla in what should be a tight contest. Both sides have been in relatively poor form, with Barcelona losing two out of their last three matches in the league, only a close 2-1 victory last matchday against Almeria breaking the slump. Similarly, Sevilla dropped five points in their last two, losing the chance to be at the top of the table and dropping back into fifth. All eyes will be on Lionel Messi who is one goal away from matching Telmo Zarra’s all-time La Liga record on 250, though there is a cloud of uncertainty around the Argentine. Messi, who has often been resounding in stating he wants to play his entire professional career at Barca, during the week was quoted as saying: “while I always said that I would like to stay there (Barcelona) forever, sometimes not everything happens the way you want”.
In the immediate term, though, two goals in this fixture and the match will be stopped to honour arguably the greatest player of his generation and one of his greatest achievements.
Atletico Madrid look to get some consistency back in their game when they host Malaga on Saturday. Every time they seem to be building up a head of steam they lose a game; last matchday losing to managerless Real Sociedad. Atletico will need to cut out the inconsistency in their game to keep up with the leaders, with Real Madrid winning 13 games on the trot in all competitions, they don’t look like dropping points soon.
Malaga offer a stern test though, and (almost heartbreakingly) took a point from the Vicente Calderon on the penultimate matchday last season to deny Atletico the title in front of their own fans. They’ve won five in a row, and another win here would put them ahead of Atleti heading into next week, though they’ve only won one of their last seven against Los Rojiblancos.
Mario Mandzukic has scored in each of his last three La Liga matches, and with the threat Atleti offer from set-pieces as well as Antoine Griezmann beginning to rekindle the form he showed at La Real last season, there is every chance that run may continue.
Valencia meanwhile look to keep pace with the Clasico duo at the top of the table when they travel to Levante. Levante will look to build on their 1-1 draw with Sevilla last game, whereas Valencia will hope the bring their shooting boots this week, failing to score against a struggling Bilbao side last time out. An interesting story arose midweek, with DC Comics attempting to sue Los Che over their use of a bat – a symbol of the club since its inception before the Batman character existed – is an unwanted distraction for new owner Peter Lim. The last two derbies between these two sides at the Ciutat de Valencia have been won by Levante, so this might be one to throw out the form guide (like all good derbies are, apparently).
And one for the footballing purists sees Rayo take on Celta Vigo in the Saturday late game (a 10pm kick-off local time). Both teams play entertaining, attack-minded football which should provide an interesting contest.
In the Friday night game Ernesto Valverde’s Athletic Bilbao notched a 3-1 win over Espanyol to continue their good form and move up to ninth in the table – the first time they’ve been in the top half since round two.
Fixtures in full:
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Espanyol; Atletico Madrid vs Malaga; Eibar vs Real Madrid; Barcelona vs Sevilla; Deportivo La Coruña vs Real Sociedad; Rayo Vallecano vs Celta Vigo; Levante vs Valencia; Elche vs Cordoba; Villarreal vs Getafe; Granada vs Almeria.