La Liga Week 31: A Preview
Everytime La Liga title race has been blown wide open this season, it has been slammed shut very soon. One week it appears that there is indeed more than one horse involved in the title race but the very next week that notion is rubbished into thin air. Last week though there was a whisper that maybe we could observe more fun and thrill in the final third of the Spanish championship but it is better not to sell the bearskin until you have actually hunted the bear.
Last weekend while reigning Spanish champions Real Madrid comfortably breezed past Sevilla FC 3-1 and extended their lead to 6 points at the top of the table, their arch rivals FC Barcelona stumbled once again and blew away their 2-0 advantage against Real Betis at the Ruiz de Lopera to lose 3-2 to allow Villarreal to go 1 point ahead of them into second in the league. This weekend there’s more likelihood that something similar could conjure up.
Real travel to Real Mallorca on Saturday night seeking their 5th La Liga win in 6 matches at Son Moix on the back of an inspirational win over UEFA Champions League hopefuls Sevilla. Mallorca have had been chased by relegation worries for much of the season but they now have 40 points in their kitty bag, or be it just 7 points more than 18th place Recreativo de Huelva . They have nothing to play for this season anymore and are quite strong at home. Real manager Bernd Schuster knows this and must see to that the poor away form in 2008 doesn’t fail them at the Islanders.
Should Real indeed slip up against Mallorca on Satuday, then both Barca and Villarreal could wrestle advantage on Sunday. Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 defeat to relegation candidates Betis last weekend lugged them into a crisis (once again) but they salvage some prestige by winning away at Schalke 04 in their UEFA Champions League tie in midweek. Frank Rijkaard’s men confront a potential banana skin at Camp Nou when Getafe visit them for Sunday’s evening kickoff with Michael Laudrap’s side playing some fantastic football built on cohesive organization and constructively attacking approach.
Getafe did Barca a favour sometime back when they defeated Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and the Madridistas would be hoping that this time Getafe do them the favour. Ronaldinho wouldn’t feature for the Catalan giants on Sunday though since he has been ruled out for six weeks with a thigh muscle strain. Moreover the absence of Lionel Messi might lend Getafe an initiative to come out at the not so taut Barcelona defence.
Barca are actually third in the table at the moment, 7 points off the pace and a solitary point behind Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine have been playing the quiet game so far until last week when they surfaced and suddenly the Spanish scribes have been all about Manuel Pellegrini’s men launching a last-gasp challenge for the Spanish league championship. They waved off Atletico Madrid 3-0 last weekend to announce their championship credentials although both Pellegrini and his players have been playing down their chances. Villarreal are involved in the big match of the weekend this time at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan where they travel to play Sevilla on Sunday. Sevilla are 5 points off fourth in the table but have been on song for quite a while, smoothly crawling themselves out of the mediocrity of the table into a UEFA Cup spot and now have a chance to break into the top four. Sevilla have been rocked by transfer speculations hovering agonizingly over them with right back Daniel Alves and striker Luis Fabiano linked with summer moves.
On the other hand Villarreal have been injected with a heavy dose of pressure by the Spanish press who have been raving about the little club with a stadium capacity of just 22,000 winning the league this season. In each of the last four seasons under Pellegrini, the Yellow Submarine have been discerned to have steamrolled other sides in the last 9 matches and the word is that they could so something more this time too. But first they need to get past Sevilla in Andalucia.
Atletico Madrid were once touted as title contenders but the lack of consistency has restrained them to playing just for a top four finish. Although Sergio Aguero has been in killer form the whole season and single-handedly led Atleti to a win over Barcelona in March, the rest of the Javier Aguirre’s team has been blowing hot and cold alternatively. This week they host Almeria at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday knowing all too well that any slip-up would gift fifth placed Racing Santander the opportunity to leapfrog them into fourth. Almeria might have nothing to play for this season but having conceded just 29 goals in La Liga so far this season, they do have one of the meanest defence in Spain’s top flight and Aguero would have to be Atletico’s Messiah once again.
Racing Santander are level on points with Atletico in fifth but have an easier opposition this week. Racing welcome 15th place Deportivo la Coruna at El Sardinero and along with Villarreal have been the most consistent side in the league this season. Racing boast of the best defence in Spain’s top flight this season with just 27 goals allowed to seep in and beating Miguel Angel Lotina’s side wouldn’t be a tough thing to do.
The other Spanish club in some chance of breaking into the top four is Espanyol Barcelona. Espanyol travel to the Basque country on Sunday to take on mid-table Athletic de Bilbao.
At the wrong end of the tunnel, there could be more shifts and turnovers. Real Zaragoza and Real Betis are embroiled in a relegation six-pointer at the La Romarede with the former just above the relegation zone on goal difference. They have gone through four coaches already this season and have been distorted by in-fighting and player discontent. Betis are not exactly safe but their inspirational 3-2 comeback win over mighty Barcelona in their own home ground lifted to 13th in the table and more importantly to 5 points above the dropzone. Nevertheless Betis need to win this match to ease further their relegation worries.
18th place Reacreativo de Huelva have steadily climbed the ladder to have safety in their sight but they need to plough on further. Both Sinama-Pongolle and Bouzon are suspended for their trip to Pamplona where Osasuna wait for them. Osasuna have reached the 40-point mark and one more win should be enough for them to throw their relegation worries to the four winds.
Real Valladolid are just 2 points above safety but a victory over rock bottom Levante, whose players are getting paid once again at long last, on Sunday should considerably spice up the relegation battling race The final game of the weekend is between Real Murcia and Valencia. Murcia are second from bottom and the drop to the Segunda Division is almost inevitable but they might yet heap more woes on the tormented Ronald Koeman when Valencia pay them a visit on Sunday.
Valencia’s astounding 3-2 win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu a fortnight ago did make room for some optimism to bleed in but the window of hope was slammed shut last week when Los Che, who are pretty much lost at sea, were blown away 3-0 by Real Mallorca at the Mestalla last week. Valencia are just 6 points above the dropzone but it is unlikely that they would go down.
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Monday April 7
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Tuesday April 29
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Monday April 14
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