Matchday 23 in the Liga Santander follows a week of huge upsets in the Copa del Rey knockout competition that rocked Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Valencia. How these sides react to their midweek defeats will be one of the big things to look out for this weekend in Spain.
1. El Sadar to test Real Madrid
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane rested several key players (Dani Carvajal, Raphael Varane and Casemiro) and saw how his side leaked goals in their 4-3 Copa del Rey defeat to Real Sociedad on Thursday night. Those three along with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois will be back for the difficult visit to Pamplona on Sunday, while Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale could also return to the squad after overcoming ankle injuries.
Osasuna has only lost twice in front of their fans all season and has had all week to prepare for this game, whereas Real Madrid will have just two training sessions and the tight E Sadar Stadium is one of the most hostile atmospheres Madrid will have to face all season. If Zidane’s men can recover from their Cup exit to take all three points it will prove their personality and credentials as title favorites.
2. Finito Benito for Barca’s season?
FC Barcelona coach Quique Setien said after Thursday’s Copa del Rey exit to Athletic Club Bilbao that his players had done everything well except score a goal in the San Mames Stadium. That attitude could be one reason why Barca travel to the Benito Villamarin Stadium needing to win against the club that sacked him last season, to keep their campaign alive.
Barca dominated possession on Thursday, but only created two clear chances, while errors in passing always left you thinking Athletic would have a chance.
Betis is a side able to play at pace and cause problems on the break and will think they have an excellent chance to produce another surprise: – even more so after Barca’s efforts on Thursday and the fact that Gerard Pique misses the trip through suspension.
Defeat for Barca would leave them out of the cup and possibly six points behind Real Madrid… effectively leaving them with only Europe to compete for.
3. Can Costa kickstart Atletico?
Atletico Madrid is another side in danger of seeing their season falling apart after three games without a goal have seen Diego Simeone’s men drop out of the top four and in serious danger of not even qualifying for Europe next season.
With just 22 goals in 22 matches it’s not hard to see what the problem is and with Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix both injured, Simeone’s options in attack look more limited than ever. At least Diego Costa returned to full training for Atletico this week after a long lay-off following an operation and although the Brazilian born forward might not start against Granada on Saturday, he should at least be able to come off the bench to add more muscle and commitment to Atletico’s attack.
4. Champions League spot up for grabs in Getafe
Saturday’s most important game sees third place Getafe at home to fifth place Valencia with a place in next season’s Champions League very much up for grabs. Getafe’s win in Bilbao last weekend highlighted the style of Pepe Bordalas’ team, as they denied their rivals clear cut chances, broke up the play with fouls if needed and then took the two chances that fell their way in the game.
Valencia, with striker Maxi Gomez in good form, should provide a stiff test for Getafe, but they will be tired after a frustrating Copa del Re defeat in Granada on Tuesday night sapped their legs.
Teams have to be at their very best to beat Getafe as they are perfectly worked to exploit any weaknesses.