Match Previews and Team News: Sunday 24 February
17:00 Osasuna - Atletico Madrid
17:00 Athletic - Villarreal
17:00 Racing - Almeria
17:00 Murcia - Valladolid
17:00 Mallorca - Betis
17:00 Deportivo - Espanyol
19:00 Barcelona - Levante
21:00 Real Madrid - Getafe
Can Barcelona keep up the pressure on Real Madrid after closing the gap to five points? Will Levante stage a protest at the Camp Nou? Will Aguirre lose his job at Atletico Madrid? Will Espanyol start winning again without Tamudo? Will Schuster stop whining and start winning? Read on...
Osasuna - Atletico Madrid
Under fire Javier Aguirre takes his troubled Atletico side up to the Basque country for what is always a feisty encounter with Osasuna. Both sides are desperate for a win: Osasuna, who now sit just one place above the drop zone, need it for survival and Aguirre might need it to save his job.
The home side squandered an early lead against bottom side Levante last week and will have to do better than last season when they lost to Atleti at the Reyno de Navarro in Pamplona. Cuco Ziganda has named Margairaz and Corrales in the squad, while Nekounam and Flaño are both missing.
Atletico defeated Osasuna earlier this season at the Vicente Calderon and urgently need a repeat performance to boost morale after crashing out of the UEFA cup in midweek following a dire performance against Bolton. A trip to the Basque country is the last place a side from Madrid wants to be at a time like this and Atleti’s recent poor La Liga form, and their leaky defense, could well take another blow.
To make matters worse for Aguirre, he will have to do without the outstanding Kun Aguero, Pablo and Raul Garcia (all suspended) as well as the injured Motta, Seitaridis and Leo Franco. On the plus side, Simao and Valera have made the squad after recovering from injuries.
Athletic Bilbao - Villarreal CF
Athletic Bilbao host Villarreal at a ground where they have won just three matches this season in spite of its intimidating atmosphere. The home side will have been boosted by last weeks win at Atletico Madrid but Caparros has warned his players that defeat at home to Villarreal will cancel out that victory. Two consecutive league wins leaves Athletic five points above the drop zone, but still looking anxiously over their shoulders and far from safety.
Murillo and Tiko are suspended for the home side. Asier del Horno and Ramos are returned to the Bilbao squad while midfielder Yeste has been included but is a doubt.
Villarreal remain four points into the Champions League zone and third in the table, but have struggled in the league of late with just one win against lowly Murcia out of their last four matches. A midweek elimination from the UEFA cup will not have helped to boost confidence ahead of a trip to a ground where the hosts may not win very often, but are also hard to beat.
Pellegrini is without the injured Giuseppe Rossi and Josico for the trip to the San Mames, while Matias Fernandez could make a return to the side after two months out through injury.
Real Racing Club - UD Almeria
Almeria leapfrogged Racing last week to occupy 7th place and will be looking to hang on in there when they make the trip up to the Sardinero on Sunday.
Marcelino’s side have wobbled slightly in their last few games but continue to hard to beat and work well as a unit. Pedro Munitis is expected to return to the side but midfielders Jordi and Duscher are doubtful.
Almeria struggled last Sunday at home to Murcia, but with goalkeeper Diego Alves extending his record to 617 minutes without conceding a goal, the Unai Emery’s side recorded their fifth victory in the last six games. The Andalucian side may be close to a European spot, but it is the six points that mathematically separates from guaranteed safety in the Primera division that remains the club’s priority. Pulido and Felipe Melo are suspended.
With Racing focused on playing Getafe in the Copa Del Rey on Wednesday and their solidity at home, coupled with Almeria’s defensive record – this one has draw written all over it. Famous last words…
Real Murcia - Real Valladolid
Murcia have won just once since the start of January and twice since November. They are second from bottom and three points from safety, so the next few games against fellow strugglers are absolutely vital. Lucas Alcaraz remains convinced that he can turn things around and claims that his side have been more than a tad unlucky. Whilst that was certainly true in their defeat to Almeria last week, Murcia look set for relegation.
Central defenders Mejía and Peña are back in the squad following relegation, while goalkeeper Notario faces a fitness test.
The visitors, Valladolid, are themselves just four points away from the relegation zone and cannot afford to lose either. Mendilibar has warned his 16th placed side that they must remain focused and calm whilst demanding that they show the same purpose that saw them outplay Mallorca last week, a match which they were very unfortunate to lose.
Left back Oscar Sanchez reckons that a win this weekend for Valladolid will “end our bad run and change everything for the rest of the season”. A draw then.
RCD Mallorca - Real Betis Balompie
Mallorca are a decent side, enjoying their best season since 200, but inconsistency continues to let them down. A recent slump has seen a good start to the season go to waste and they now find themselves amongst a large cluster of sides, floating around mid table. Mallorca defeated Betis twice last season and Manzano is looking for a repeat and a win to end their recent habit of drawing matches. Ballesteros, sent off against Betis earlier in the season, will return to the side in place of the suspended Nunes.
Betis, 14th in La Liga, four points from the drop, will still be on a high after beating Real Madrid last weekend. Nano should make a return to the squad following injury.
Deportivo La Coruna - RCD Espanyol
Depor fell into the relegation zone after losing 3-2 to ten man Recreativo last week. Their defending at set pieces is absolutely perfect: for the opposition. Lotina has promised a shake up of his starting eleven and on a brighter note it is great to see Valeron back in contention after nearly two years lost to injury. Riki misses the match through suspension.
Espanyol haven’t had much to shout about in the last few weeks either. Valverde’s side have dropped out of a Champions League spot after losing five from their last six matches and may now struggle to even qualify for a UEFA cup spot. The Riazor is not an easy place to get a win and the Catalan club will be cursing the long term absence of Tamudo. You know it’s not good when the striker’s replacement, Ewerthon, says “we really, really need Tamudo back!”
De la Peña and Zabaleta are suspended for Espanyol. Torrejón, David García and Moha are back in the squad, while Iñaki Lafuente misses the game through lack of fitness in spite of recovering from his injury.
FC Barcelona - Levante UD
An opportunity for Barcelona to maintain the pressure on Real Madrid with what, in theory, should be an easy home win for Barcelona. The home side have been in good form of late and looked close to their swashbuckling best, on Wednesday, when they beat Celtic 3-2 in Glasgow.
The Camp Nou crowd will be eager to see the Fantastic Four of Messi, Henry, Ronnie and Eto’o together for the first time since August. All set then for Barcelona to hand out a hammering to lowly Levante…or is it?
Barcelona have been more than capable of fluffing their lines over the last two seasons, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They face a punishing schedule over the next couple of weeks with five games in three competitions. Players will be rested, no doubt, and concentration might be an issue in a side that has lacked focus a key moments over the last 24 months.
Marquez is definitely out for Barcelona after picking up an injury in Glasgow. More team news to follow…
It’s impossible to know what to make of Levante. They are bottom of the table, and have never taken a point from the Camp Nou. On the eight occasions that the two sides have met, Levante have managed just two home draws and all the rest have ended in defeat. Off the field they are a shambles and there is even talk that the players may stage a sit-in on the Camp Nou pitch in protest at being unpaid by the beleagured club.
However, Luigi De Biasi somehow managed to motivate his players to fight for their lives against Osasuna last week as they battled to come from behind and grab a dramatic win. Barcelona will win…but it might not be as easy a ride as many are anticipating.
Levante team news to follow…
Real Madrid - Getafe CF
How will Real Madrid respond to the pressure of seeing a possible eleven point lead over Barcelona cut to just five points? After his sides midweek defeat to Roma in the Champions League, Bernd Schuster blamed bad luck, and bad refereeing. The first signs of a crack?
At first glance this should be a comfortable home win for Real Madrid. They have won all 11 of their league matches at the Bernabeu this season. However, recent form suggests that this could be a tough game for the home side.
Real Madrid have lost five of their eleven games played in 2008 – three out of the last four (Betis, Almeria and Roma). Add to that the fact that Getafe always seem to make life very difficult for Real, and we have the prospect of a very interesting derby encounter.
Getafe will be boosted by their excellent 3-0 midweek win over AEK Athens in the UEFA and make the short trip to the Bernabeu in the knowledge that they were the last team to pick up a point there almost 12 moths ago.
The match is overshadowed by Getafe’s lengthy list of influential absentees. Whilst Contra, Gavilán, Sousa, Pallardó,and Signorino are missing through injury and suspension, Granero and De la Red are prevented from playing due to a shameful clause in their contracts that prevents them from turning out against Real Madrid.
Granero is on loan from Madrid at Getafe and the club has insisted he must not play as part of the loan agreement. The hugely influential De La Red however, was bought from Real Madrid, but has a clause in his contract that stipulates that if he plays against the Merengues then Getafe will have to pay out an extra 600,000 Euros.
A fine example of the spirit of the game from the self proclaimed greatest club in the world.