The first phase of the group stage continues to run its course. What have we seen this week out of the Spanish clubs? Thanks to two if the world’s biggest stars, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Real Madrid and Barca both sit at the top of their groups. Valencia closely follows Rangers of Scotland and Manchester United, in third place within their group. As we head into week 7 of “La Liga”, Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid boys seem to be finding their form as they cruise on with 17pts atop the table while Barca continues to look for the right lineup formation and is lodged in between Villarreal and Valencia in a tie for 2nd with 16pts.
Players to Watch: Alberto Rivera, Santi Cazorla, Leo Franco
Alberto Rivera: The first-year Sporting Gijon man who has spent most of this decade playing for the Andalusian club, Real Betis (currently in the 2nd Division), is off to a great start and is one of the top assist generators in the league. This midfielder grew up in the Real Madrid youth system and is relying on his solid fundamentals to lead his new Asturian team to a 2 win, 3 loss start. His savviness helped his team stun Sevilla last week (2-0) and he’ll look to do the same this weekend as he leads his club into a volatile Getafe environment in the Madrid suburbs.
Santi Cazorla: The Spanish National team constant has had a brilliant start thus far leading the “yellow submarine” to a second place position atop the table on the heels of “the merengues”. The Asturian-born midfielder/forward/winger is known as a “passmaster” in Villarreal’s system and will lead the Valencian squad against Atletico Madrid in a gigantic primetime matchup on Sunday night (See my “Match to Watch”).
Leo Franco: The Argentine goalkeeper is in his first year with Real Zaragoza (in Aragon) after coming over from Turkish side Galatasaray even though he’s played most of his career in “La Liga” (5 years each with Mallorca and Atletico Madrid). He’ll need to utilize all of that La Liga experience this weekend as “los maños” head up to Cataluña to face Barca in the Nou camp. Expect to see a barrage of goals after Barca scored trounced Zaragoza twice last year and tallied close to 10 goals in last year’s campaign against the zaragozanos.
Impact Foreign Player of the Week: Diego da Silva Costa
The Atletico Madrid Brazilian striker is clearly showing that he didn’t deserve to be on loan the last 4 years. The 22yr old has netted 3 goals already and is the only driving force behind Atletico’s success since the rest of the team has been hampered by injuries, namely Kun Aguero’s. He will try to catapult his squad past the yellow submarine this weekend in my “Match of the Week” as his team makes an appearance in “El Madrigal”.
Hot Team: Real Madrid
Jose Mourinho’s hype about being the “special or chosen one” may be all it’s cracked up to be. He’s yet to lose a match since coming over to Madrid from Inter Milan. Ronaldo has been on fire the last 3 games (Oh did I mention he now has 40 goals in 45 games for the white shirts) and the team’s defense looks to be the best it has been in 3-4 years. Look for them to stomp a weak Racing Santander team in the Bernabeau as Sergio Canales gets a shot at his old club.
Cold Team: Osasuna
Pamplona’s favorite club is struggling. The enthusiasm and energy from the “running of the bulls” aka Festival de San Fermines hasn’t carried over into “La Liga” this year. Since the opening match of the season in which they narrowly lost to Real Madrid, Osasuna has managed only 1 win at home against a newly promoted Real Sociedad Club and has struggled against the likes of Deportivo La Coruña, Espanyol, and Levante. The next 5 matches bring weaker opponents and if Osasuna (and old man Juanfran) cannot start to make up some ground, they may be destined for relegation which they haven’t seen since the 1999-2000 season.
A Few Predictions (using the Quiniela Format):
Barcelona v. Real Zaragoza: 1
Real Madrid v. Racing Santander: 1
Valencia v. Mallorca: 2
Sevilla v. Athletic Bilbao: 1
Villarreal v. Atletico Madrid: 1
Trainer to Watch: Michael Laudrup
The Danish star who exhibited his skills for 7 quality years in the 90s for both Real Madrid and Barcelona managed an early season draw against his former teammate Pep Guardiola a few weeks ago. This week he’ll feel that same pressure as he must head into “El Mestalla” stadium in Valencia to face a tough club that feels they should have drawn in last week’s instant classic against Barca. I can guarantee an entertaining match and a quality coaching matchup between him and Unai Emery.
Match of the Week: Villarreal v. Atletico Madrid
Diego Forlan. Kun Aguero. Giuseppe Rossi. Marcos Senna. Diego Costa. Simao. Santi Cazorla. De Gea. Jozy Altidore??? Hahaha, I don’t know about that last one. This match is chalk full of superstars and promises to be a great one. Only separated by 3 points, both teams are playing well and have been intensively preparing for this Sunday’s prime time match.
****Matchday Note: On Saturday, it has been reported that Leo Franco will once again sit out for the match against Barca. Backup goalkeeper, Antonio Doblas, will fill his place.
About the Author
Written by Timothy Ashe Jr.
Tim was born and raised in Downers Grove, IL (a suburb of Chicago). He graduated with a degree in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign and also holds University English Language Excellence certificates. He's fluent in Spanish and teaches both English and Spanish in his spare time. He's a Real Madrid and Chicago Fire aficionado and is partial towards the EPL and LFP. His hope is that the game of soccer can continue to grow in the U.S.A. and for our men's national team to eventually win the World Cup.