Friday, 6 January 2012

Weekend Preview

The winter break is at an end: all hail the return of La Liga! How will the christmas parties and new year celebrations affected our stars? Will they be waddling around, weighed down by three weeks of excess and booze? Will they be chomping at the bit, itching to grace the stage once again with gusto and verve? The big news is the return of Diego Simeone to replace Gregory Manzano as head coach at Atletico Madrid. His arrival has conincided with the only big-name transfer of the re-opened window: Jose Reyes' return home to Sevilla.

Elsewhere, bottom of the table Real Zaragoza put Javier Aguirre out of his misery and replaced him with AEK Athens coach, Manolo Jiménez, and Villarreal welcome José Molina to the helm to replace the outgoing Juan Carlos Garrido.

Leaders Real Madrid (1st) have been given the chance to ease it in gently with a kindly home tie with Granada (13th) at the  Bernabeu on Saturday. With Barcelona playing Sunday, Mourinho's men will surely extend their lead at the top to 6 points. Real welcome back Sergio Ramos from injury. Portugease centre-back Pepe is out with suspension. Di Maria is doubtful. Granada managed some great results in the first half of La Liga, including wins at Bilbao and Sevilla, and despite being one of the lowest scoring sides in the league, they boast one of the best defences. Goalkeeper Roberto is one of the outstanding performers in the league so far and will need to be at his best if Fabri González's side have any hope of taking anything from this game. This game will surely see Real hand out yet another multi-goal beating.

Prediction: 5-0. Ones to watch: Ronaldo, Di Maria, Benzema, Marcelo

Meanwhile, back in Catalonia, Barcelona have the awkward prospect of a visit to their neighbours Espanyol. Espanyol haven't enjoyed much luck against their illustrious neighbours down the years. Last year, they were crushed 5-1 in the same fixture. Barca come into the tie on the back of a 4-0 defeat of Osasuna in the midweek Copa del Rey, while Espanyol suffered a shock loss to Cordoba. The Periquitos have had an excellent first half to the season, and are further bouyed by the news that playmaker Romaric is to be available throughout January having been dropped from the Ivory Coast African Cup of nations squad.  However, Barca are bound to have too much once again for their neighbours.

Prediction: 0-2. Ones to watch: Messi, Fabregas.

Villarreal (17th) v Valencia (3rd): Last season this would have been an eagerly anticipated battle for 3rd place, but now, The Yellow Submarine languish in 17th place. With new coach Molina in charge, fans will be hoping hard for a change of  fortunes after a wretched first half to the season. The vultures are circling for stars such as Nilmar. Wakaso has a broken nose and Catalá is likely to miss another month with a knee injury. Joan Oriol is still out. Valencia are still without Canales, Maduro and Tino in the middle. Albelda is suspended. After their impressive win at Sevilla in midweek, Los Che can be expected to take all three points. Prediction: 1-0 Valencia. Ones to watch: Soldado

Fourth placed Levante host Mallorca (15th) with the home-side determined to continue their excellent run of form and prove it wasn't all just a dream. Levante suffered a shock 2-1 defeat to Alcoron in the Copa del rey on Tuesday. Del Horno, Valdo and Juanlu are doubts while Nano and Javi Venta are suspended. Prediction: 2-0. Ones to watch: Barkero, Kone.

Osasuna sit in 5th and visit Real Sociedad (15th). Osasuna have a pretty poor away record, with just one win so far but Sociedad have just two home wins. Sociedad have been one of the most unpredictable Liga sides so far. Sociedad's manager Phillipe Montanier has coaxed some excellent displays out of Carlos Vela and the Arsenal loanee will be the key danger man for the home side. Prediction: 1-1. Ones towatch: Vela

Sevilla (6th) visit Rayo Vallecano (16th). Sevilla will be hurting from their defeat to Valencia in the Copa del Rey. Reyes will be the star attraction as he returns to the side where it all started, but is unlikely to feature. Manu del Moral is suspended while Kanourte is doubtful. Prediction: 0-0. One to watch: Varas

Malaga (7th) v Altetico Madrid (10th) is one of the most hotly anticipated games of the round. The last time Atletico Madrid had Diego Simeone on their payroll, they managed a league and cup double (1995-96).

Imagine that! The Argentinian hardman has naturally brought in a new wave of optimisim to the rojiblancos. However, he has his work cut out. Atletico have the worst away record in the league with 1 point. He will need to inspire the likes of Diego and Falcao against a strong Malaga side. Joaquin is out for Malaga. Prediction: 2-1. Ones to watch: Cazorla, Rondon.

In the best of the rest, Racing Santander (19th) host Zaragoza (20th) in the old fashioned relegation 6 pointer. A spicy start for new Zaragoza coach Jimenez. Prediction 1-0 Racing. Getafe (12th) host Bilbao (9th) and Betis (11th) host Sporting Gijon (18th). Predictions: both 1-1.

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