The international break is over, and Europe’s biggest leagues get back to business this weekend. Spain’s top 3 teams are back in action, in fixtures they will all be expected to win comfortably.
Real are first to play this weekend, kicking off on Saturday at 3pm (BST) away to Levante. Carlo Ancelotti’s side have made a fairly timid start to their title challenge this season, having already been beaten twice in their opening seven fixtures – unacceptable form at the Bernabeu. Their recent form though is much better, with four league wins in a row, and in Cristiano Ronaldo, they have a player at the top of his game. They will be hoping he keeps it up against Levante ahead of their double header against Liverpool and Barcelona. Given recent history in this clash, only a fool would bet against him continuing this form.
In the last five meetings between the sides, Real have emerged victorious each time, and Ronaldo has been on the scoresheet in every game. In addition to this, Levante have been defeated in all three of their home matches this season, failing to score and conceding nine goals in the process. Keylor Navas made the move to the capital from Levante in the summer, but is unlikely to feature given the manager’s backing of under fire keeper Iker Casillas. Ancelotti was quoted as saying:
“He’s part of the history of this club and he’s still a top goalkeeper,”
Whilst Casilla’s poor form for club and country is an ongoing concern, I would doubt that it will make much of a difference to the outcome of this clash. I’m predicting the Madrid juggernaut to continue to roll on for the time being, and I think they will emerge comfortable victors.
90MinuteCynic Prediction: Levante 0 –3 Real Madrid
Barcelona are next to play, as the Catalan giants host minnows Eibar at the Nou Camp this Saturday at 7pm (BST). Luis Enrique’s side have made an impressive start to the season, amassing 19 goals in their opening seven fixtures, and having not conceded any. Only their inability to breakdown a stubborn Malaga defence has denied them a 100% record. Like their rivals Real, Barcelona have one eye on Europe (Ajax visit on Tuesday) and next Saturday’s El Clasico fixture. Given the magnitude of these games, Enrique is considering resting influential duo Neymar and Messi for this fixture.
Given that both were on international duty for Brazil and Argentina respectively, it is understandable they may be sacrificed in what on the face of it looks like a straightforward tie. However, Messi is one goal shy of Telmo Zarra’s sixty year old La Liga goalscoring record of 251 goals, and could conceivably overtake him given the level of opposition. Meanwhile, this is the last weekend of Luis Suarez’ ban for biting Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, and the Uruguayan could make his debut next weekend against Real Madrid
With or without Messi and/or Neymar, I cannot foresee anything other than an easy and straightforward win for Barcelona in this game. They’ll get the job done early, and rest key players ahead of their important double header.
90MinuteCynic Prediction Barcelona 6 – 0 Eibar
Atletico Madrid welcomes Espanyol to the capital on Sunday at 11am (BST). Like their big city rivals, Atletico have not quite made the start to the league campaign that they hoped for or would have expected. They find themselves in fifth place, one point behind Real Madrid on 14 points, having won four, drew two and lost one of their opening seven games. Their fans are a little more patient than their illustrious rivals, and are aware that it is still only October. Simeone’s side are still likely to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. This weekend’s opponents certainly believe this to be the case. Espanyol defender Diego Colotto was quoted as saying:
“They’re still a really good team. They’re amongst the best in La Liga, they’re still following the same line as last season and they’ll be just as competitive, right to the end of the season.”
One nagging factor at the beginning of the season, however, is the relative lack of goals in comparison to the big two. Diego Costa would be a miss for any side in the world, the Atleti faithful will be hopeful that Croatian Mario Mandzukic can step up to the plate and at least replace some of the goals scored by the Spanish/Brazilian forward last season.
Espanyol have made a sprightly start to their league campaign and find themselves only three points behind their opponents in eighth place. I do not feel that they have enough, however, to trouble the Spanish champions, especially at the Vincente Calderon, and I predict a comfortable victory in the end for Atletico, even though the scoreline may not quite reflect their dominance