Benitez’s men could only manage a 0-0 draw away to newly promoted Sporting Gijon to start their league campaign last weekend, which already leaves them trailing Barcelona and Atletico Madrid by two points. A good start was seen as key to Madrid’s bid to win just a second La Liga title in eight years with Barcelona and Atletico facing on paper a much harder start to the campaign.
However, Real defender Nacho insists Los Blancos can’t let panic set in just one game into the season. “We need to be calm. At Real Madrid every game is a final,” he told the club’s website. “If we had won against Sporting, we would still need to beat Betis. From remaining calm we can go out to win every game.”
Madrid should be boosted by the return of Karim Benzema up front from a thigh injury after he returned to training on Tuesday. Gareth Bale is also expected to be fit despite suffering a foot injury in Gijon and James Rodriguez is likely to come into the starting line-up after he was surprisingly left on the bench last time out in favour of Isco.
Barcelona made a perfect start to the defence of their title despite being under-manned as they gained revenge over Athletic Bilbao for their defeat in the Spanish Super Cup with a 1-0 win at the new San Mames. Luis Suarez grabbed the only goal of the game to ensure Lionel Messi wasn’t made to pay for his first-half penalty miss and the South American duo could be reunited with Neymar for the first time this season when Malaga visit the Camp Nou on Saturday.
The Brazilian has missed Barcelona’s four competitive games to date due to a bout of the mumps, but has trained all week and will boost a Barcelona squad still without a number of key players. Gerard Pique serves the second of a four-game suspension, whilst Dani Alves has been ruled out for a month with an abductor injury.
Malaga stunned the Catalans last season with a 1-0 win at the Camp Nou, which interrupted a 20-match winning run. “Going there and winning was important, but that is now last season. We are in a new campaign with new players and it is going to be a completely different game,” Malaga defender Roberto Rosales told the club’s website. “Logically, Barcelona at home are the favourites, but we will try to ensure that doesn’t happen using the strengths we have.”
Atleti visit Sevilla
The game of the weekend comes at the Sanchez Pizjuan as Sevilla host Atletico Madrid in the first clash between Spain’s five UEFA Champions League representatives of the season. Atletico have been tipped to once again challenge Barcelona and Real for the title this season, but were unconvincing in their 1-0 win over Las Palmas last weekend.
Sevilla were lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw at Malaga after having Steven N’Zonzi sent-off on his debut, but the Andalusians could hand a debut to Fernando Llorente after he sealed his move from Juventus on Thursday.
Valencia will also be keen to get their first La Liga win of the campaign when they host Deportivo La Coruna after sealing a place in the Champions League group stages for the first time in three years with victory over Monaco in midweek.
Meanwhile, the early leaders Eibar will attempt to extend their perfect record when the minnows host Athletic Bilbao in a Basque derby on Sunday.
Real Sociedad v Sporting Gijon
Barcelona v Malaga
Celta Vigo v Rayo Vallecano
Real Madrid v Real Betis