Celta seperate Madrid and Barcelona on goal difference with all three tied on 18 points at the top after eight games. As well as victory over Barcelona, Eduardo Berizzo’s men have swept aside Sevilla and previous table toppers Villarreal in recent weeks to pose an unexpected challenge to Spanish football’s two behemoths.
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who left Celta to join the Catalans 17 months ago, hailed his former side for not only beating but outclassing the European champions and their offensive style has attracted a sell-out crowd at Balaidos this weekend.
“That the fans are excited and coming to Balaidos shows that we are doing things well,” Celta ‘keeper Sergio Alvarez told the club’s website. “Real Madrid are one of the best teams in the world. They are very good in transitions from defence to attack, so we have to use the ball well and finish our attacks.”
On top of an opponent in a rich vein of form, Madrid will have to cope with a raft of injuries for the trip to Vigo. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Pepe are all doubtful, whilst Dani Carvajal is definitely out.
Despite missing so many key players, Madrid still managed a creditable 0-0 draw away to Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
“We are not at our best due to the absences, but we need to look forward,” said Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. “We can’t conform nor make excuses. We have a big squad with players that are desperate to show what they can do.”
Jese Rodriguez and Lucas Vazquez were handed rare starts at the Parc des Princes and Rafael Benitez could be left with no other option but to field the youngsters again if Bale and Benzema don’t recover in time.
“Jese and Lucas showed they have the level to compete and help us improve as a team,” added Ramos.
Barcelona have a much easier task on paper when they host Basque minnows Eibar at the Camp Nou on Sunday. The European champions’ own injury crisis has been eased by the return of Andres Iniesta. However, midfielder Sergi Roberto has been ruled out for 10 days with a groin strain and four-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi misses out once more due to knee ligament damage.
Neymar has stepped up in Messi’s absence – scoring four against Rayo Vallecano last weekend and providing both assists for Ivan Rakitic in Tuesday’s 2-0 win away at BATE Borisov.
Yet, Javier Mascherano believes there is a lot more to come from the Catalans.
“I think it is clear we are not at the best level we can be. The team is aware of that, we can give a lot more,” he said. “By working hard and above all correcting the errors defensively and offensively it is the first step to get to the level we want.”
Eibar were only sparred of relegation last season due to Elche’s financial troubles sending them down to the second division. However, the side from a town of just 27,000 people have made a great start to just their second season in the top flight having suffered just one defeat in their opening eight games.
There is a clash between two of Spain’s five UEFA Champions League participants on Sunday as Atletico Madrid welcome Valencia to the Vicente Calderon. Atletico sit just two points off the top and will be able to welcome back a host of first team regulars who were rested by Diego Simeone for Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Kazak champions Astana.
Meanwhile, former Manchester United manager David Moyes is under huge pressure to get a result when his Real Sociedad side visit fellow strugglers Levante. Sociedad remain out of the relegation zone only on goal difference and a third consecutive defeat could see the Scot’s time in Spain brought to a premature end.
Spanish La Liga fixtures
Rayo Vallecano v Espanyol
Levante v Real Sociedad, Las Palmas v Villarreal, Barcelona v Eibar, Atletico Madrid v Valencia
Athletic Bilbao v Sporting Gijon