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“I don’t like it, and I don’t want it to happen.” James Milner’s comments on Monday night summed up how many of us felt about the proposed European Super League plans. It goes against the sport, why we started playing football, the meritocracy and competitiveness of the game. I was very proud to see the reaction of British fans and to have played in Britain for a long time in my career it was great to see their reaction. The fans have saved football.
While there has been considerable turmoil off the pitch this week, on the pitch the results for title contenders Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid were as expected in LaLiga’s midweek round of fixtures with all three winning comfortably.
This weekend, the title race in LaLiga throws each title contender some of the trickiest fixtures in the league, with Barcelona’s trip to Villarreal arguably the toughest on paper.
Barcelona didn’t suffer a hangover from their Copa Del Rey victory, winning 5-2 over struggling Getafe last night. However, that didn’t tell the whole story as in the second half they took their foot off the gas and could’ve been punished before two late goals sealed the three points.
Lionel Messi scored his 25th LaLiga goal of the season and has now achieved that feat for the past 12 seasons in a row; a remarkable record. These are the numbers you’d want to get in training, not in the league, and he plays at the highest level like I might with my friends… when he wants to score, he scores.
Five goals off Messi, Gerard Moreno is one of the few strikers still with an outside chance of the Pichichi award (top goalscorer) in LaLiga, and he’s one of the best out-and-out strikers in Spain; technically sound with a good finish and very composed in front of goal. Moreno’s connection with Dani Parejo has been key to his success this campaign.
Arsenal fans will also want to keep a keen eye on this fixture with Unai Emery’s side set to face his former club in the Europa League next week. Emery may have one eye on Arsenal too, knowing Villarreal have an opportunity to win silverware for the first time in their history and qualify for the Champions League next season.
They may make some changes against Barcelona, but I still see them fielding a strong side as this a crucial match for their hopes of qualifying for Europe again next season, if the Europa League route doesn’t work out.
Athletic Club lost two cup finals earlier this month, and you’d be forgiven for thinking this would have knocked their confidence and play in to Atlético’s hands. But this is Athletic Club.
If you know them, their history and the type of club they are, they will bounce back, and they will be up for this game. Marcelino’s men will be committed, because this is what their fans demand, and that’s why Athletic Club is never an easy place to go.
Atlético remain on top in LaLiga and have scored seven goals without reply in the past week, all while star striker Luis Suárez remained on the sidelines.
Missing Suárez has strangely had its benefits as it has allowed Atlético to play in a different way, pressing more from the front with the younger legs of Ángel Correa and Marcos Llorente.
In some ways, it’s been a blessing in disguise to help Simeone’s men break down more defensive teams. However, for this fixture, it’s quite the opposite. Simeone will want his best players, and the finishing prowess of the Uruguayan will be a huge miss as chances will be tougher to come by.
Real Madrid’s players were professional in victory over Cádiz on Wednesday night and when the ball starts rolling, the players won’t be thinking about anything else. They have an opportunity to retain the title, which they haven’t done since the Galactico era in 2008, and that will be their focus.
Zidane’s side have been difficult to analyse this season through their inconsistency; losing games you wouldn’t expect but then winning some of the biggest games that looked much more difficult.
Having said that Karim Benzema and Thibaut Courtois have both displayed a high level of performance throughout the season, and players like Nacho and Lucas Vazquez have stepped up when others have been injured.
Vinícius Jr has played more than 40 games this season for the first time since joining Real Madrid, and his performances over Liverpool have given him a real boost of confidence which will help him start to fulfil his potential.
Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Betis have been solid and he’s structured the team to allow them to challenge for Europe this season. He’s done a fantastic job, and he always has a point to prove against his former team.
A win here will help Betis achieve their ambitions of European qualification. But their biggest problem is the number nine since Borja Iglesias has been injured, and they haven’t had that focal point up front.
At the other end of the table, Getafe lie only four points above Huesca ahead of their match this weekend. It’s a huge match for both sides, but perhaps bigger for Getafe as a loss will drag them further in to the relegation dog-fight and could cause them to spiral out of control.
Getafe have scored fewer goals than Messi in LaLiga so it doesn’t take a genius to work out why they’re struggling. Their manager José Bordelás substituted some of his star players in the second half at Camp Nou on Thursday, which shows how big Sunday is for them.
Huesca have home advantage and have shown better form lately, and with Rafa Mir on fire up front they’ll fancy their chances in a huge six-pointer.