Four questions need to be answered this weekend in the 29th round of La Liga as the race for the title and to avoid relegation heats up.
1) No Messi, no party?
By the time FC Barcelona kick off away to second from bottom Granada, they will know Real Madrid’ s result, but the fact is anything other than a win in the Los Carmenes Stadium will deal a severe blow to their title hopes and Barca will have to win without Leo Messi, who is suspended after completing a cycle of bookings in Barca’s win at home to Valencia.
Messi has so often been Barca’s savior, producing a moment of magic to assure all three points following a mediocre team showing, but without him, Neymar and Luis Suarez will have to produce the magic, along with players such as Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and perhaps even Paco Alcacer.
Barca have at times struggled after international breaks with Neymar and Suarez tired after their trans-Atlantic flights, Sunday would not be a good time for that to happen again.
2) Can Sevilla make a fresh start?
The fortnight before the international break was disastrous for Jorge Sampaoli’ s Sevilla players who saw their hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals of the Champions League and maintaining their fight for the title evaporate in four painful games.
A side that has impressed with its physical commitment all season seemed to suddenly run into a brick wall of both physical and mental exhaustion and after losing to Atletico Madrid two weeks ago, Sevilla are now only two points ahead of Diego Simeone’s men in third place.
Sporting Gijon’ s visit to the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on Sunday seems to give Sevilla the chance to get back on the winning track, but after losing Adil Rami and Gabriel Mercado to injury in the international break, the question is: has Sampaoli been able to use the break to get some freshness back into his side? If not, Sporting could spring a surprise.
3) Marcos Llorente the missing man in Real Madrid-Alaves game
Marcos Llorente has without doubt been one of the revelations of the season in the Liga Santander; the midfielder player on loan at Alaves from Real Madrid has grown in stature with almost every appearance for the side that only returned to the top flight this season.
After showing his ball-winning, positional and passing abilities, the 22-year-old is a certainty to return to Madrid next season, which makes his absence in Sunday’s game between Real Madrid and Alaves all the more disappointing. Real Madrid have included (as many clubs do) a clause in the loan agreement which states he cannot play in either of the two matches between Alaves and Madrid.
While in many ways that makes sense (and indeed is a rule in the English Premier League), it is also a shame that Madrid fans won’t be able to enjoy the performance of a young man who is likely to play a major role in the club’s future, even on this one occasion he with the rival team.
4) Can Leganes take advantage of Real Sociedad’s midfield woes?
Two defeats in two games against Basque neighbors, Athletic Club Bilbao and Alaves in the run up to the international break knocked the wind out of Real Sociedad’s sails while also apparently ending their chances of a top-four finish this season.
The next rival for the side from San Sebastian is Leganes; a well-organized and hard-working outfit, who are five points above the relegation zone.
On paper Real Sociedad should repeat the triumph they took earlier this season in Leganes’ Butarque stadium, but coach Eusebio Sacristan has to deal with a midfield crisis ahead of the match. Although it appears David Zututuza will be available after a muscle problem, Asier Illaramendi misses out with a torn muscle and Esteban Granero is suspended.
Real Sociedad’s success this season has been based on having to make few changes to their starting line up; will Leganes be able to take advantage of the absences to claw a point or more from Anoeta?
(With Inputs From Xinhua)