The frenzy of the opening weeks of La Liga was dampened and interrupted by European qualifiers, both on the club scene and more recently with international matches, but Spain's top flight is back and looking at a busy run of five gameweeks in the next 25 or so days.
It all begins with a fixture that has been a title-deciding one in the last two seasons: Atletico Madrid versus Barcelona, the 2013/14 and 2014/15 winners of La Liga respectively with an early chance to flex their muscles and show how they intend to repeat the trick in May.
For Atleti, it's a little bit of a win-win situation: A first defeat of the season is far from catastrophic if it comes against the reigning champions and treble winners, but a positive result shows their capacity to be considered right alongside the front-runners for this year's title. Forward Antoine Griezmann wants the momentum to be maintained, per AS.
We’ll be going out there to give everything we’ve got. It’s going to be difficult because Barca always like to control the ball but we’ll press them high up the pitch, be solid at the back and try to put a goal past them. We’ve got two wins under our belt, now we’ll be going for the third.
As for Barca, there hasn't been much from their camp about the game—simply because centre-back Gerard Pique has taken up all the attention after the poor reaction sent his way by Spain fans during the international break. Pique held a press conference to address several issues, little of which focused on what is a massive upcoming game for his club team.
It has, in a way, allowed Barcelona to prepare for the match in peace, getting back their stars off international duty and letting those who will take part stay out of the spotlight.
Pique:"I wore a Buffon shirt during the 14-15 UCL semi final and always want Madrid to lose. That's the way the Madrid-Barça rivalry is"— AS English (@English_AS) September 10, 2015
Pique "I have a fantastic relationship with the Real Madrid players. The atmosphere in the Spain dressing room is better than ever"— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) September 10, 2015
Piqué: "If I play for the [Spain] national team, it's not for money or prestige. I think it's the right thing to do." #FCBLive— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) September 10, 2015
Pique of the Day: “I don’t regret my comments at all, I’d do it 1,000 times over because I’m like that." pic.twitter.com/HJezWoJO3k— totalBarça (@totalBarca) September 10, 2015
Pique himself is not scheduled, at present, to feature in the game. He's still suspended after his Supercopa red card, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport has yet to decide whether the ban will be reduced, overturned or upheld. While his appearance still hangs in the balance, a host of other Liga stars will miss out after a huge rush of injuries seemed to hit over the international break.
Barcelona are still without Dani Alves and Adriano and now have goalkeeper Claudio Bravo (calf) set for time on the sidelines. James Rodriguez (thigh) and Danilo (foot) will both miss out for Real Madrid, with Spanish pair Isco and Dani Carvajal likely to take their respective places.
Sevilla lost new centre-back Adil Rami (abductor), Real Betis legend Joaquin (knee) has likely been denied a second debut for the time being and Valencia are now down to their third-choice goalkeeper, Yoel, after Mat Ryan (knee) joined Diego Alves in the treatment room.
Jornada 3 Fixtures (kick-off times per Soccerway, BST)
Levante vs. Sevilla
Espanyol vs. Real Madrid
Sporting Gijon vs. Valencia
Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona
Real Betis vs. Real Sociedad
Granada vs. Villarreal
Athletic Club vs. Getafe
Celta Vigo vs. Las Palmas
Malaga vs. Eibar
Rayo Vallecano vs. Deportivo La Coruna
What to Watch out for This Week
Part 1: How Many 100 Per Cent Records Will Endure?
After two rounds of games in this season's Liga, only four teams can still boast perfect starts. At least one of them has to go this weekend, with Atletico and Barcelona making up half the group at the top—Celta Vigo and Eibar are the others.
Celta will feel they have every reason to believe they can continue their winning ways. Two good performances thus far show they should be capable of aiming for the top eight at least, and they play at home on Sunday against newly promoted Las Palmas, who haven't yet scored a goal in the top flight.
Eibar face a tougher challenge—away to Malaga, who only narrowly lost to Barcelona last time out and held Real Sociedad on the opening day. Malaga aren't exactly a force going forward, but they'll be stubborn, and Eibar will soon lose their surprise factor as teams watch and learn how they operate with a restructured team.
Naturally, a draw at the Calderon ends the two teams' 100 per cent records—but if one wins, they will make an early case for being title favourites.
Part 2: Can Valencia Kick-start Their Season?
Valencia might have made it into the group stage of the Champions League after overcoming Monaco over two legs, but they simply haven't gotten into gear yet domestically. They look short of sharpness and tempo in the final third and without the assured relentless build-up play of much of last season.
Nuno switched his team around a little in the first games to ensure the Champions League qualifying fixtures were the priority, but they now need to start getting wins on the board in convincing fashion to ensure they don't quickly fall off the pace for a top-four spot—or better if the manager has aspirations of improving on last year rather than just matching it.
Los Che are away to Sporting Gijon, another of the promoted sides—and like Las Palmas, they haven't yet scored a goal. They also haven't conceded one, either, so Valencia can't expect to just turn up and take the points without putting in a performance.
At the other end, Valencia are now on their third-choice goalkeeper, Yoel, with both Diego Alves and Mat Ryan out injured.
Player to Watch: Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
He's suspended, yet he might play; he won the World Cup, yet he is jeered by his nation's supporters; he is a centre-back, yet he could give Barcelona options in midfield. The enigma of Pique saw him begin last season dropped from the squad, never mind the Barcelona starting XI, yet he ended the campaign as arguably the most in-form centre-back in La Liga and ended up winning the treble as a key component of the side.
His press conference on Thursday, per AS, saw him rebuff claims he doesn't deserve to play for Spain and that he shouldn't play up the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, among plenty of other insinuations.
If Pique takes to the field against a similarly huge enemy of Real Madrid but still playing in the Spanish capital, it will be interesting to see the home supporters' reaction toward him.
Game of the Weekend: Atletico Madrid vs. Barcelona
It couldn't be any other, of course, but this is a rare gameweek with lots of "normal" matchups rather than any particularly effervescent clashes, derbies or rivalries—positional or geographical—in action. Whichever side manages to pick up a positive result, Atletico against Barcelona should be an engrossing spectacle with contrasting tactics and no shortage of quality players.
Aside from the football itself, it has also been announced, reported by AS, that both sets of players will walk out onto the pitch wearing t-shirts showing support for "the thousands of refugees who have abandoned the Middle East, fleeing from death and destruction." Both clubs are also involved in a pledge to help raise funds for the same cause.
The quirk of results so far in La Liga means the other match worth looking out for is Athletic Bilbao against Getafe—the league's two bottom clubs at present and the only ones who have lost both their opening fixtures.
- Real Betis become the first promoted team to taste victory in La Liga this season.
- Granada versus Villarreal to have the most goals.
- Clean sheets for Real Madrid, Valencia and Celta Vigo.
- One of Sevilla's two new strikers will score a first Liga goal.