Ultimate Guide to La Liga Weekend: The Established Big 3 Order Is Back

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistOctober 30, 2015

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04:  Yannick Carrasco of Club Atletico de Madrid outpaces 
 Toni Kroos and  Alvaro Arbeloa of Real Madrid during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

It has taken a quarter of a season, but the top of La Liga has a very familiar look about it once again: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid occupy the first three positions with just two points separating them and a gap developing after the top five or so.

Real, Barca and Atleti also boast the current best win streaks in La Liga, with a mighty record of back-to-back victories apiece. It certainly hasn't yet been a campaign in which any side has put together an amazing run of form despite playing well for stretches, and the early matchups between the teams at the top have seen plenty of back and forth in terms of controlling the 90 minutes and actually taking the points.

Atletico lost to Barcelona, drew to Real and beat Sevilla and Valencia. The three points Barcelona took off Atleti were negated by losing heavily to Celta Vigo. Celta, in turn, were delighted with both that win and the late away victory over Villarreal but were beaten by Real Madrid—who are the only remaining Liga side undefeated.

Even Real's form has taken a silly hit or two, though, with frustrating draws against Malaga and Sporting Gijon being registered.

With El Clasico coming up on Nov. 21, neither of the teams involved will want to lose ground at the top in the meantime. Atleti, meanwhile, will simply want to keep stringing together performances and wins to be ready and in place to capitalise on any slip ups in El Clasico.

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 04:  head coach Diego Pablo Simeone (R) of Atletico de Madrid welcomes head coach Rafael Benitez (L) of Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on Octob
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The start of the season has been intriguing, exciting, insightful and in part revelatory—on and off the field in some cases—but now is when we might start to really see the league take shape.

Early-season stutters have been shaken off, a number of stars, including James Rodriguez and Andres Iniesta, are close to returns from injury and everybody has had a thorough opportunity to scout and report back on everyone else. From here on in, every game can reasonably be seen as important in the title fight, not just for points, but for confidence, belief, direction of the team and style of play.

In isolation, no three points won or lost matters a huge amount, but the mentality of players, availability of key names and how the coaches react to different in-game scenarios can tell an awful lot.

It is very much a three-way fight in La Liga this season, and even the battle for fourth will be no less interesting.

Over to you, Senors Benitez, Enrique and Simeone.

Barcelona's coach Luis Enrique shouts from the sidelines during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona vs SD Eibar at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on October 25, 2015.   AFP PHOTO/ LLUIS GENE        (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Ge
LLUIS GENE/Getty Images

Jornada 10


Deportivo La Coruna vs. Atletico Madrid


Real Madrid vs. Las Palmas

Villarreal vs. Sevilla

Valencia vs. Levante

Getafe vs. Barcelona

Real Sociedad vs. Celta Vigo


Eibar vs. Rayo Vallecano

Espanyol vs. Granada

Sporting Gijon vs. Malaga

Real Betis vs. Athletic Club

What to Watch out for This Week

Part 1: Athletic's Most Complete XI?

Athletic Bilbao struggled initially this season but have put together an impressive little run recently: They drew the Basque derby against Real Sociedad at Anoeta, beat Valencia, came back from two down to draw at Depor and battered Sporting Gijon.

The upturn in form is in part down to key starters returning and ousting the likes of Sabin Merino and Javi Eraso from the XI, who had both been in on a regular basis and simply aren't anywhere near the level of preferred options such as Raul Garcia, Inaki Williams and Benat.

Athletic's Raul Garcia (C) celebrates his goal during the UEFA Europa League Group L football match between Partizan and Athletic Bilbao at the FK Partizan Stadium on October 22, 2015 in Belgrade. AFP PHOTO / PEDJA MILOSAVLJEVIC        (Photo credit shoul

A centre-back platform of Aymeric Laporte and Xabier Etxeita is immense with both fit and in form, while Mikel San Jose provides aggression and protection in front. With Ander Iturraspe still to incorporate into the team and Iker Muniain a long-term casualty who can eventually return to boost the squad, Athletic have to be optimistic about this season.

As long as the main core of players remain available, they should certainly be looking at the top eight as a minimum requirement.

Part 2: New Managers

Las Palmas reacted first in mid-October when they fired Paco Herrera and replaced him with Quique Setien, who oversaw a 0-0 draw at home to Villarreal in his first match. He couldn't have had a much tougher start to life, being away to Real Madrid this time out, so a clean sheet and a point in the first fixture was crucial.

Now, Levante have followed suit; Rubi is in as boss until the end of the season after Lucas Alcaraz was sacked after Sunday's defeat to Real Sociedad.

Two coincidences: Both departed bosses had primarily lined up in a 5-3-2 system this season, flooding the defensive half of the pitch in an attempt to frustrate opponents before countering at pace, and both were sacked immediately after 4-0 defeats.

Who could be next? Nuno continues to be the target of some fans' ire at Valencia and has to overcome Levante's new boss on Saturday, while David Moyes at Real Sociedad could be in for a whole world of trouble if Celta bounce back from defeat to Real Madrid with a big performance.

Whatever you do, Nuno and Moysie, don't lose 4-0.

Player to Watch: Kiko Casilla (RMA)

Kiko Casilla of Real Madrid during the AUDI Cup match between Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur on August 4, 2015 at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
VI-Images/Getty Images

The best goalkeeper in La Liga this season, by some distance, has been Real Madrid's Keylor Navas. Indeed, there are not many in better form than he is in any domestic league around Europe.

Bad news for the Liga leaders, then, that Keylor picked up a slight muscle strain. There are doubts about his participation on Saturday, with Rafa Benitez noting on Spanish radio (via Marca) that he had "total confidence" in his replacement, Kiko Casilla, who has yet to make his competitive debut for Real.

Casilla won admirers for his performances at Espanyol last season and even made his Spain national team debut, but he is error prone and has had no game time since the pre-season programme ended. All eyes will be on him if he lines up in goal against Las Palmas.

Game of the Weekend: Villarreal vs. Sevilla

Both Villarreal and Sevilla started the season in surprising fashion: Villarreal were top a few weeks in as their new-look attack immediately jelled, while Sevilla struggled to create chances, didn't integrate many new faces at all into their XI and started extremely poorly.

Things have balanced out somewhat for both now, with Sevilla in particular looking menacing again after three wins in their last four. Villarreal, on the other hand, haven't won in three—and with Barcelona up next for them, they'll want to take points from this home fixture to ensure the run isn't prolonged.

The pace and passing of Villarreal always makes for watchable games, but Sevilla have the midfield guile and power, as well as several attackers in goalscoring form, to create a lot of problems for the home side at El Madrigal. It should be a spectacular 90 minutes.

Predictions and Tips

  • Both teams to score in Villarreal vs. Sevilla and Espanyol vs. Granada.
  • Home wins: Real Madrid, Valencia, Eibar and Sporting.
  • Away wins: Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona.