By Ralph Chery
La Liga returns to action this weekend after a dramatic international week. The must-see encounters are Barcelona’s trip to Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Real Betis’ matchup and substandard champions Real Madrid encounter with Getafe.
In the individual realm, Argentine superstar Lionel Messi will enter Week 8 after leading his country to the World Cup with a hat trick against Ecuador while Atletico striker Antoine Griezmann is fresh off a goal and an assist against Belarus for France.
Ernesto Valverde’s men are enjoying a dream start in Spain. Barca won all of their seven domestic fixtures and is the best offensive and defensive team, scoring 23 goals while conceding two. But they’ve yet faced a top-notch club. The highest seeded team the Blaugrana side went against was sixth placed Real Betis, whom they blanked 2-0.
Messi and company will travel to Madrid on Sunday at 6:45 p.m. to take on defensive juggernaut Atletico Madrid for their biggest test of the young Spanish season.
The last four times the two sides met 34 yellow and six red cards were distributed—21 yellows and four reds for Atletico and 13 yellows and two reds for Barcelona. The last two encounters ended in a 1-1 draw.
Messi, who leads the league in scoring with 11 goals in seven matches, hasn’t netted against Los Rojiblancos in three matches, which amounts to a year and nine months. Luis Suarez has been Barca’s hitman against Atleti, tallying three goals in the clubs’ last four fixtures against them.
Atletico is once again a defensive threat this season, the team conceded the third least goals in the league, four in seven outings. However Diego Simeone’s men are winless in their last two fixtures, tying to Leganes 0-0 and falling to Chelsea in the Champions League 2-1.
Griezmann only netted twice for Atleti in La Liga after scoring 16 goals last season in 26 appearances. However the Frenchman netted and assisted for his country in midweek action against Belarus. Yannick Carrasco leads Atletico in scoring in Spain with three goals. As Barcelona, Los Rojiblnacos are unbeaten, winning four of their seven matches and tying three.
While Barcelona will look to prove they mean business this season with a win against a powerhouse, their rivals Real Madrid will attempt to dig themselves out of the hole they got into with a victory over Getafe.
Madrid sits fifth in the table with a 4-1-2 record when the only top team they versed thus far is third place Valencia, whom they drew with 2-2.
Cristiano Ronaldo is still looking for his first league-goal of the season. The Portuguese only played two league-games due to a five-match ban. However outside of Spain, Ronaldo netted twice against Borussia Dortmund on Sept. 26th and once against Andorra for Portugal on Saturday.
21-year-old Marco Asencio leads Real in assist and goals in domestic action with two in each comportments. Isco is also a player to keep an eye on Saturday. The Spanish playmaker scored a brace in the previous round against Espanyol in a 2-0 win.
Los Blancos head coach Zinedine Zidane will be without five key players: Gareth Bale (calf, muscle injury), Karim Benzema (hamstring), Marcelo (hamstring), Daniel Carvajal (heart problems) and Toni Kroos (rib).
As for Getafe, they’re 2-3-2 on the season and lost their last game to 15th placed Deportivo de La Coruna, 2-1. However El Geta only conceded two goals in their last three La Liga outings. The club is the best defensive team at the bottom half of the table, conceding seven goals in seven games.
Third placed Valencia versus sixth placed Real Betis is arguably the third most anticipated game of Round 8. Valencia are unbeaten, winning four of their seven matches and drawing three. And the club have the second best scorer in Spain, Simone Zaza, who owns six goals. Betis on the other hand have the best provider of the season so far, Mexico star midfielder Andres Guardado, who tallied six assists. Valencia central midfielder Carlos Soler sits one spot below Guardado with four assists.
Valencia won their last two games with a slim 3-2 scoreline against Real Sociedad and Athletic Club Bilbao. Meanwhile, Betis tied their last match with Sociedad, 4-4. However the club inflicted Madrid their only league loss of the season, edging the champions, 1-0, in Week 5. The game will be played at Estadio Benito Villamarín at Betis.. Beticos won their last four home league-games.