There are two very attractive matchups this weekend but both fixtures look to be impacted heavily by injuries (or travel exhaustion) suffered by key players.
First let’s look at the Real Madrid v Espanyol match. Real Madrid will be without Arjen Robben, Robinho and Gabriel Heinze for their trip to Barcelona. A potential boost to the Madrid squad could come from Guti and Fabio Cannavaro. Both had initially been doubtful for Saturday’s game, but both returned to training on Thursday and could start against Espanyol.
This is a hard game to call as Espanyol has been hot and cold. They beat Sevilla and Valencia, but struggled against Deportivo and Getafe. They are sitting in good shape though having won four of their last five matches and are in fifth place at the moment. Angel Martinez, David Garcia, Javi Chica, Rufete and Francisco Javier Martinez are all unavailable for Espanyol, but playmaker Ivan De La Pena could return from a knee injury after four months out.
The other matchup we’re going to look at is the Villarreal – Barcelona match. With a win and Madrid loss, Barca could go top of the table this weekend. However, Barca will be without Samuel Eto’o, Rafael Marquez, Gianluca Zambrotta, Yaya Toure and perhaps most importantly, Ronaldinho. Ronaldinho is not injured but has been left out of the squad after returning late from international duty with Brazil.
Villarreal will be missing top scorer Giuseppe Rossi (suspension), Gonzalo Rodriguez (also suspended) and central midfielder Josico (injury). The papers have been anticipating that manager Pellegrini would deploy two holding midfielders but without Josico a change of formation might be in the cards.
The match is being played at El Madrigal and Barcelona lost 2-0 there last season. The one thing going in Barca’s favour is the form of Lionel Messi. He has been on fire the last few weeks and if his form continues he could be the difference-maker in the match.
There is one other important match that I’d like to touch on briefly. Sevilla find themselves at the wrong end of the table and need to pick up maximum points from their match with fellow relegation battlers Levante. Levante are really struggling with just one point, 17 goals conceded and just 1 goal scored. They are easily the worst team in La Liga in all those categories.
Sevilla are also in trouble and the prospects are not good going into this match. They will be without star striker Frederic Kanoute, captain Javi Navarro, Alexander Kerzhakov, Julien Escude, Enzo Maresca and Aquivaldo Mosquera. All of those players are sidelined with various injuries.
On the plus side, Khalid Boulahrouz has been passed fit and permissions has been granted by the league to add Ernesto Chevanton to the squad. The club was unable to add him to the 25-man squad they registered for this season because of the limited number of non-European Union players allowed to each club in La Liga. However, special dispensation was given to Sevilla to add a replacement player to their roster because of the death of wing-back Antonio Puerta. Ivory Coast striker Arouna Kone has recently gained European Union citizenship status, so that allowed Sevilla to nominate Chevanton for their roster. Chevanton has good spells at Lecce and Monaco so it will be intereting to see if he can repeat that in La Liga.