For a seemingly middling, 13th placed promoted team from La Liga Adelante with a 2-3-3 record, Hércules Club de Fútbol has debunked the increasingly popular theory that there is little competitive balance in Spain’s top division. A two-goal victory at the Camp Nou against FC Barcelona, a 2-0 win over Sevilla, a 2-2 draw against Villarreal, and a 1-2 loss against Valencia where Hércules dominated the final fifty-five minutes of the match should have Real Madrid on high alert as the league-leaders travel to Alicante to face Hércules in one of the marquee matchups of the round.
The drama has already started between the two teams even before they set foot on the José Rico Pérez pitch on Saturday evening. Royston Drenthe, one of the standout performers for Hércules this season, is on loan to them from Real Madrid, and although loaned players can play against their parent club in Spain, a clause in Real Madrid’s deal with Hércules stipulates that if Drenthe plays against Real as a member of Hércules, the Alicante club will have to pay a €2 million fee to Real. Considering that €2 million is a significant portion of the Hércules budget for the season, Drenthe will likely sit out for this match, and Hércules will definitely miss Drenthe’s searing runs down the left wing and his willingness to defend when necessary.
Although Real could only muster a 0-0 draw against Segunda División B side Real Murcia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey Round of 32 on Tuesday, los blancos have terrorized their opposition in all competitions since they suffered a humbling 0-0 draw against Levante in late September. Sixteen goals in their last three La Liga fixtures and two Champions League victories, including a 2-0 demolition of AC Milan that felt more like 4-0 or 5-0, have José Mourinho’s conglomeration at the top of their Champions League group and La Liga.
Real will welcome back Sergio Ramos after his three-week layoff due to an ankle injury and fit in to a settled starting eleven that has seen summer signings Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Ricardo Carvalho, and Ángel di María thrive under the tutelage and discipline of José Mourinho. Suddenly, though not suddenly at the same time, some of last summer’s transfer splash could easily be gone in January. Karim Benzema, Kaká, and Raúl Albiol, a combined transfer worth of €115 million last season, have seen their places in the team taken from them due to injury (Albiol and Kaká) or poor form (Kaká and Benzema), and unless these three are willing to fight to retain their former status within the team, each will want to move in order to receive more playing time.
Other potentially engrossing matches this weekend include the late Saturday kickoff, where FC Barcelona hosts Sevilla in a top-six clash of possible European trophy winners in their respective competitions, the late Sunday kickoff between Athletic Bilbao and Getafe where both teams will factor into the final places of the UEFA Europa League at season’s end, and a traditional 5:00 local time kickoff between Sporting Gijón and Villarreal in one of those away matches that Villarreal would lose last season. If Villarreal is serious about winning La Liga this season, they need to beat these types of lower-table teams away from home.
Note: Europe ends their Daylight Savings Time early Sunday morning on October 31, so for those watching the Sunday and Monday matches in the United States, those games will be an hour later than their usual starting times.
Valencia vs. Real Zaragoza – 11:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Hércules vs. Real Madrid – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD
FC Barcelona vs. Sevilla – 3:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Málaga vs. Real Sociedad – 11:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477
Deportivo La Coruña vs. Espanyol – 11:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Sporting Gijón vs. Villarreal – 11:55 AM on Gol TV HD
Atlético Madrid vs. Almería – 1:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe – 3:45 PM on DirecTV channel 477
Mallorca vs. Levante – 3:45 PM on DirecTV channel 477
Unfortunately, the Sunday kickoff between Racing de Santander and Osasuna will not be shown on US TV.