Now that the El Clásico tornado has swept through Spain, leaving bits of Real Madrid debris in its wake, everyone can take a breath and move on with the rest of the season. Real must pick up the pieces and stay in the present rather than dwell on the 5-0 beating that Barcelona handed them because in the late Saturday kickoff, they host a Valencia team that is slowly returning to their consistent form that saw los che top the table in early October.
Valencia won last weekend 2-1 over an Almería side under the new management of ex-Tenerife trainer José Luís Oltra, and Roberto Soldado scored a brace to notch his tally to nine goals in all competitions. Unai Emery, known for his more conservative approach by employing a lone striker in his 4-2-3-1, has made a major adjustment by pairing Soldado with Aritz Aduriz more often, and the Valencia attack has thrived, creating more scoring chances.
Because of this switch to an old-fashioned 4-4-2, an attacking midfield had to be withdrawn from the starting eleven, and the Spanish international Pablo Hernández has more often than not been the victim of this tactical change. Going into the Santiago Bernabéu against a team that will be desperate to regain some of their invincibility and honor, Emery will likely revert to a one-striker system, and this type of match would be a perfect opportunity for Pablo to impress and recapture his place in the starting lineup.
For Real Madrid, they would want nothing more than to thrash Valencia and prove that the 5-0 humbling was merely a blip on the radar screen, but José Mourinho and his players know that any sort of win against a quality Valencia side would be more than adequate to reclaim some of their lost confidence. Los blancos have been perfect at home this season in all competitions, and while the Madridistas will give their club a little stick for their performance on Monday at the beginning of the match, they will quickly return to their rabid support of their boys in white, which will only help Real return to winning ways.
Sergio Ramos will serve his one-match ban against Valencia after receiving a straight red card for his vicious tackle on Lionel Messi and his petulant pushes on Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernández after he had been sent off, but Álvaro Arbeloa is more than capable of deputizing for Ramos at right back for a match, so while Real will lose a little on offense, Arbeloa will stay at home more often and cover the left wing, where Juan Mata will likely roam.
Gonzalo Higuaín, however, will potentially be out of action for two to three months due to a herniated disk in his back, and Karim Benzema will have the true audition he has wanted since he arrived in Madrid in the summer of 2009. The rumormongerers have bandied about names such as Hugo Almeida, Nelson Haedo Valdez, and Edin Dzeko to augment the strike force in January, and Benzema will have a string of seven or eight matches to prove his worth. Real cannot rely on Cristiano Ronaldo for all of their goals, so Benzema has become the vital piece in the opposition final third to provide a true second option after Ronaldo and return Real to its winning ways.
For Real’s Clásico rivals FC Barcelona, they cannot afford to rest on their laurels and become complacent because they travel north to Pamplona and encounter an Osasuna team that has not lost at home in La Liga all season long. The Barça players know well how tough and physical Osasuna is at home. They can look back to the last campaign, when Osasuna showed no reverence for the champions, chopping them down legally and illegally on a regular basis. In the dying seconds, Gerard Piqué’s attempted clearance/block went into his own goal, giving los rojillos a deserved 1-1 draw, and Barcelona can expect the same type of rugged affair on Saturday night.
Other intriguing matches in Jornada 14 include a matchup of perennial Champions League clubs Villarreal and Sevilla at El Madrigal, a relegation six-pointer between Almería and Real Zaragoza, both on their second managers, and the Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao at San Sebastián in the late Sunday kickoff.
The times listed are Eastern Standard Time (EST) and include the pregame pleasantries, although sometimes the matches on the DirecTV La Liga specific channels may not go to match coverage until right before kickoff.
Levante vs. Atlético Madrid – 11:55 AM on Gol TV HD
Osasuna vs. FC Barcelona – 1:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Real Madrid vs. Valencia – 3:55 PM on Gol TV HD
Getafe vs. Mallorca – 10:45 AM on DirecTV channel 477
Almería vs. Real Zaragoza – 10:55 AM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Espanyol vs. Sporting Gijón – 10:55 AM on Gol TV HD
Villarreal vs. Sevilla – 12:55 PM on ESPN Deportes/ESPN3
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao – 2:45 PM on DirecTV channel 478
Deportivo La Coruña vs. Hércules – 2:45 PM on DirecTV channel 477
Unfortunately, the Málaga – Racing de Santander match at La Rosaleda will not be shown on US TV.