Politics lingers in five things to watch in La Liga

Barcelona’s French defender Lucas Digne (C) celebrates a goal with teammates during the UEFA Champions League group D football match FC Barcelona vs Olympiacos FC at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on Ocotber 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / LLUIS GENE

Spain’s political crisis continues to form a cloud over La Liga with eyes just as much on the stands once more at Barcelona’s Camp Nou as the field for Malaga’s visit on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid will be expected to put their stuttering home form to right when struggling Basque minnows Eibar visit the Santiago Bernabeu.

Atletico Madrid and Sevilla are in need of a lift after nightmare long trips east in the Champions League in midweek, whilst La Liga’s entertainers Real Betis will look to continue their free-scoring form against Alaves.

Here, AFP Sports looks at five things to look out for in La Liga this weekend:

Catalan crisis continues
Barca’s neutral stance of pleading for dialogue as the standoff between the Spanish and Catalan governments continues to escalate has seen the club criticised from both sides of the political extremes.

An annual general meeting of the club’s members will take place on Saturday before kick-off at the Camp Nou, providing a platform for those unhappy with president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s management of the crisis to air their grievances.

Bartomeu, though, is in a no-win situation. Barca have defended Catalonia’s right to decide its future without backing either side of the independence debate.

The consequences of having such a huge fanbase ranging from Catalans to the rest of Spain and across the world means it is impossible to keep everyone happy.

Michel’s last stand
On the field, Barca have made light of all manner of distractions this season to perform far better than expected.

In Ernesto Valverde’s first 11 Liga and Champions League games in charge, Barca have won 10 and earned a valuable point at Atletico last weekend.

Bottom of the table Malaga should pose little threat to that unbeaten record and Barca may have the extra satisfaction of rubbing salt into a Real Madrid legend’s wounds.

The last time the sides met Malaga beat Barca 2-0 in the match that ultimately cost the Catalans the title.

Malaga boss Michel rejoiced afterwards, proclaiming his delight to have helped his former club’s title charge, but should he suffer an eighth defeat in nine games to start the season, Michel is likely to be out of a job come Monday.

Sevilla on the slide
Valencia’s resurgence under Marcelino Garcia Toral sees them sit second behind Barca ahead of Sevilla’s visit to the Mestalla on Saturday.

After a promising start under Eduardo Berizzo, Sevilla have slumped in recent weeks, culminating in an embarrassing 5-1 thrashing at Spartak Moscow on Tuesday.

They need to arrest that slide quickly or Valencia could usurp them as Spanish football’s fourth force behind Barca, Real and Atletico to claim a return to the Champions League next season.

Impotent Atleti
Atletico’s problem is a painfully obvious one. Wednesday’s stalemate at Champions League newcomers Qarabag in Azerbaijan was their fourth 0-0 draw in their last five away games.

“The strikers have to work on it,” admitted Antoine Griezmann, conceding his side are as good as ever at the back.

January and the return of Diego Costa can’t come quick enough for Diego Simeone’s men.

But some rest bite could come in the form of Celta Vigo’s defence, who have conceded 13 times in eight games this season, at Balaidos on Sunday.

Setien set in his ways
Goals are not something Quique Setien’s Betis are short of.

Setien critcised Atletico’s defensive style despite losing 6-3 at home to Valencia last weekend, claiming he would “rather lose like that than score and sit back,” as Atleti had at home to Barca 24 hours earlier.

That nine-goal thriller came on the back of a 4-4 draw at Real Sociedad.

Betis’ openness might even awake an Alaves frontline, including former Barca starlets Bojan Krkic and Munir El Haddadi, that has scored just three goals in eight games.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Saturday

Levante v Getafe (1100), Real Betis v Alaves (1415), Valencia v Sevilla (1630), Barcelona v Malaga (1845)

Sunday

Villarreal v Las Palmas (1000), Celta Vigo v Atletico Madrid (1415), Leganes v Athletic Bilbao (1630), Real Madrid v Eibar (1845)

Monday

Real Sociedad v Espanyol (1800), Deportivo la Coruna v Girona (2000)



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