Madrid, Jan 16 (IANS) The top three football sides in Spain’s La Liga all play their respective matches on Sunday in the 20th round of games of the season.
Matchday 20 is a repeat of the first day of the campaign and league leaders Atletico Madrid will no doubt settle for a repeat of the 1-0 win over Las Palmas with which they kicked off the season, reports Xinhua.
Both sides are still in the Copa del Rey’s Cup knockout competition and their coaches will take that into account, but it’s likely Atletico head coach Diego Simeone will repeat with the pace of Antoine Griezmann and Luciano Vietto in attack, while Saul retains his place in midfield.
Las Palmas have improved drastically in recent weeks and will look to continue their climb up the table under coach Quique Setien, especially as they play in front of their home fans.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez can expect a hostile reception from fans following the news last week that the club faces a ban on signing new players until the summer of 2017 as a result of irregularities in their youth system.
Although Atletico face a similar ban, the feeling is that Real Madrid’s rivals are better prepared for it and have already worked to lower the age of their squad, whereas for Real it is another problem for Perez on top of the expulsion from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player, the failure to sign Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, the sacking of the popular coach Carlo Ancelotti and his replacement with the unpopular Rafael Benitez, who in turn was sacked after Christmas.
Zinedine Zidane enjoyed a comfortable win at home over Deportivo la Coruna in his debut and will expect a similar result at home against struggling Sporting Gijon.
Captain Sergio Ramos is out with a calf injury and Rafael Varane will partner Pepe in the heart of the defence.
Fate has decreed that FC Barcelona and Athletic Club Bilbao will meet three times over 10 days as they did at the start of the season, first in Sunday’s league clash and then in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona are at full strength for Sunday’s league match, while Athletic travel to the Camp Nou without suspended top scorer Aritz Aduriz and injured midfielder Raul Garcia.
Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain will lead the Athletic attack as they look to repeat their feats from the Spanish Supercup earlier this season.