Madrid derby in La Liga, Villarreal to defend leadership

Madrid, Oct 1 (IANS) The Madrid football derby between Atletico and Real is the highlight of the seventh week of the La Liga, as well as providing a barometer into the early season form of two of the favourites for the title.

Sunday sees Real, who were unspectacular in beating Swedish side Malmo in the European Champions League on Tuesday, cross town to take on Atletico, who have looked flat in recent games, reports Xinhua.

Real will have Ronaldo looking to score his 501st goal and overtake Raul Gonzalez as their all-time top scorer, while his side hopes to welcome attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, defender Sergio Ramos and forward Gareth Bale back into their squad for what is usually a feisty encounter, while Atletico will look to Koke to provide some missing spark in midfield.

Should Real be able to inflict a third league defeat of the season at this early stage of the season on their neighbours, it would be a huge blow to Atletico’s title hopes following last weekend’s 0-1 loss away to Villarreal.

Defending champions Barcelona travel to Sevilla on Saturday needing to show that they have not been as badly affected by the loss of striking talisman Lionel Messi as their displays against Las Palmas and Bayer Leverkusen might imply.

Although they won both games 2-1, Luis Enrique’s Barcelona have been below their best, looking weak in defence, slugging in midfield and with doubts over German goalkeeper Ter Stegen.

Chilean international custodian Claudio Bravo could return in Seville, while Uruguyan star striker Luis Suarez, who has been the standout performer in the last two games, will be again called on to deliver, especially as iconic midfielder Andres Iniesta has joined Barcelona’s long injury list.

Sevilla also have injury problems of their own, but Unai Emery’s side will view this as the chance to give some impetus to their season after beating Rayo Vallecano a week ago.

Although those two games will probably capture the headlines, Villarreal go into the weekend as league leaders and on Sunday they have a short trip down the coast to face Levante, who are currently struggling in the relegation zone with just three points and no wins from their first six games.

Celta Vigo have the chance to go top on Friday night, however, as they look to carry on their unbeaten start to the campaign at home against Getafe. Celta’s attacking trio of Fabian Orellanda, Iago Aspas and Nolito has been on fire so far this season, so expect goals in Vigo.

Saturday also sees Granada at home face a Deportivo la Coruna side that has looked vastly improved so far this year and the hosts are under pressure with just one win so far.

Las Palmas and Eibar play what could be an entertaining game at the Estadio Insular, while Malaga, still looking for their first goal after six games, will hope to find it at home against Real Sociedad, who also have trouble finding the opposition net. Espanyol and Sporting Gijon also play on Saturday.

Sunday kicks off with what promises to be an entertaining game as Rayo play Real Betis at home, while in the afternoon Athletic Club Bilbao aim to turn good performances into points at home against Valencia on Sunday. But with only four points so far, the Basque outfit really needs to turn performances into points.

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