The 15th round of matches in the Spanish La Liga this weekend includes three vital games in the race for the title as well as another difficult test for Barcelona’s new coach Xavi Hernandez. Here are some things to look out for this weekend in Spain.
1. Villarreal another test for Barca
It has been a tough first week of action for Barcelona’s new coach Xavi, whose side kicked off his reign with a fortunate 1-0 win at home to Espanyol and followed that up with a 0-0 draw at home to Benfica that puts their place in the last 16 of the Champions League in danger.
Although Barca produced periods of improved football in those games, they also served to highlight just how limited their resources are at the moment, especially with Pedri and Ansu Fati injured and Kun Aguero sidelined with a heart problem.
The fact that Barca’s only goal in their two games under Xavi was from a controversial penalty shows where the main problem lies and Barca will look to sign a striker in January, but until then Xavi will have to make do with what there is.
2. Kroos taking the helm at Real Madrid
There has been a feeling this season that much of Real Madrid’s success has been down to the consistent form of Karim Benzema in attack and the fact that Vinicius Jr has finally began to fulfill the promise he only showed in fits and starts in his first three years at the club. However, Real Madrid’s leadership is down to more than that and Toni Kroos also has a lot of responsibility with his controlled and creative play in the middle of the park.
Kroos struggled with injury earlier this season, but as he has recovered fitness, he has taken on an even more important role in midfield. With third place Sevilla visiting the Bernabeu on Sunday, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti needs Kroos and the rest of his side to be at their best.
3. Old failings return to haunt Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid’s visit to Cadiz comes in the wake of a midweek defeat to AC Milan that leaves their European future in the balance and which once again highlighted failings in front of goal.
Despite fielding an attacking team in midweek, Atletico failed to hit the target and the game came after last weekend’s 1-0 at home to Osasuna where the only goal came from a set-piece in the closing minutes.
Cadiz welcome Atletico on the back of a 4-0 thrashing in Getafe and are certain to be much tougher to score against this weekend. Atletico have a lot of attacking talent, but they need players such as Rodrigo de Paul, Yannick Carrasco and Angel Correa to be able to express themselves to really live up to the sum of their parts but sometimes Diego Simeone’s conservative nature doesn’t allow that to happen.
4. Tough place for Real Sociedad to bounce back
Real Sociedad were frustrated by a subterranean Valencia last weekend in a 0-0 draw that saw Real Madrid replace them at the top of the table, while Thursday saw the side from San Sebastian suffer a 2-1 defeat in Monaco that leaves them struggling to escape their Europa League group. Now Imanol Alguacil’s side visit Espanyol, who are still smarting after their 1-0 defeat to Barcelona last weekend in a game where Raul de Tomas hit the woodwork twice.
De Tomas will be Espanyol’s main threat once again and although Mikel Oyarzabal is back for Real Sociedad, this will be a big test of their character, as well as the depth of their squad.