La Liga without Barcelona. It is impossible to imagine the Primera without one of its principal protagonists. But with a growing number of Catalans fighting for independence, Spain’s top flight could face an uncertain future.
Pep Guardiola added his vote to the Catalan cause this week as he sent a message from New York – via TV3 – in which he claimed he supported independence for the 800-year-old nation. Meanwhile, Barca President Sandro Rosell took to the streets to meet and greet fellow protestors on Catalunya's national day, La Diada.
That upset some Barca supporters from outside the north-east corner of Spain, but Tito Vilanova told reporters on Friday that ‘everybody expresses themselves as they wish…’ ahead of Barca's trip to Getafe on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Getafe president Angel Torres imagined a League without Barca. “If Barcelona left La Liga, the more modest clubs would have more money, because they are one of the teams that charge the most [for the sale of television rights],” he explained.
Getafe may not be able to compete with Barca in terms of wealth or in the battle for La Liga, but the Madrid-based side did inflict a damaging defeat upon Guardiola's side in 2011-12 – one of just three losses for the Catalan club all season. It was a subdued showing from the Blaugrana – unlucky to see a late Lionel Messi effort incorrectly chalked off for offside – who were ultimately unable to recover from dropping 18 points on the road as they lost out in the title race for the first time since 2007-08.
But Getafe have a knack of raising their game against the biggest sides and have already beaten Real Madrid this term. “The big teams suffer in Getafe,” said Torres. Now they will look for a repeat of last season’s success and they will fancy their chances because Barca often struggle after international breaks. This time, Vilanova’s side will be without injured pair Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez, while Jordi Alba has been ruled out through illness.
Barca have been hit again by the so-called FIFA virus but, said Vilanova, there's only one way to beat that – by beating Getafe. Do so, and the Catalans will have overcome a potential banana skin – just as they did at Osasuna recently. With a five-point lead over Madrid, they will determined to avoid dropping any points on Saturday.
Madrid face a complicated clash of their own away to Sevilla. Jose Mourinho's men have won this fixture 6-2 in each of the last two campaigns but meet an unbeaten team this time at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Only a win will do.
Madrid have won just one of their three League games and even that was a less-than-satisfactory 3-0 success at home to Granada before the international break. “We only played well in the Supercopa,” Mourinho mused on Friday, preferring to play down Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘sadness’ and focus on his side’s poor performances this term. “We haven't played well in any of our League games.” Now would be a good time to start.
Malaga and Valencia are also in action on Saturday, too, with Champions League commitments next week, and the Andalusians will look to continue their successful – and somewhat surprising – start to the campaign with victory over last year’s revelation, Levante, struggling to make the same impression this time around.
But Atletico Madrid will also be determined to force their way into the top four after missing out on the final day last term. In Radamel Falcao, they possess the man of the moment. The Colombian striker has scored six times in three games already this season, hitting hat-tricks in the 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao and 4-1 UEFA Super Cup success over Chelsea.
That win captured the imagination of the entire continent and although Atleti are not expected to challenge the big two for the title, Diego Simeone’s side could have a say in the race for La Liga. They face Rayo Vallecano in a capital clash at the Calderon on Sunday and will seek to confirm their place as Spain’s ‘tercer grande’. Watch this space.