After an unpredictable start to the season in La Liga, the cream has once again risen to the top. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid sit in the top three positions following the international break, but the chasing pack is not far behind.
Barcelona look to consolidate
Barcelona’s shaky start has been followed by four wins in the last five games and they are now within a victory of top spot. They will reach the summit for the first time this season if they beat Eibar and Real Madrid fail to win at Mallorca. Both sides are away from home and the Blaugrana have had trouble on their travels so far with two defeats and a draw in their four away games. They picked up three points at Getafe last time out and will be keen to avoid any further slip-ups here.
Madrid’s tricky trip
Real Madrid will visit a sold-out Son Moix and have the injuries of Gareth Bale and Luca Modric to consider following the international break. Mallorca will be hoping that Los Blanos have one eye on next weekend’s El Clasico and also on their Champions League trip to Galatasaray, where a defeat could see them struggling to qualify from the group. Mallorca sit in the relegation zone but all seven of their points have come at home and they won last time out against Espanyol.
Battle of the top four
Despite sitting in third, Atletico Madrid are going through a barren patch with only two goals in their last five La Liga games, both coming against Mallorca. Diego Simeone will be hoping that they will start hitting the net soon to turn their clean sheets into three points but face a resilient Valencia this time.
After losing his first game in charge of Valencia away to Barcelona, Albert Celades is unbeaten in La Liga with two wins and two draws. Los Che ended Athletic Club Bilbao’s year-long unbeaten run at San Mames in their last away game and they will be aiming to do the same at the Wanda where Atletico are unbeaten in eight months and lost just once last season. Atleti conceded only 10 goals in 19 games at the Wanda last season but two of those were scored by Valencia.
Pablo Machín starts life at Espanyol
Espanyol are without a point at the RCDE Stadium so far this season and have only found the back of the net once in front of their home fans. New Coach Pablo Machínwill be aiming to change that in his first game at the helm following the sacking of David Gallego. They will be looking to get the better of free-scoring Villareal in a game where the second-best attack in La Liga comes up against the second-worst defence. Can Machín turn the form book on its head?
Athletic Club v Real Valladolid
Six games unbeaten had Athletic Club Bilbao fans talking of a challenge for Europe, but two defeats in a row without a goal has seen them drop to seventh. The Basque side have been solid but goal-shy with only seven strikes in eight games. Their resolute defence has seen them pick up points but the team will need to start firing if they are to keep pace with the European contenders.
Midfielder Raul Garcia has four goals so far but he will need Iñaki Williams and Iker Muniain to do more of the heavy lifting if Athletic Club are to maintain their challenge. They face Real Valladolid next in a game which could be the one to show whether they are contender or pretender. Valladolid will be relatively pleased with their start but sit only three points outside the relegation zone despite two wins on the road this season.
Twitter: Alex Fitzpatrick