Trouble brewing in Seville
This season’s surprise package Real Betis take on their Andalucian neighbours in an interesting derby showcasing two teams of contrasting fortunes. Real Betis have been exceeding all expectations and sit fourth in the table while Sevilla have seemingly lost their way since the heady days of Juande Ramos and Champions League football.
The last time Sevilla beat Real Betis was in May 2008 and they will want to keep close tabs on Benat, the 25 midfielder has been attracting interest from several top European clubs. His profile will only increase after being included in the recent Spain squad and making it onto the pitch against Panama during their midweek friendly.
It is a fixture worth keeping an eye on, violence on and off the pitch has been a feature of this fixture with Barcelona fullback Dani Alves claiming that it is a tougher fixture than the El Clasico derby between Real Madrid and Barcelona. In 2007 a Copa del Rey fixture had to be replayed in front of an empty stadium in Getafe after a mass brawl on the pitch.
Mauricio Pochettino nears Espanyol exit
As La Liga enters into round 12, no managers have been sacked for the first time in 20 years. This may be attributed to the relatively steep cost of sacking and replacing managers and the financial problems currently facing Spain as a whole.
Mauricio Pochettino is one manager who is likely to break the record and sits on the brink of departure after a disappointing home defeat to Osasuna last Saturday was met with boos and general disinterest from fans. Following the defeat a meeting between the manager, sporting director Ramon Planes and the remaining board members left the former pair in situ for at least another week.
An impending presidential election may well have played its part although since Pochettino took charge of Espanyol in 2009, the team has consistently exceeded expectations despite selling their top stars each summer and remained competitive every year until now.
This week sees Espanyol take on Valencia at the Mestalla, who are struggling for form themselves. Another defeat for Espanyol may yet see Pochettino out the door, certainly without an imminent return to form Pochettino will be the first La Liga manager to be shown the door.
The return of Barcelona’s first choice defence
Barcelona have undergone a tactical shift since Tito Vilanova took over the reins from Pep Guardiola over the summer and their new, looser style of attacking play has led the side to concede more goals than might have been expected previously.
While a new tactical approach can account for some of their defensive frailties, injuries to his first choice centre back pairing has proved far more problematic. Barcelona have followed a policy of maintaining a small squad, packed with quality and when his first choice centre backs became injured, Vilanova was forced to replace them with defensive midfielders like Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets.
So far Barcelona have shipped 14 goals in 11 games, a far cry from their record last season which saw them concede a miserly 29 goals in 38 matches. This weekend will see Barcelona’s back four play together for the first time since Carlos Puyol dislocated his elbow 45 days ago and Vilanova will be hoping that his return will shore up Barcelona’s leaky defence.
Gerard Pique returned to action last week and with Puyol’s return, Vilanova will finally be able to deploy his first choice line up of Dani Alves, Pique, Puyol and Jordi Alba. Vilanova will hope that they find their feet quickly and silence all the criticisms of Barcelona’s defensive frailties.