MADRID: Both Barcelona and Real Madrid travel to Andalusia this weekend in search of precious Liga points after stuttering form in Europe and in their domestic campaigns as table-toppers Sevilla await Zinedine Zidane’s injury-stricken outfit.
Real, thrashed in the Champions League by PSG midweek, face a daunting challenge to regroup at Sevilla, while Barcelona go to an unlikely mountain stronghold to face plucky Granada.
Led by Julen Lopetegui, sacked by Spain on the eve of last year’s World Cup for accepting a job at Real, the coach will have extra motivation to prove himself after flopping in the Los Blancos hot-seat.
His current charges are on 10 points from four matches, but Real can climb above them Sunday with an away win.
“Being top means nothing,” Lopetegui said last week. “But it does tell us the team is doing things well.”
Sevilla did well again in the Europa League on Thursday coming back from a marathon trip to Baku with a 3-0 win at Qarabag.
Real have lost on their last four visits to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, and on six of their last seven trips there.
Big-money signing Eden Hazard struggled on his first start for Real on Wednesday as the team failed to muster a single effort on target despite presence of Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale.
“It’s complicated if you are not strong and don’t get into the rhythm,” said Zidane, under mounting pressure in his second spell at the club.
Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois immediately turned his attentions on their trip to Seville.
“We’re all in the same boat. We sink or swim together and we have a big match on Sunday, and that is what we need to focus on,” said Courtois.
“We need to forget this defeat, it is hard but we have another game on Sunday and we need to focus on that,” added Zidane.
It may be stretching it to say his position is under threat at the moment, but another defeat this weekend might change that, and a derby away to Atletico awaits a week later.
Player to watch: Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is in line for his first league start of the season after he came on late at Borussia Dortmund in Europe in midweek.
The Argentine wizard, who missed the beginning of the campaign with a calf injury, was unable to lift his team past the Germans, who held on for a 0-0 draw in their Champions League opener.
Barca fans will hope his partnership with new signing Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez can revive memories of the fearsome attacking trident that lost much of its lustre following the 2017 sale of Neymar.
With their stadium nestled in the Sierra Nevada not far from the ancient Alhambra fortress promoted, Granada are punching above their weight this season as their coach Diego Martinez admitted after last week’s win at Celta Vigo.
“If you had told me when the calendar came out we’d have seven points already, I’d have thought you very optimistic,” he said.