The Beast is back
Guillem Balague on Julio Baptista's return to prominence, Mikel Arteta and how Chris Coleman is getting on.
Last Updated: 16/12/07 9:43am
Our Spanish football expert Guillem Balague looks ahead to another weekend of live La Liga action on Sky Sports and he answers your email.
Espanyol v Levante
7pm, Saturday - Sky Sports Xtra
It is time to say some good things about Espanyol; a club that is run with complete common sense from top to bottom - finally, after years of being very confused over what kind of club they want to be.
This is thanks to Pedro Tomás, the general director and to Francisco Herrera, who is the director of football. And also the coach, Ernesto Valverde, who is mostly an offensive coach still learning things about how to defend but who has made the team very attractive indeed.
The key this season is to have kept Luis García, Raúl Tamudo, Daniel Jarque and Albert Riera in the team. They were the best players in the team last season when the club managed to reach the Uefa Cup final.
But there are English clubs who are interested in Jarque. I have the impression that Espanyol are trying not to sell but if the offer is a big offer, Jarque may become a centre back at Spurs next month.
Valencia v Barcelona
9pm, Saturday - Sky Sports Xtra
One one hand Barcelona are rediscovering finally the hunger and defensive work of Samuel Eto'o, as well as his goals - he scored midweek - but still there is a long way to go before he finds full fitness again.
The team changes its attitude when Eto'o is on the pitch. And Ronaldinho, having learnt from the experience of being on the bench for a couple of games, seems to be a little more switched on but his will also be a very slow process to become again the player he was, if he ever does that.
For Valencia, they are enduring a time under pressure. David Villa is going to be out until next year with a muscle injury and basically they just want this season to finish as soon as possible.
Ronald Koeman wants to start the recycling that the team needs. This season about getting into the top four and it is very important for them not to lose this game.
Recreativo v Atletico Madrid
7pm, Sunday - Sky Sports 1 (second-half live)
We have a saying in Spain - I am not sure if I have used it in this column before - but it is, 'football is a small blanket; if you put it over the head, you expose the feet and vice versa'.
Well Atletico Madrid put the blanket on their feet. They are very offensive but they expose their back four. They are really attractive to watch and the combination of Diego Forlan and Kun Agüero has become one of the most prolific in all of Europe - it is the third best goal-scoring partnership in Europe.
Real Madrid v Osasuna
8pm, Sunday - Sky Sports 1
Real Madrid do not currently dominate games and I think that is something that Bernd Schuster would like to see. But that is probably the only criticism you can levy against them.
They are almost always going to score as they always look as if they will create dangerous chances and they have, in Fabio Cannavaro and especially Iker Cassilas, two players who are saving them in many, many games.
That puts them in the position they are in right now which is top of the group in the Champions League and top of La Liga. They will end the year like that because Barcelona cannot catch them.
They are unbeaten at home and it is beginning to sound like statistics from the past. The only little criticism is that they could control the tempo of their matches more.
It is interesting that Guti has been punished for being sent off a couple of matches ago and that Julio Baptista has taken his place and he is doing really well in the centre of midfield, where he started in Brazil before he came to Sevilla and became a striker.
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Now to your email...
ARTETA FOR SPAIN
To Guillem Balague, what do you think of Mikel Arteta's omission from the Spanish Squad and do you think he should be given a chance given his brilliant form for Everton? Paul Mitty
GUILLEM: I have talked about this one many times! The excuse that Luis Aragones gives is that he asks who does he drop to bring Arteta in? Xavi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez, David Silva, Andres Iniesta or even David Albelda? Which of them does he leave out to bring in Arteta?
I think he should be in the national team. There was a chance when Spain played a friendly against England at Old Trafford, I thought he would be called up, but Aragones decided not to, to stop that debate basically.
I am convinced that if he was playing in Spain, because he would be seen more often, he would have a better chance. But my question for Arteta is, would he as good a player in Spain as he is in England?
I think in England he has found the perfect place to develop his talent. There are pros and cons. At Everton, he has the perfect environment in which to enjoy himself but with the problem that he doesn't get seen as much as others.
It is not so much that he plays for Everton, it is really that Luis Aragones thinks he has enough with the midfielders he already has at his disposal.
Since Manuel Fernandes' move to Valencia in the summer, having shunned the advances of Everton, what impact has he had at the club and how has this changed since Koeman has taken over? Dave Cornelius
GUILLEM: Well, the problems that he had before he came to Everton - that he is talented but a little bit chaotic on the pitch and has problems off the pitch with his attitude to football - have happened again at Valencia, where he is not rated at all.
He wasn't used at first and then they started to introduce him in a midfield of three, so he has been in and out of the side but nobody is convinced about him because they haven't found his real talent. Is he a new Albelda? Is he a new Baraja? I don't think he is either of them and the fact that his off-field activities are being publicised is not helping him either.
Mr Balague, Can you tell me how Chris Coleman is doing at Real Sociedad, I understand that they are 9th and that he tried to resign as one of the board resigned, but he was convinced to continue to January when there are some new elections. The question: is what do the fans think? Are they playing some nice football or are they grinding out results? I see they had five draws in their last six games but what is the local opinion as the press rarely report on British managers abroad? Your Sincerely, Dan Lunn.
GUILLEM: Chris Coleman has got a problem; he doesn't speak the language and he comes from a completely different culture than the one in the Basque country. Generally the press I talk to are not convinced that he is the man to take Real Sociedad back to the first division, although results lately have been better than they were earlier in the season.
He linked his future to the previous directors and the team is going to be bought by a consortium of Chinese companies and he thought that he was not going to be part of that. He has stayed on and he is still trying to convince the press and the fans that he can take the job on for long enough and with enough success.
The impression that everybody has got over there is that he is along for the ride for this season and will go back to the Premier League.