What's gone wrong at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán? Guillem Balague has all the answers on La Liga...
Last Updated: 18/12/10 1:15pm
Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Guillem Balague looks at this week's Sky Live La Liga games.
If you've got a question for Guillem, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Espanyol v Barcelona
7.00pm, Sat, Sky Sports HD4
I am going to this, simply because it's one I daren't miss! I've been watching closely how things have changed at Espanyol as a consequence of the really good work of Ramon Planes, the director of football, and Mauricio Pochettino the coach.
For their part, Barcelona are taking this very seriously and have banned their players from talking to the press as they did before the Real Madrid game. Gerard Pique was also rested at the weekend so he didn't pick up a booking and a suspension and can play. Pep Guardiola feels if this is a tense game, an emotional game with provocations flying backwards and forwards, that Barca will lose; they have to keep a cool head or Espanyol will take advantage.
The way Barcelona are playing right now, the only way to play them is defend very high and attack them, which should suit Espanyol because they actually play like that and play like Barcelona; or in a similar way but with much less quality. I can't wait.
Real Sociedad v Valencia
9.00pm, Sat, Sky Sports HD4
It was clear that Real Sociedad came out with the wrong attitude against Barcelona; they didn't put in the effort they should have put in and they lost the game before it had even started.
But it's also commendable what they are doing, with 17 players from their lower ranks in their squad and the idea that, even if they end up in the first division again, they can rebuild like that, based on the talent of Xavi Prieto and Antoine Griezmann.
Malaga v Atletico Madrid
6.00pm, Sun, Sky Sports HD3
After three consecutive defeats Atletico Madrid had to beat Deportivo last week, which they did by changing their two central midfielders for the seventh time this season. When you rotate central midfield so much it's because you are not sure of the best combination, or of how to play - and I think Quique Sánchez Flores is struggling to find an XI that will respond to him constantly.
This will be a nice test because Malaga of course, started well against Hercules but then they collapsed. But they are playing football the Manuel Pelligrini way, keeping the ball, the full-backs are using the wings while the rest occupy small spaces in the centre, with one-twos and a kind of 4-2-2-2 formation - a bit like he has always done.
But of course, with this team, he lacks quality and wants new players so Vincenzo Maresca is coming into the team and they are also looking to convince Julio Baptista to join.
Real Madrid v Sevilla
9.00pm, Sun, Sky Sports HD3
Real have Marcelo and Xabi Alonson suspended, so will have to make changes, but are still favourites here.
But Sevilla have five consecutive defeats and are basically struggling! It's not just a confidence thing either, it goes way beyond the way they are they playing - although Gregorio Manzano has worse stats than his predecessor Antonio Alvarez - and the president, José María del Nido, has finally admitted they have been living beyond their means and possibilities.They haven't got the money, the fanbase or the infrastructure to be fighting constantly for the top two or three and instead of signing players for not much money like Dani Alves, who they signed for €1million and sold on for €25m, they got confused and started signing players for €12-13million. Now they are going to have to go back to their roots.
Guillem answers your questions
WOULD SPAIN REIGN?
I watch all La Liga games on Sky and almost all English football every week. I would like to ask: Where would the top six English clubs finish in La Liga and vice versa? Callum, Man City fan
GUILLEM SAYS: Well, I am glad we provoked some response on this Callum, because they are both very strong leagues. Maybe three or four years ago you would have to say the top six would have been Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, plus Real Madrid and Barcelona. Now though, I don't see anyone superior to Barcelona anywhere. I also see problems at the back for Arsenal and Man United and I see problems within the club for Manchester City - and it's relatively easy to see them at the moment. Chelsea may come back to form with the return of Frank Lampard, but Real Madrid have weaknesses as well. Aside from the winners, who would be Barcelona, I would probably add Villarreal to Chelsea, Manchester United, plus Manchester City.
Hi Guillem, It was fascinating to read your blog about the La Liga vs Premier League debate on the Sky Sports website. When watching El Clasico, indeed the football was divine and possibly the best I've personally seen in a long time. Only Arsenal come close in the EPL, but what spoils the game in Spain and could for others is the bad sportsmanship. The diving, the pushing and playacting and in Sergio Ramos' case in El Clasico, the petulant child! Do the Spanish see this as an issue or have they just labelled it as "passion?" or in the case of diving, "drawing the foul?". The treatment Drogba gets for this in the Premier League shows such actions would never be accepted here! Thanks for the great blogs and insight during the matches. Regards, Bradley Meredith
GUILLEM SAYS: Of course for Spanish people his behaviour is considered petulant and he shouldn't have done it. But Bradley, he's been punished for it, so I am not sure what the problem is. He was sent off and that's not liked in Spanish football so he has been punished. You're making out Bradley that it goes on all the time and no-one gets punished for it, but that's not the case; if people dive they get yellow cards, so I don't see the problem. I also feel there is a bit of getting on your high horse in terms of the Premier League playing fair football, but I have seen English players - internationals - diving as well. As I have explained on these pages in the past there is a certain cultural thing in Spain, on the streets, that says generally a guy who can do things and get away with them is seen as a hero. That may nor may not be wrong - I see it as a mistake - but there are also parts of English life where people take advantage of the authorities, claiming from the state, and getting away with it. Some people see this as a positive, but neither culture is superior, neither more ethical.
Hi Guillem. Always enjoy reading your column, very insightful and informative. Just wanted to know your thoughts on Spain's Greatest XI. With the current team being World and European champions and undoubtedly the best national team in the world, how many of this team would make it into an All-time Spanish XI? Would Villa or Torres get in ahead of Di Stefano or Raul? Would Xavi or Iniesta play a part in such a team? Would be interesting to hear your thoughts. Thanks. Deep Singh (Aston Villa fan)
GUILLEM SAYS: You're talking about a team that has won the World Cup and the European Championships so who would you add, apart from as you suggest, Alfredo di Stefano. I wouldn't put Raul in though Deep; the key to Spain's success was Luis Aragones leaving him out because he at some point, probably felt he was bigger than the national team. But if you had to improve on that XI maybe you could have another left-back, but Juan Capdevilla has been in important in terms of set-pieces and has scored more goals, which is something Jose Antonio Camacho didn't do. All in all, what better team can there be than the current XI? Another one you could add is Luis Saurez who was European Footballer of the Year in 1960, helped Spain win the Euros in 1964 and was the best player in Europe for a couple of seasons, but I just think the current side would have to be the best.