Real Sociedad have the dubious honour of welcoming the mighty Barcelona to San Sebastian on Saturday seeking revenge for a 5-1 mauling at the Nou Camp back in August.
The Catalans go to the Basque region with a commanding nine point lead at the head of La Liga as both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid trail in their wake.
Sociedad, who currently finds themselves in a respectable ninth place in the standings, have the unenviable task of not only trying to halt Barcelona’s 12 match winning streak in league football, but also to inflict their first domestic defeat of the season.
The hosts’ recent form has seen them hard to beat. They gave Real Madrid a scare when bravely going down 4-3 on January 6, but that is their only reverse since November 4, although they have become draw specialists of late with five in the last eight games.
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova saw his side let a lead slip in midweek when they were held by Malaga in the Copa del Rey quarter final first leg, and his opposite number, Phillipe Montanier will be hopeful Vilanova’s men will be in a similar generous mood at the Anoeta Stadium.
Real Madrid midfielder, Luka Modric, who for two years lobbied for his dream move to one of European football’s elite clubs, finds himself contemplating his next move as his underwhelming stint at the Bernabeu looks likely to come to a premature conclusion.
The diminutive Croatian playmaker came to prominence when being named Player of the Year in his home country while with Dinamo Zagreb in 2007. This persuaded several of the continent’s top clubs to pursue his signature, including Tottenham Hotspur, who were so impressed with Modric they laid out the princely sum of £16.5 million for the then 22-year-old.
In the initial stages of his career in London, Modric’s lack of stature and niggling injury combined with management upheaval at White Hart Lane meant he was considered too lightweight to cope with the physicality of the Premier League.
Undeterred by these early setbacks, Modric, with the help of then-Spurs boss, Harry Redknapp, began to blossom into the lynchpin attacking player they had hoped when shelling out the large transfer fee to Dinamo.
The nightmare season continues for defending La Liga Champions Real Madrid as they were held to a scoreless 0-0 draw against bottom of the League Osasuna on Saturday January 12, 2013.
Real Madrid had only one shot on goal all game against Osasuna at Osasuna’s Reyno de Navarra Stadium. To add insult to injury, this was Madrid worst performance in La Liga since Mourinho took over as club manager.
The loss puts Madrid in third place, 15 points behind League leaders Barcelona. (Barcelona could increase that lead to 18 points on Sunday with a win against fifth place Malaga).
Madrid struggled and played from behind most of the night because they had to play without Cristiano Ronaldo who was serving a one game suspension after picking up a 5 th yellow card last week. Things didn’t get any better when the Brazilian, Kaka picked up two yellow cards in 18 minutes after coming on as a sub. Kaka was sent off with 15 minutes left in the game causing Madrid to play from behind with only ten men.
This fixture marks the half-way point in the league campaign of both Real Betis and Levante, and each club will be looking to continue their good starts to the season in a bid to secure European qualification. With 18 games played, just a solitary point separates these two sides, and fifth-placed Betis trail Malaga - currently holding La Liga's Europa League spot - only on goal difference.
Betis come into this game on the back of good yet unpredictable form: Pepe Mel's men recorded excellent away wins against Deportivo La Coruna and Celta Vigo in December, and won 2-1 at Real Zaragoza in their last game, but have also recently been beaten at home by strugglers Real Mallorca and were held in the Copa Del Rey by mid-table second-tier outfit UD Las Palmas.
Levante's fortunes have been similarly mixed: their last five results read "Lost, Won, Lost, Won, Lost"; while comfortable wins over Mallorca and Athletic Bilbao in the last month suggest a free-flowing, efficient attack, recent 0-1 and 0-3 reverses at the hands of Real Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano respectively show they have a tendency to blow hot and cold in front of goal.
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Since the draw for the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League, in Nyon, Switzerland lastThursday, the stage has been set for a lot of drama both on and off the pitch. One significantheadline coming out of the Champions League knockout round is, Barcelona's unwillingnessto send striker David Villa on loan to any of the English teams that are interested in his services.The Spanish international record-setting goal scorer David Villa has been highly coveted by afew teams in the English Premier League (EPL) due to limited playing time for Barcelona.
Among the EPL sides interested in Villa's services are Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, andTottenham Hot Spurs. It has been a tough go for Villa to get playing time due to theoutstanding play of Lionel Messi (the FIFA Ballon d' Or winner) during his record goal-scoringseason; as well as, strikers like Cristan Tello who have been providing Barcelona with solid playdespite limited minutes. (It is worth noting that David Villa did come on as a substitute duringlast weekend's 4-0 victory over Espanyol).