The second half of the Spanish Liga Santander gets underway this weekend with a new man in the Barcelona hot seat. Here are some things to keep an eye out for in Spain over the next couple of days.
1. Quique Setien’s Barca debut
FC Barcelona’s defeat to Atletico Madrid in the semifinal of the Spanish Supercup last week led to Ernesto Valverde’s sacking as coach and the arrival of Quique Setien. Setien takes over a side that has just one win in five games and all eyes will be on the effect he produces on the side.
The former Lugo, Las Palmas, and Betis coach is known for his uncompromising commitment to the passing game so admired at the Camp Nou, but his teams have also shown defensive weakness and its Barca’s defense that has let them down too often this season.
Sunday’s rivals, Granada, beat Barca 2-0 earlier in the campaign and should provide a decent test for Setien and his new team.
2. Life without Suarez
Setien’s task is not made any easier by the loss of Luis Suarez for over three months after the Barcelona striker had a knee operation to cure a long-standing problem. Suarez’s importance to the Barca side can be summed up by the fact that he either scored or assisted in the last 12 goals scored by the team.
Barca fans will hope that Suarez’s absence will allow summer signing Antoine Griezmann to gain time on the field as the Frenchman has not yet looked fully integrated into the team despite his high work rate.
Meanwhile Ousmane Dembele’s return should also give Setien more options as he looks for a winning start.
3. Lopetegui returns to the Bernabeu
Saturday sees former Spain coach Julen Lopetegui lead his Sevilla team to face Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium where last season he lasted just over four months as coach before being sacked after a 5-1 defeat to FC Barcelona.
Lopetegui has rebuilt his career at Sevilla, who currently sit fourth in the table, but in order for them to be seen a true title challengers they need a big result, after losing 4-0 away to Barca, 1-0 at home to Real Madrid and drawing with Atletico earlier this season.
Real Madrid are without Fede Valverde, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard and Lopetegui might think this is his moment.
4. Espanyol’s survival battle gets serious
The arrival of Abelardo Fernandez as Espanyol’s third coach of the season got off to a good start as they held Barcelona to a 2-2 draw a fortnight ago, before cruising into the third round of the Copa del Rey with an easy win against lower league San Sebastian de los Reyes.
Last week saw the club break its transfer record to sign striker Raul de Tomas and he will make his league debut when they visit a Villarreal side aiming to qualify for Europe.
Morale has clearly improved at Espanyol and Abelardo’s side look tougher to beat, but will they be able to match the intensity they showed against Barcelona on the road?
Espanyol currently have just 11 points and will probably need around 38-40 points to avoid relegation and that means they need to start winning and to start winning now. Enditem