By Paul Giblin
MADRID, March 14 — There is little doubt that the main story in the Liga Santander this weekend is Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Real Madrid dugout less than 10 months after abandoning it, however, there are other key matches with second place Atletico travelling to Bilbao, while league leaders, Barcelona have a difficult game away to Betis.
The weekend kicks off with Real Sociedad at home to Levante, who are just five points above the relegation zone, and continues with bottom of the table Huesca looking to continue their impressive second half to the season at home to fifth place Alaves.
However, most will be waiting for Zidane’s return, which happens at 16:15 on Saturday when Real Madrid entertain Celta.
A Celta side, without star player Iago Aspas and which dropped into the bottom three last weekend, should be easy prey for Madrid (and would have been even if Santiago Solari was still in charge). Nevertheless, the real interest is in seeing which players Zidane picks for his starting 11 and how they react.
Will Zidane’s return mean that Isco is back in the side? And can Marcelo hope to be given the nod at left back and Asensio on the wing? Press and fans will be watching closely, and whether or not Gareth Bale is included will also be interesting, especially given that he is one of those expected to lose out with Zidane’s return.
Atletico Madrid are next in action and face a difficult visit to San Mames to face a solid Athletic Club Bilbao.
Diego Simeone’s side need to recover their shattered morale after being steam-rollered 3-0 by Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League on Tuesday night; a defeat that ended their hopes of playing in this season’s final in their home ground.
Simeone has to lift his side, who are seven points behind Barca in the league, and he will look to recover the watertight defense which has served so well in the past.
Athletic have struggled to score goals all season and this is a game that is likely to be decided by one goal either way.
Saturday ends with Leganes entertaining Girona, before Sunday kicks off with Eibar at home to Valladolid.
Last weekend’s defeat to Real Madrid leaves Valladolid in a delicate situation after taking just six points from 12 games to leave them just above the relegation zone.
Wu Lei will lead the Espanyol attack as they look to extend their six-match unbeaten run at home to sixth place Sevilla, while fourth place Getafe face a difficult game in Valencia, who are unbeaten in 13 games, but who play a Europa League tie in Russia on Thursday night.
There is a vital match between two teams looking to avoid relegation as fourth from bottom Villarreal take on second bottom Rayo Vallecano, before the weekend ends with Barcelona visiting Betis.
Barca’s 5-1 win over Olympique Lyon on Wednesday means they are the last Spanish survivor in the Champions League and the trip to the south of Spain should offer the chance to watch the two sides with the purest passing game in Spain.
Betis beat Barca in the Camp Nou in their first meeting this season, but have shown themselves at times to be fragile in defense and the question is, will they be able to shock the leaders again? – XINHUA
By Paul Giblin