Real Madrid coming up against their new goalkeeper and other La Liga talking points

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Kepa Arrizabalaga

Barcelona look to extend their four-point lead at the top of La Liga against an old friend turned foe in Celta Vigo coach Juan Carlos Unzue on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid travel to a struggling Athletic Bilbao with their eyes firmly on one of Athletic’s rising stars.

Here, we examine five things to look out for in La Liga this weekend.

BALE’S FALSE ‘FRESH START’

Gareth Bale’s emergence off the bench to save a faltering young Real side from embarrassment against third-tier Fuenlabrada in the Copa del Rey earned the Welshman rave reviews in the Spanish press on Wednesday.

Marca declared Bale had been handed a “fresh start” after a year dogged by a series of injuries.

Yet, he could be absent again at San Mames due to a niggling calf problem having missed training for the past two days.

Celebrating a goal with his team mates: Gareth Bale

Celebrating a goal with his team mates: Gareth Bale

REAL’S NEW KEPA?

Unlike Bale, Keylor Navas didn’t help Madrid on his return to action after six weeks out by turning Fuenlabrada’s opener into his own net in midweek.

Kiko Casilla was also at fault for Malaga’s second goal at the Bernabeu last weekend, intensifying Real’s search for a new goalkeeper.

According to reports, the new man will be Athletic’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, who has been one of few shining lights in a hugely disappointing season for Bilbao.

Arrizabalaga didn’t feature as the Basques did suffer Cup humiliation at the hands of tiny islanders Formentera on Wednesday, edging coach Jose Angel Ziganda closer to the sack.

A Real Madrid target: Kepa Arrizabalaga

A Real Madrid target: Kepa Arrizabalaga

A CELTA CURSE OR CRUISE FOR BARCA

Unzue returns to the Camp Nou hoping to continue Celta’s record of beating Barca once in each of the three previous seasons when he was assistant to Luis Enrique.

Celta’s daring approach against the Catalans in recent years has though had mixed success.

Whilst they have twice hit Barca for four at home, in their last two visits to the Catalan capital Celta have been smashed 6-1 and 5-0.

Will look to secure three points: Barcelona

Will look to secure three points at home: Barcelona

LAS PALMAS LONGING FOR SETIEN

Las Palmas are looking for already their third coach of the season after Pako Ayestaran was sacked on Thursday.

Ayestaran was only appointed in September when Manuel Marquez resigned.

How the Islanders must wish they had held on to the man they will face this weekend back when Quique Setien brings Real Betis to the Canary Islands.

Setien not only kept Las Palmas up in the previous two seasons, but did so thanks to some thrilling attacking football.

That has continued at Betis, whose 13 La Liga games this season have produced 50 goals. However, contractual differences with the board saw Setien walk out in the summer and left Las Palmas in the lurch.

Quique Setien

Instrumental in keeping Real Betis at 8th in the table: Quique Setien

VALENCIA BEGIN LIFE WITHOUT GUEDES

Valencia kept their unlikely title challenge alive by holding Barca at home last weekend.

That point came at a cost, thought, as PSG loanee Goncalo Guedes suffered a broken toe that is expected to keep the Portuguese winger out for the rest of the year.

Guedes’s three goals and five assists have played a huge part in Valencia’s revival.

However, a kind fixture list during Guedes’s absence offers Valencia hope with a visit to Getafe on Sunday followed by Celta, Eibar and Villarreal before the winter break.

Suffered a broken toe: Goncalo Guedes

Suffered a broken toe: Goncalo Guedes

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Two good, two bad from La Liga's weekend fixtures as Goncalo Guedes impresses for Valencia

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It was a dramatic weekend in Spain, ending with Barcelona and Valencia playing out a thrilling and controversial 1-1 draw that allowed Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid close the gap in the league table.

The two Madrid clubs returned to form but the major talking point undoubtedly came from the Mestalla, where Valencia could have won, Barcelona should have won, and neither side actually did win.

Instead, the game became the perfect advert for the need for technology in football – and confirmed that Valencia are the real deal.

Here’s a look at two good and two bad performances from La Liga‘s weekend fixtures.

TWO GOOD

Goncalo Guedes

Valencia’s young Portuguese attacker is taking the league by storm, and on Sunday he showed he can produce his best against the best.

Barcelona couldn’t handle him, especially the way he and Jose Luis Gaya combined down the left, giving Barca right-back Nelson Semedo a horrid time, especially in the second half.

Guedes is on loan from PSG and if he keeps playing like this, his employers are going to have a tough decision on their hands at the end of the season.

The Parisians are loaded with attacking talent, but letting Guedes go could still prove to be a mistake.

Goncalo Guedes starred down Valencia's left-hand side.

Goncalo Guedes starred down Valencia’s left-hand side.

Atletico Madrid

It wasn’t just Antoine Griezmann‘s return to form that was a cause for delight at Atletico – it was that so many other players joined him.

Koke was sublime. Kevin Gameiro scored two and probably could have had five – not to mention, he set up the other three.

Thomas Partey, who has been a bright spark in Atletico’s disappointing start, played out of position at right-back and didn’t miss a beat.

A good day all around for Atletico.

A good day all around for Atletico.

TWO BAD

Real Madrid

Yes, they got the win, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema both got on the scoresheet. Crisis over? Not quite.

Malaga are the league’s bottom team and Madrid blew a lead twice and needed a late goal to secure the three points.

Both of Malaga’s goals came from inexplicable Madrid errors. They won, and gained two points on Barcelona, but this was far from a convincing performance.

Real Madrid's performance in their 3-2 win over Malaga wasn't convincing.

Real Madrid’s performance in their 3-2 win over Malaga wasn’t convincing.

La Liga and the LFP

LFP president Javier Tebas has said goalline technology is too expensive to implement in La Liga. This is one of Europe’s five biggest leagues, with two of the continent’s premier clubs, and time and again, Madrid, Barca and others face the disadvantages of the league’s stubbornness regarding technology.

It is inexplicable that in 2017, Lionel Messi’s goal was clear to everyone across the world, except for the people in charge of the match.

The VAR system will be in place from the 2018-19 season – although not for goal-line replays – leaving plenty of room for controversy.

How long before La Liga is ready for goalline technology?

How long before La Liga is ready for goalline technology?

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Zaza misses out on crowning moment while Suarez struggles to stay onside

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It hasn’t been Luis Suarez‘s season so far, but it most definitely has been Simone Zaza‘s.

The Valencia man has been in superior form this campaign and is second on the La Liga scoring charts. Sunday night’s clash top-of-the table clash against Barcelona was an opportunity for him to make a statement against the league leaders – and for Suarez, a chance to finally rediscover his best.

In the end, neither really happened, as a controversial 1-1 draw in which Lionel Messi had a perfectly good goal disallowed because the officials hadn’t spotted the ball crossing the goalline saw Zaza put in an excellent shift but miss a glorious chance to win the game right at the death, while Suarez endured another frustrating evening.

Here’s a look at how both players fared.

BASIC STATS

Zaza

Goals – 0

Assists – 0

Shots – 3

Shots on target – 0

Touches – 33

Pass Accuracy – 58%

Key Passes – 1

Dribbles – 0

Suarez

Goals – 0

Assists – 0

Shots – 2

Shots on target – 2

Touches – 39

Pass Accuracy – 71%

Key Passes – 1

Dribbles – 0

EFFECTIVENESS

Zaza

Zaza did everything but score on Sunday – and he had his chances to do that, too.

But while his finishing let him down, his movement was still threatening, and his work rate was especially impressive – on multiple occasions, Zaza could be found inside his own half to snuff out Barcelona attacks.

When it’s not a striker’s day in front of goal, that sort of effort means he’ll endear himself to fans anyway.

Suarez

It was another frustrating game for the star striker.

He had his moments, and forced a couple of good saves out of Valencia keeper Neto, but he spent more time arguing with the referee than he did making an actual impact on the game.

Suarez was caught offside way too often, a testament to Valencia’s defending but also an indication that the timing of his runs is still off.

Luis Suarez (L) battles for the ball with Valencia's Ezequiel Garay

Luis Suarez (L) battles for the ball with Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay

KEY MOMENTS

Zaza

42nd min, CHANCE: Valencia launched a quick counterattack that spanned the length of the pitch, with the ball finally coming to Zaza. He just slipped slightly as he took the shot, which bounced off of Barcelona right-back Nelson Semedo.

50th min, SHOT: It seemed like the moment for Zaza to get on the scoresheet. The ball was cut back to him at the edge of the area, teed up perfectly for the Italian to get a shot away. Zaza’s strike went through Thomas Vermaelen’s legs but just wide of the post.

90th min, SHOT: It was set up for Zaza to win it. After Barcelona nearly got the winner, Valencia went the length of the pitch with a lightning-quick counter which found Zaza in acres of space in the box. The height and pace of the cross into him meant he needed to attempt a difficult volley, but he would have backed himself to score it on most occasions. This time, however, his effort bounced into the ground and just over the bar.

Simone Zaza attempts to tackle Samuel Umtiti

Simone Zaza attempts to tackle Samuel Umtiti

Suarez

42nd min, SHOT: The Barcelona striker beat his man to go clean through on goal, and it seemed like this was about to be a classic Suarez goal. Neto covered the angle, however, giving Suarez little to shoot at and ultimately making the save.

76th min, SHOT: Suarez pounced on an error as Valencia’s defenders failed to clear a high ball. He hit a fierce shot on the turn, and it would have been a fantastic goal, but the strike was a little too close to the keeper, with Neto making a relatively comfortable save.

90th min, CHANCE: Suarez nearly turned provider right at the death, slipping the ball into the box from the edge of the area. Somehow, no one was able to get onto the end of his pass – it would have been a certain goal had there been anyone to receive it.

VERDICT 

Zaza

Missed a glorious chance to grab a dramatic winner, and it would have been a fitting end to Zaza’s performance on the night.

The Italian showed his hunger and desire throughout the game, not to mention his usual pace and intelligent movement.

All his display lacked was a goal – and he’ll be sorely disappointed not to have gotten it.

RATING: 7/10

Suarez

On this evidence, Suarez is still a little ways off his best.

The Uruguayan endured another frustrating afternoon, mistiming his runs and seeing the few chances he had saved by Valencia keeper Neto.

Barcelona probably should have won anyway, given they had a clear goal disallowed, but it wouldn’t have mattered if Suarez had performed better.

If there were a striker anywhere near Suarez’s calibre in the squad, the 30-year-old’s place in the starting XI would be in danger.

RATING: 5/10

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