Diego Simeone is pleased to see his Atletico Madrid team back to their nasty old selves ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Espanyol.
The 2013-14 Spanish champions struggled to find form during the opening weeks of the season as they accommodated a batch of new players and flirted with a more expansive playing style, but Simeone recently insisted they got back to basics.
And Atleti have responded well, winning their last three games without conceding to climb to second in La Liga and progress to the Champions League knockout stage.
Simeone said: “We want to be a team which the opposition doesn’t want to play against, a team which irritates our opponents. The key is to maintain this style.”
Just as he did throughout the title-winning campaign, however, Simeone batted away suggestions his side are ready to mount another serious challenge after overtaking city rivals Real in second place.
“We still just take one game at a time, always trying to improve,” he said. “We know we can do this and our objective is to move Atletico Madrid forward without worrying about other teams.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Malaga boss Javi Gracia faces a make or break home meeting with fellow strugglers Granada after seeing his team sink to the bottom of the table with a goal-shy start to the season.
— Atleti English (@atletienglish) November 27, 2015
Reports this week have claimed that Gracia will be sacked if Malaga, who have scored just five goals in 12 games this season, don’t win.
Another highlight of the day’s action will see 40 year-old Las Palmas midfielder Juan Carlos Valeron going up against Deportivo La Coruna, the club he represented for 13 years before moving back to his boyhood club two summers ago.
Valeron made more than 350 appearances for the Galicians, winning the Copa del Rey in 2002. And fifth-placed Celta Vigo will look to get back into winning ways after losing their last two games.
Visitors Sporting Gijon also need the points, having dropped close to the relegation zone after winning just one of their last five games.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique is baffled by the lack of recognition shown to Sergio Busquets after the midfielder was omitted from the 40-man shortlist for the UEFA team of the year award.
Busquets has played more minutes for Barca than any other player this season and was a mainstay of last season’s treble triumph, but has been overlooked in favour of players such as Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak and Claudio Marchisio of Juventus among the list of candidates for the UEFA award, which was announced earlier this week.
That adds insult to injury because Busquets also does not feature on the 23-man list for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award, which will be presented in January and is expected to be claimed by Lionel Messi.
Enrique said: “It’s surprising, that’s for sure. It’s very unfair, a great injustice. “You can see his quality from afar, but when you train with him every day you appreciate it even more.”
After a sensational week which yielded an aggregate scoreline of 10-1 from meetings with Real Madrid and Roma, Enrique’s side will look to maintain their firm grip on La Liga’s top spot in today’s home clash with Real Sociedad.
Enrique confirmed that midfielder Sergi Roberto will be absent with a muscle strain, but Javier Mascherano is back in contention after limping out of last weekend’s Clasico victory at the Bernabeu.
He also revealed that Messi is showing no signs of discomfort after making his comeback from a knee injury, saying: “He’s not 100 per cent yet but he doesn’t need to be at 100 per cent to make the difference.
Laudrup (ex-Real Madrid): “Busquets is Barça’s cornerstone, he gives the midfield balance. Busi is always there where the team needs him.”
— barcastuff (@barcastuff) November 27, 2015
“He just needs more minutes to get his full fitness back but he’s not far off, and he’s looking good.”
Saturday’s visitors are heading into their first away game under new coach Eusebio Sacristan, who was appointed to replace David Moyes and kicked off his reign with a 2-0 home win over Sevilla last weekend.
Eusebio will be on familiar turf after spending seven years with Barca during his playing career, and later succeeding Enrique as the club’s B team coach in 2011.
Enrique said: “Knowing us is one thing, but stopping us is another. If our players perform like they can, there’s nothing you can do.”
Dani Alves says Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo focuses too much on his celebrity status when questioned on the eve of Barcelona's UEFA Champions League Group E game against Roma.
Barcelona and Real Madrid players have always voiced their views when it comes to Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, as the debate of which of the two is better continues to heat up.
– El Clasico: Contrasting fortunes for La Liga giants
Alves has slammed Ronaldo in the past on a couple of occasions. He has now added fuel to the fire once more as the Brazilian was at it again, suggesting he [Ronaldo] has a tendancy of "self-focusing on his celebrity status."
The Real Madrid forward will most likely take it with a pinch of salt…as let's be honest, it's nothing he hasn't heard before.