Two especially fascinating matches are coming up in LaLiga Santander this weekend, with the 9pm kick-offs on Saturday and Sunday serving up clashes between sides who all finished in the top seven last season and who’ll be competing in Europe this year. On Saturday, we have last season’s sixth-placed side Real Betis hosting second-placed Real Madrid in the final fixture of the day and then, on Sunday, champioins Atlético de Madrid welcome seventh-placed Villarreal CF to the Spanish capital.
Matchday 3 begins with a Friday night double header. First, there’s a meeting between the top two sides of last season’s LaLiga SmartBank, who both earned promotion with 82 points: RCD Mallorca host their promotion companions RCD Espanyol. Later on Friday night, Valencia CF face D. Alavés, as José Bordalás, the new boss of Los Che, takes on one of his former clubs.
Saturday’s action begins in Galicia with RC Celta vs Athletic Club, two clubs who fell just short of European qualification last season but who are both aspiring to return to the continent now that their coaches Eduardo Coudet and Marcelino have a full season at the helm.
There are two 6.30pm kick-offs on Saturday, one of which sees top-of-the-table Sevilla FC travel to Elche CF as they aim to continue their bright start. The Andalusian side lost this fixture last season during the title race run-in, so will know the dangers that Fran Escribá’s men pose. But, with new signing Erik Lamela having already netted three goals, and with fellow new arrival Rafa Mir creating the winner last time out, confidence is high at Sevilla.
The other of the Saturday evening games is Real Sociedad vs Levante UD, two teams who like to attack. La Real have scored three goals so far and conceded four, while Levante have scored four and conceded four, so goals should be expected in this one given these two teams’ attacking philosophies.
At 9pm on Saturday comes Real Betis vs Real Madrid. This is a huge fixture, mirroring the same encounter at the same stage of last season – when Real Madrid edged a thrilling 3-2 contest. No matter what the score is this time around, Saturday’s meeting promises to be even more exciting because of the return of fans to the Benito Villamarín, famously one of the most atmospheric stadiums in Spain and Europe.
FC Barcelona will get Sunday’s slate of fixtures going when they welcome Getafe CF to the Camp Nou at 4pm. With Barça missing a few players for this fixture, this could be a tricky test for the Blaugrana and Ronald Koeman may have to trust some of his rising stars against a Getafeside who have played better than their record of two defeats from two suggests.
Cádiz CF vs CA Osasuna and Rayo Vallecano vs Granada CF both follow on in the 6.30pm CEST time slot on Sunday evening, with all four of these clubs aware that the primary goal for this season is to secure their status in LaLiga Santander for next season. There are some very interesting stylistic aspects to look out for in these couple of fixtures, such as Osasuna’s determination to fit as many forwards into their XI as possible this season, or the evolution of Granada’s new 4-3-3 formation under new coach Robert Moreno.
After that double header, Matchday 3 reaches its conclusion at 9pm on Sunday night with Atlético de Madrid vs Villarreal CF, a clash of two sides who’ll be present in the Champions League group stages this year. This fixture was a draw last year and, looking at their previous 15 meetings, there have been five wins each and five draws. It promises to be a very competitive matchup at the Wanda Metropolitano, one which could be decided by a moment of quality from star forwards Luis Suárez or Gerard Moreno, or from new signings Matheus Cunha and Arnaut Danjuma. With fans in the stands cheering on Los Rojiblancos, this could be an epic night of LaLiga Santander football.