La Liga's Understudies Set To Take To The Stage

With Ronaldo and Messi both injured, will Atletico finally step into the limelight? Or, will the Spanish media just transfer their focus to Real Madrid's €100million man..?

Last Updated: 29/11/13 at 13:39 Post Comment

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The headline writers in Barcelona and Madrid are going to be at sixes and sevens this weekend as they prepare the ground for the upcoming league battles of Spain's Big Two clubs.

Traditionally, the overwhelming general magnificence of Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo would be the go-to solutions, but as both are inconveniently absent through injury La Liga's understudies are going to have to lead the way for the next couple of days. In any other division, the likes of Gareth Bale, Neymar or Andrés Iniesta would be enormous fishes flapping about with big goggly eyes but in La Primera, these are merely sardines in the supporting cast.

The utter ridiculousness of the size of the endless childish squabble in regards to the Ballon d'Or is proof of just how dominant the demonic duo of Messi and Ronaldo are. If the Prime Minister of Spain is weighing into the debate as opposed to fixing the mess his country is in, then something is quite wrong with the football world.

Barcelona have been learning to live without Leo Messi for a couple of weeks following his hamstring injury. Messi has now left for Argentina for further treatment, but despite Barça sitting at the top of La Liga with just the single defeat from 21 games in all competitions there has been stinging criticism of the team - especially from the Spanish capital - after the midweek Ajax defeat, suggestions of flatness and a lack of motivation. That was certainly the admission from Cesc Fabregas who conceded that he and his colleagues lacked hunger in the clash.

That motivation will be tested to the limit on Sunday in the prime cut of the weekend's action with Barça heading up to San Mamés to take on Athletic Bilbao, a side challenging for the Champions League places this season despite being not all that impressive.

The ground has always been a challenging stadium for the Catalans with Barça dropping points in four of the past six league fixtures. That said, life hasn't been that pretty for Athletic either with just the single victory since the 1999/2000 season. "We haven't beaten them for a long time," admitted midfielder Ander Iturraspe, "but I am convinced we can do it now." Sunday night's match should be a proper test of whether Barça are in energy conservation mode or only top of the league because everyone else in Spain is wholly useless. Or even a bit of both.

There is no doubt at all that Real Madrid will come away with three points at home to Valladolid on Saturday, a fixture where seven goals have been scored by the capital city club in two of the past five clashes in this clash. The same feat is possible even without Cristiano Ronaldo, who is still suffering from a leg muscle injury picked up in last week's victory at Almería and will not be risked in a game where Bale, Angel di María, Isco and Karim Benzema will have to carry the goalscoring can.

With Galatasaray comfortably disposed of in the Champions League on Wednesday, the story that has got chins a'wagging in Madrid is Carlo Ancelotti's tactical criticism of Sergio Ramos for his sending off against the Turkish side. This being the land with a love for footballing soap opera, this has now led to stories of the defender being up for sale for €65 million having fallen out with Florentino Pérez over talks for a new contract.

Whatever happens this weekend, neither Ronaldo nor Messi should be appearing on the front covers of the the leading sports papers in Spain. Heck, even Atlético might get the chance for a moment in the limelight in the Madrid papers considering Diego Simeone's side could go top should Barcelona lose in Bilbao and the Rojiblancos overcome Elche.

The chances are though that the leading light will be a certain Welshman, who despite costing close to €100 million is still an understudy in the twin-star duopoly of La Liga. Bale should enjoy the moment, though, should it happen as Ronaldo is not one to stay away from any kind of front cover for long.

Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter

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may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

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ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

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