The Spanish capital really is the place to be on Sunday for La Liga. A Madrid derby between in-form Rayo and Los Blancos is followed by a tasty affair between Atletico and Barcelona. Two fascinating fixtures all within a few miles, and hours, of each other.
I'll be honest and say I have a soft spot for Rayo. The last time I was in Madrid I had the pleasure of taking in a game when they played Espanyol (Espanyol left with a 1-0 win in a pretty poor game). Luckily, Rayo always seem to play at home the same weekend as Madrid so far this season, so anyone contemplating a trip to watch Mourinho's men should also think about a trip to Rayo, if the two games don't clash, of course.
It should be three points for Los Blancos but Rayo, whose financial problems meant they were only expected to last for one season in the Primera Division before making a swift return to the Segunda, go into the game in good form and, as things stand, ready to play in the top flight again next season.
Jose Ramon Sandoval has done a superb job with the Vallecanos and led them to eighth in the table, above big-spending Malaga and just two points off the Champions League places. All this while financial problems continue to linger in the background. It's great to see good tactics, good players and the right enthusiasm coming out on top against a strict budget - Rayo has the lowest playing budget in the division by some distance.
They also come into this Madrid derby on the back of three straight wins but still, of course, very much underdogs against their bigger and more illustrious Madrid neighbours, who are riding high at the top of La Liga, ten points above Barcelona. I'm liking my stats of late, so here's a couple for this week. Madrid has conceded the least goals on their travels this season - just six! Next is, perhaps surprisingly, Sevilla with ten and third is Barca, who've struggled on their travels this season, with 13. As for Rayo, their home form has been poor and it's been their away form that has propelled them up to eighth. On home form alone, Rayo would find themselves in the relegation zone.
Los Blancos thumped Rayo 6-2 at the Bernabeu earlier this season and looking at both fixtures between both sides before the start of the season you'd have probably predicted big wins for Madrid. But while Madrid will still be expected to beat Rayo with relative ease on Sunday, the match may be closer than some people think. The first goal, as always, will be important. If Los Blancos get through their hosts' defensive line early on then it opens the game up in Madrid's favour and it could be a long afternoon for Sandoval's side. Hold out for a while, and Rayo could be make things tricky for their visitors who, let's not forget, go into the game on the back of a long and tiring midweek trip to Moscow in the Champions League.
On that last-16 first leg tie against CSKA on Tuesday, Mourinho summed it up pretty well when he said he wasn't happy, but he wasn't sad in his post-match press conference. Last minute goals always tend to have an impact on your post-match thoughts and cloud your judgement somewhat, but a draw in Moscow isn't bad. There's an away goal in the bag and Madrid have been simply unbeatable at home this season - we're still the favourites to progress, and we should. An interesting point from that match was that the CSKA scorer, Pontus Wernbloom, is actually a member of a Real Madrid fan club. He was all smiles when he scored the equaliser in midweek but if that comes back to haunt Madrid, I expect that fan club to tear-up Wernbloom's membership. I jest, of course!
The bad news from this week was injury news on Karim Benzema and Angel di Maria. Benzema will be out of action for a fortnight and di Maria, it seems, is set for another month on the sidelines, although that has yet to be confirmed. The team has shown it can cope without di Maria, although my belief is that they're better with the Argentine in it. They'll also be able to cope without Benzema, too, such is the depth of quality within the squad but it's still frustrating, especially for the players. One man's loss is another man's gain, so they say, and players such as Jose Callejon, Esteban Granero and Kaka amongst others will look to take advantage if they get the nod to start on Sunday.
Another player currently acting as back-up for the first team is Nuri Sahin. I was asked to discuss Sahin from a follower on my Twitter account. The Turkish international arrived in Spain with the honour of being named the best player in the Bundesliga last season, whilst playing for Borussia Dortmund, so big things were clearly expected of him. Everyone knows the injury problems the midfielder suffered that thwarted the start of his career with Los Blancos and Mourinho, and Madridistas, waited patiently for his return to full fitness to catch him in action in the famous all-white kit.
That return has been and gone, and rather than Sahin sitting in the stands through injury, he's now sitting in the stands purely through not being selected in Mourinho's matchday squad. The reason? The Madrid boss has said Sahin is physically and mentally still in pre-season and not yet ready to be thrown straight into first-team action. Sahin has played in the Copa del Rey this season but has managed just 24 minutes so far in La Liga. That's quiet some time to be sat in the stands, or on the bench, for a player who arrived with such fanfare in the summer.
In a way Mourinho is right. When you're injured in pre-season it's always going to have an impact on the campaign that lies ahead. You're catching up, having to do pre-season training during the season and then you're catching up with getting actually match fit. In a season with such importance as this one, it's difficult to give a player match practice when Madrid has to go into every game needing to win it. On the other hand, however, he needs to play somehow to get those match levels back up. Some are saying Sahin is simply not in Mourinho's plans at Madrid but I disagree. I don't want to count my chickens just yet, but if and when Madrid do tie up La Liga, I'm sure we'll see some more of Sahin, and I'm sure we'll see him as a more central figure next season. Esteban Granero or Sami Khedira have certainly not made that central midfield slot alongside Xabi Alonso their own - it's just waiting for Sahin to come in and show exactly what he can do, fitness-permitting, of course.
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