Atletico Madrid's title credentials will get their first big test this weekend as they host Sevilla in what is the start of a potentially critical run of fixtures for the Rojiblancos.
Atletico must prove their mettle against the best
MADRID// Atletico Madrid's title credentials will get their first big test this weekend as they host Sevilla in what is the start of a potentially critical run of fixtures for the Rojiblancos. Atletico have enjoyed a hugely impressive beginning to the season and Wednesday's 2-1 derby win over Getafe left them with nine points from their opening four games and within one point of top spot.
However, Atletico's fixture list so far has not been the most taxing - something that is about to change this weekend. After hosting unbeaten Sevilla at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday, Javier Aguirre's side must face Barcelona, Real Madrid and Villarreal in successive league games, as well as Champions League encounters with Marseille and Liverpool. Those six matches could go a long way to determining what sort of season Atletico will have, and the defender Pablo Ibanez said it was vital they went into that run on a high.
"It was important to win [against Getafe] because if we want to be at the top we have to win these games, especially as we now have a difficult fixture list," he said. "We are happy with the result and now we have to think about Sevilla." Sevilla will also be in confident mood heading into the match after an unbeaten start to the season, and striker Fredi Kanoute has high hopes for the campaign. They beat the previously undefeated Espanyol 2-0 on Wednesday. "We aspire to many things but we know it's a very difficult league, we have to take it game by game," he said.
"We now play against Atletico, a very strong team and we have to play like we did against Espanyol. "We have to try to pick up a good result and then win at home. "We hope to finish among the top four." While Atletico and Sevilla will both try to continue their fine starts, at the other end of the spectrum Sporting Gijon will be wondering when their nightmare will end. The promoted side are rock-bottom of the standings having lost all four of their matches so far and conceded 19 goals in the process.
More worrying still is they appear to be getting worse, having lost 6-1 to Barcelona last Sunday and then 7-1 at Real Madrid on Wednesday. This weekend they must travel to last season's runners-up Villarreal. "The start of the season could not have been more ugly for Sporting, a schedule against Sevilla, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Villarreal," said the Real coach Bernd Schuster. "For Sporting the league starts now. There is plenty of the season left."
Schuster admitted following last week's 2-0 Champions League win over BATE Borisov that he was disappointed with the way his players appeared to put the brakes on after establishing their two-goal lead. But that was not to be the case against Sporting and it was only when the champions had run up seven goals that they finally started to take things a little easier against their hapless opponents. It took Madrid 18 minutes to get off the mark at the Bernabeu but they then blitzed Sporting with seven goals in just 46 minutes either side of half-time, with Rafael van der Vaart (three), Raul (two), Arjen Robben and Gonzalo Higuain the men on the scoresheet.
Schuster's reigning champions travel to Real Betis this weekend looking to make it four league wins on the trot, while elsewhere in La Liga there will be local bragging rights up for grabs in a number of matches. The pick of them sees Espanyol host city rivals Barcelona with both clubs boasting a tally of seven points from their opening four games. That match has been designated a "high-risk" fixture in Spain, as has the encounter between Numancia and Osasuna, while in Andalusia there is a derby clash between Almeria and Recreativo Huelva.
It is not such a local game for Real Valladolid, who make the lengthy trip south to Malaga, while Real Mallorca will travel to Racing Santander. In this weekend's two other Primera Liga games, Athletic Bilbao host Getafe and Deportivo La Coruna go to Valencia. * PA Sport