MADRID, Spain, October 22 – Real Madrid will try to put newly-rich Malaga in their place on Saturday when the aristocrats of La Liga travel to the sixth-placed side who are looking to upset the existing balance of power in Spain.
Malaga spent most of last season aiming to avoid relegation but the arrival of billionaire Qatari Sheikh Abdullah al Thani has led to an influx of new players and bigger aspirations.
With players of the calibre of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Santi Cazorla and Jeremy Toulalan they may not be quite ready to fight for the title but they certainly have a Champions League place in their sight.
Real have hit form with five straight wins in all competitions from which they have scored a total of 21 goals, largely down to the scoring prowess of Gonzalo Higuain who hit two hat-tricks, as well as another in between for Argentina, before being left out of the 4-0 win over Lyon in midweek.
One of his predecessors at the Bernabeu, Van Nistelrooy, is promising a tough game for Real despite the fact that Malaga lost their last match to the season’s main surprise so far, Levante.
“This is a special occasion for the people of Malaga and even more so for the Malaga players who used to play for Madrid. It is a big challenge because they are playing well and scoring a lot of goals, so it will be difficult,” said the Dutchman.
“We are also going through a good spell. But what happened against Levante has helped us to keep our feet on the ground and keep ourselves motivated.
“I am not planning to celebrate if I score. It is not something I have given much thought to as I am just concentrating on my preparation for the game.”
Barcelona, leaders ahead of Levante courtesy of goal difference, also face a difficult game against Sevilla but they have home advantage and a defence which appears a lot more solid after a shaky start to the campaign.
They are now looking for their sixth straight clean sheet which would be a new record for the club
“We are doing very well at the back, winning the ball back quickly and pressing hard,” said keeper Victor Valdes.
“The key is to win against Sevilla but I am aware of the record because all the media is talking about it.”
Levante are aiming for their sixth straight win but they have a difficult away trip to Villarreal who were unlucky to lose away in the Champions League to Manchester City, conceding a goal in injury time.
Fifth placed Valencia play an Athletic Bilbao side which has finally found its feet under new coach Marcelo Bielsa with back-to-back wins in the league.
Betis take on Rayo Vallecano in danger of undoing all their good work as they have now lost their last three games having won their opening four.
At the bottom of the table Sporting Gijon have had a desperate start with just one point so far and they face Granada who are also likely to be in the relegation battle at the end of the season.
Racing Santander entertain Espanyol who won their first away game last weekend against Rayo and Getafe are away at Real Sociedad.
Atletico Madrid have now not won in three games and play Mallorca while Zaragoza also on nine points are away to Osasuna.
Saturday (KO in GMT):
Sporting Gijon v Granada 1600, Racing Santander v Espanyol 1600, Malaga v Real Madrid 1800, Barcelona v Sevilla 2000
Real Betis v Rayo Vallecano 1000, Real Sociedad v Getafe 1400, Osasuna v Zaragoza 1600, Atletico Madrid v Mallorca 1600, Valencia v Athletic Bilbao 1800, Villarreal v Levante 2000