LaLiga Santander Matchday 10 preview: ElClasico is back!

The biggest match in club football is just around the corner: FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid, ElClasico, will be played this Sunday afternoon at 4.15pm CEST. Every clash between these two historic foes is special, but this one will be especially thrilling since it’ll be the first ElClásico with fans back in the stands since before the pandemic. Then, for dessert, reigning champions Atlético de Madrid host current LaLiga Santander leaders Real Sociedad on Sunday night.

Before that, the weekend’s action gets underway at the legendary El Sadar on Friday night as high-flying CA Osasuna take on Granada CF. Now that there are no limits on capacity, Osasuna will be able to fill the stands with their famously passionate supporters at their new-look ground, which was redeveloped during the pandemic. Those fans are certainly enjoying the start to the season, with their team flying high in fifth place.

Kicking off Saturday’s action are Valencia CF, who will be looking to end a five-match winless run when RCD Mallorca make the short trip across the Mediterranean Sea to the Spanish mainland. Later that afternoon, Cádiz CF and D. Alavés meet in search of three points that would propel either side away from the bottom of the table. Neither club has had a particularly great start to the campaign, with only one win each, so both sides know this is a big opportunity. Elche CF and RCD Espanyol are both a little higher up in mid-table, but their meeting on Saturday evening is no less important as they face off for the first time in over six years.

This weekend’s Saturday night fixture is Athletic Club vs Villarreal CF, which sees Athletic coach Marcelino welcoming one of his former clubs to Bilbao. There is always something special about a game under the floodlights at San Mamés and this should be an evenly matched affair; both their meetings last season finished 1-1. With both clubs boasting some of the best Spanish talent around, this is certainly one that La Roja coach Luis Enrique will be paying attention to as well.

ElClásico Sunday gets up and running with Sevilla FC vs Levante UD under the Andalusian sun. It required a stoppage time winner from Youssef En-Nesyri for Sevilla to win this fixture last season and Julen Lopetegui would sign up for another three points right now as his men look to keep up their title challenge, while new Granotas coach Javier Pereira searches for his club’s first victory of the season.

Then at 4.15pm CEST it’s time for ElClasico at the Camp Nou. Real Madrid have won the past three meetings against their historic rivals, yet they haven’t won four in a row since 1965. Barça certainly won’t want that to happen in front of their home fans and they’ll take their seats at the Camp Nou with the belief and hope that Ansu Fati can lead the Blaugrana to a famous victory. The teenager, who scored in this fixture last season to become the youngest ever ElClasico scorer, has returned from a long-term injury and has hit the ground running, netting great goals at home to Levante and Valencia. Now he’ll hope for an ElClásico strike and three points to get Barça’s season well and truly up and running. Karim Benzema and Vinícius Jr, though, are in great form too and have 18 goals between them already this campaign from just 11 total outings so far.

This is also the first ElClásico meeting between Ronald Koeman and Carlo Ancelotti, even if they’ve each coached in this fixture previously. The two tacticians have actually met in their coaching careers, back in 2003 when in charge at Ajax and AC Milan respectively, but they haven’t crossed paths since then. This Sunday they’ll look to win a tactical chess match and their decisions could be key to the result of this game and, ultimately, in the title race. It should be as thrilling as ElClásico always is, with just one goalless draw in their past 50 meetings. Expect goals!

Later, on Sunday evening, Real Betis vs Rayo Vallecano follows up ElClásico, an interesting encounter between two teams with offensive philosophies and currently separated by just one point in the table.

Then comes another huge game at 9pm CEST as Atlético de Madrid host Real Sociedad at the Wanda Metropolitano. The reigning champions will face a La Real side that has climbed to the top of the table with great play and great resilience, overcoming an early season injury crisis. If Real Sociedad can earn a positive result in the Spanish capital, they’ll have demonstrated that they are serious title challengers.

On Monday, there is one more match to round off the weekend as Getafe CF search for their first win of the year at home to RC Celta. This will mark Quique Sánchez Flores’ return to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, having re-taken the reins at his former club to take on the challenge of avoiding relegation.

Watch LaLiga Santander live this weekend on BeINSports

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Potential ElClasico debutants

ElClasico is the game with the most and the best stars ever in football history. Both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona reinforced their squads over the summer, and up to six new players may well make their debuts in the legendary ElClasico

From their very first kick of a ball, every professional footballer dreams of playing in the biggest matches. There’s no doubt that the LaLiga Santander ElClasico is one of those, and one which all lovers of the beautiful game eagerly anticipate. Throughout history, some of the best players of all time have had the opportunity to represent FC Barcelona, Real Madrid – or both – in a match that never ceases to excite and compel.

Both Los Merengues and Los Cules made signings in the summer, and on October 24 several of them will have the opportunity and the honour of being able to make their ElClasico debuts. Up to six players could make their debut:

Memphis Depay:

The Dutch star came to LaLiga Santander with the intention of making his mark at Barcelona. He’d always dreamt of representing the club and soon he’ll get the chance to shine in ElClasico. The 27-year-old has hit the ground running and is one of the league’s most in-form attackers. He’s known for his exceptional talent, goalscoring ability, assist providing, plus the ability to conjure something out of thin air. There’s no doubt that FC Barcelona’s acquisition of Memphis could be decisive in what will be a showstopping afternoon at the Camp Nou, at 4:15PM on October 24.

Eric García:

Eric Garcia is a Barcelona boy through and through. The young centre-back from Martorell came through the club’s academy where he did in fact play against Real Madrid. He impressed at every stage of his development, captaining every La Masia side he featured in. He re-joined Barcelona this summer after the club saw in him a player that not only already possessed great quality as a youngster but could go on to form the heart of the club’s defence for years to come. It seems more than likely that Garcia will be making his ElClasico bow this season.

Luuk De Jong:

Luuk De Jong was a last-minute acquisition by Barcelona, joining on loan following a successful stint at Sevilla FC. The Dutch striker has come in to bolster the Barça attack, and will be keen to be among the goals for his new club. But will he manage to make it onto the scoresheet in his LaLiga Santander ElClasico debut?

Sergio Aguero:

Sergio Aguero, one of the best strikers in the history of the game, signed for FC Barcelona this summer. The Argentine is back in LaLiga Santander, where he’d already shone with Atletico Madrid. Bad luck with injuries is about to end, so he may well get his first chance to impress for FC Barcelona on October 24 in ElClasico.

Eduardo Camavinga:

Youth, self-confidence, quality, and power are just some of the hallmarks of Eduardo Camavinga. Real Madrid signed the midfielder with the aim that after bedding into the side he would go on to be a fixture in Los Blancos’ midfield in the coming seasons. Despite his tender years, the 18-year-old has already made quite the impact at his new club. He not only scored on his first appearance but has regularly pulled fans onto the edge of their seats with his class. There’s no doubt that this ElClasico will be the first of many for Camavinga

David Alaba:

29-year-old David Alaba joined Real Madrid during the last transfer window. The versatile Austrian footballer is keen to bring his experiences in elite football to the heart of Los Blancos’ back four. His performances so far this season for Carlo Ancelotti’s men have been of considerable merit. The next LaLiga Santander ElClasico will be a very special occasion for Alaba, as he’ll likely be making his maiden bow in this iconic clash. He’s a top-drawer player who his team will need in this kind of game.

Don’t miss ElClasico on October 24 at 10:15pm on the usual broadcaster: BeINSports

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Six key duels that could decide ElClasico

FC Barcelona and Real Madrid meet at Camp Nou this weekend (Sunday, 4.15pm CEST) in what is the most eagerly awaited club football clash in the world. Here are six direct match-ups which could well decide who takes home the points.

ElClasico is always such a tight contest and this weekend’s encounter could come down to a single individual battle on the chessboard that is the football pitch. Ahead of the meeting between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on Sunday, here comes a look at six duels that could prove decisive.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen vs Karim Benzema

Benzema is in terrific form and comes into ElClasico with nine goals from his eight LaLiga Santander appearances so far and after helping France to a Nations League triumph with his excellent performances in the Final Four. Real Madrid’s main man in attack appears to be unstoppable, but ter Stegen has managed to keep Benzema at bay over the years. In fact, the Frenchman has scored just twice across the 1,075 minutes they’ve shared on the pitch in previous ElClásico meetings. The number nine scored in their last encounter, however, in Los Blancos’ 2-1 win at Valdebebas last campaign.

Vinícius Jr vs Gerard Piqué

Benzema might be the primary goal scorer in this Real Madrid squad, but the player who seems to creates out of nothing is Vinícius and he’ll look to use his pace and trickery to get the better of Gerard Piqué. The Brazilian and the Spaniard are at opposite ends of their careers, so we’ll see youthful confidence going up against veteran experience and this could be key to the game’s outcome.

Frenkie de Jong vs Casemiro

As is so often the case in football, the key battles could be in the midfield – and keep a particular eye on the individual duel between Frenkie de Jong and Casemiro. These two players bring the energy to their respective midfields and are capable of playing their best football on the biggest occasions. Key to protecting their defences at the same time as getting forward to contribute to attack, de Jong and Casemiro are undoubtedly two of this fixture’s most important players.

Gavi vs Eduardo Camavinga

We might witness a glimpse into the future during this October’s ElClasico, with 17-year-old Gavi and 18-year-old Camavinga likely to earn some minutes at the Camp Nou. Both these players have caught the eye to start the 2021/22 campaign, with Gavi making an impact after emerging through Barça’s La Masia academy and with Camavinga hitting the ground running at Real Madrid following his summer transfer from Rennes. If these two players do feature in this game, perhaps off the bench, then they’ll likely occupy the same area of the pitch and their fresh legs in the final stages could prove decisive.

Ansu Fati vs David Alaba

There is great excitement at Barcelona at Ansu Fati’s comeback, after he returned from a 10-month injury layoff by scoring a goal against Levante on his first match back. The 18-year-old has inherited Lionel Messi’s iconic number ten shirt at Camp Nou and will be looking to score against Real Madrid, just as he did in this same fixture last year before his knee injury. Out to prevent the teenager from repeating last year’s trick is summer signing David Alaba, the experienced centre-back who has seamlessly slotted into Real Madrid’s back line. While Los Blancos’ defence has been leakier than Carlo Ancelotti would like, that’s not Alaba’s fault and the Austrian will be determined to earn a clean sheet in his first ElClasico.

Memphis Depay vs Thibaut Courtois

While ter Stegen vs Benzema is a duel we’ve enjoyed many times before, the upcoming battle between Thibaut Courtois and Memphis is a relatively novel one. They have only shared the pitch for 17 minutes in their careers, back in 2015/16 when they both played in English football, so this should be a special face-off between the goalkeeper and the forward at Camp Nou. Both players have started 2021/22 in good form and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the result of this ElClasico comes down to a one-on-one chance between the Dutchman and Belgian.

Watch ElClasico this Sunday at 10:15pm on BeINSports.

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ElClasico set to showcase some of the brightest young talent in world football

FC Barcelona face Real Madrid this Sunday (4.15pm CEST) in a clash which pits together some of the most exciting rising stars in football today. Here’s a look at some of the best talent to keep an eye on.

LaLiga Santander leads the way with more nominees for the 2021 Golden Boy than any other league, with Pedri, Gavi, Camavinga and Rodrygo all nominated alongside Villarreal’s mercurial 19-year-old Yeremi Pino.

There is something special about the Barcelona and Real Madrid squads this season: both clubs have many young talents earning serious minutes. Both are inside the top six when looking at the LaLiga Santander teams with the youngest average ages, demonstrating that Ronald Koeman and Carlo Ancelotti are both placing their trust in rising stars. Here’s a look at the up-and-coming talents at Barcelona and at Real Madrid in each position.  

In goals: Lunin and Peña have talent even if they lack minutes

In Marc-André ter Stegen and Thibaut Courtois, Barcelona and Real Madrid have two of the best goalkeepers in the world. That means it is incredibly difficult for up-and-coming shot-stoppers like Iñaki Peña and Andriy Lunin to earn minutes. Yet these young goalkeepers have impressed in training and with their national teams, with Peña having been involved at all youth levels for Spain and even making the senior team’s bench for one friendly, while Lunin has featured for Ukraine’s senior side on six occasions.

In defence: Both clubs already have their centre-backs of the future

Finding world-class centre-backs is one of the most difficult tasks in football, but both Barcelona and Real Madrid have young central defenders they believe in. Éder Militão’s excellent end to last season convinced Real Madrid that the 23-year-old Brazilian is already capable of leading their back line and he has started 2021/22 on the front foot too. Over in Barcelona, Koeman has been rotating between two young centre-backs to start the campaign as 20-year-old Eric García and 22-year-old Ronald Araújo have each shown promise.

Also in defence, there is excitement at both clubs over the promising young left-backs to have come through their respective academies. At Real Madrid, 20-year-old Miguel Gutiérrez has already earned 10 appearances for the first team after catching Zinedine Zidane’s eye and then earning further opportunities with Carlo Ancelotti. Barcelona, meanwhile, have high hopes for Alejandro Balde, the 17-year-old who sadly saw his first senior start end prematurely because of an injury. In 20-year-old Sergiño Dest, Barcelona also have a quality right-back to be excited about.

In midfield: The future has arrived with Valverde, Pedri, Camavinga and Gavi

The centre of the pitch is so important and both Barcelona and Real Madrid already have young midfielders who can lead their sides for many years to come. Nobody has made more appearances for Real Madrid so far this term than Fede Valverde, just like nobody had more appearances at Barcelona last year than Pedri’s 52. What was incredible about Pedri last season was that the 18-year-old had never before played at LaLiga Santander level, yet he immediately became one of the most important players for Barça and then for the Spanish national team.

This year, the Pedri story is being replicated with Gavi, who has emerged from Barcelona’s La Masia academy and then slotted in seamlessly to the Spain squad, even becoming La Roja’s youngest ever player during the Nations League Final Four at the age of 17 and 62 days. Eduardo Camavinga has been just as impressive at Real Madrid, scoring and assisting across his first few appearances following his move from Rennes.

So impressive have the performances of these young stars been that Pedri, Camavinga and Gavi are among LaLiga’s five nominees for this year’s Golden Boy award, given to the best U21 player in European football.

With other young talents earning minutes too, such as Nico, Riqui Puig and Antonio Blanco, it’s clear that Barcelona and Real Madrid have young talent in midfield, players who’ll dominate in the future but who are already impressing in the present.

In attack: Ansu Fati vs Vinícius could be the great individual battle of the next decade

In Ansu Fati and in Vinícius, Barcelona and Real Madrid each have a talented young forward who could go on to become one of the world’s very best. The Spain and Brazil internationals have burst onto the scene in LaLiga Santander and have already demonstrated that they deserve to be starting up front for these two prestigious clubs. With Ansu Fati still just 18 and with Vinícius only 21, both players have room for growth and the latter is showing that this season by already scoring five LaLiga Santander goals, surpassing last season’s tally. Ansu Fati, meanwhile, has just returned from a long-term injury and will be looking to rediscover the form he showed when he shocked the world as a 16-year-old.

As well as those two blue-chip forwards, there are other young attackers at Barcelona and Real Madrid who also have the potential to leave their mark on the game. From Yusuf Demir to Rodrygo – another 2021 Golden Boy nominee –, Barcelona and Real Madrid have as many rising stars in attack as they do in every other position.

Watch ElClasico live this Sunday at 10:15pm on BeINSports

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LaLiga Grassroots is here, a bid by LaLiga to support and promote grassroots football around the world

LaLiga Grassroots will take LaLiga’s sports and academic methodology to a new level in order to further strive for sporting excellence in bringing through young players and training coaches both nationally and internationally.

A web platform has been launched with detailed information on this new initiative, through which interested parties will also be able to access the pre-registration process for the sports programmes set to begin in the summer of 2022 at the ESC Madrid Center.

Madrid, October 14, 2021. – LaLiga has announced the launch of LaLiga Grassroots, in its bid to further advance and improve its bespoke sports and training projects as well as the promotion of LaLiga’s know-how and methodology. This initiative is part of a series of international sports projects that LaLiga has been running since 2015 across multiple markets, and its most salient new feature is this series of programmes which will take place in Spain. These will mainly be held at the ESC Madrid Center, a state-of-the-art, world-beating sports complex.

“LaLiga Grassroots was conceived as a new specialised unit conceived by the Sports Projects team and the International Business and Development team,” explains Juan Florit, head of LaLiga Sports Projects and who will be in charge of the technical and sports side of LaLiga Grassroots. “Our activities will mainly focus on the holistic development of young players, international training programmes for professionals in the sector, and projects to promote and support LaLiga clubs when it comes to their academies and running international tournaments.”

This new project represents a further step in LaLiga’s creation and execution of sports projects, an area through which it has enjoyed great success over the last six seasons. This includes finding positions for nearly 750 Spanish coaches, as well as providing training for more than 20,000 coaches and 175,000 players in the more than 400 projects carried out across 38 countries.

“The work we’ve carried out over the years in training players and coaches internationally has taken things to the next level, not only for those who have worked with LaLiga, but also for the league itself and its clubs,” says Javier Hernandez, Head of Business and International development for the project. “We’re convinced that now, with the creation of LaLiga Grassroots and the new programmes that we’ll be running at the ESC Madrid Center, we’ll be able to create better opportunities for everyone.”

Two big programmes and unique, world-class facilities

LaLiga Grassroots offers a variety of programmes which focus on improving players’ abilities through channelling the power of sport as an educational tool to promote their all-round development. Within the Grassroots project, there are two long-term programmes aimed at young people from all over the world set to take place in Spain and which are the most notable:

LaLiga Talents and LaLiga Academy.

These programmes are aimed at male and female players between the ages of 12 and 18 years and are oriented towards giving these athletes an all-round training experience, taking care of and supporting their personal development both on and off the pitch. The main difference between both programmes is that LaLiga Talents is centred around players who already work in a high-performance training environment, with the aim of helping them develop and get the most out of their talent to reach the best level attainable, while LaLiga Academy focuses on improving and optimising the abilities of players who want to experience a unique sports and educational programme curated by LaLiga.

There will be short-term and long-term activities included in these programmes such as LaLiga Camps and high-performance training camps for teams, mixed groups and international players. These aim to improve both preparation and development on an individual and collective level.

All programmes in Spain will take place at the ESC Madrid Center, a state-of-the-art complex that will open its doors in the summer of 2022.

The centre has an on-site 400-capacity residence with 24-hour security, an international school equipped with an auditorium, library, laboratory, clinic, as well as several game, rest and study rooms. Likewise, the complex houses two state-of-the-art football pitches and various training areas, an NBA court, gym and a swimming pool. Overall, this makes the centre the ideal place to achieve the synergy between sports training and academic education that LaLiga Grassroots projects seek to achieve.

These facilities will be available to all LaLiga clubs wishing to run training programmes, carry out brand internationalisation projects or have other needs, and they will also have the LaLiga Academy Manager software, created by LaLiga in order to optimise the management and daily operation of academies.

Registration for all these programmes, as well as additional information about them, is now available on the website

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A high-voltage clash in LaLiga Santander gets the engines running for ElClasico

FC Barcelona will this weekend host Valencia CF in a Camp Nou stadium with 100% permitted capacity for the first time since March 2020.

With Jose Bordalas at the helm, ‘Los Che’ come into the encounter ahead of Barcelona in the table and with some of the brightest young talents in Spanish football.

LaLiga Santander is back with a bang after the international break, with a very tasty clash set to round off the weekend at the Camp Nou. FC Barcelona host Valencia at 9pm CEST on Sunday in what has become one of LaLiga’s most high-profile rivalries over the past two decades – in particular since the late 1990s, when Valencia lived a golden era of LaLiga and European titles and every match against Barcelona seemed to throw up goal fest after goal fest.

These high-scoring encounters have returned in recent years, as have a score of incredibly memorable matches. The 2019 Copa del Rey final saw Valencia upset Lionel Messi’s Barcelona 2-1 in Seville against all the odds, while their last four meetings in LaLiga Santander have seen an average of 4.5 goals per game (5-2, 2-0, 2-2, 3-2).

No less is expected of this Sunday’s encounter; in fact, even more is anticipated. Valencia CF are a different side from that which has struggled over the past couple of seasons – since that 2019 Copa del Rey final, to be exact.

This season, with new coach Jose Bordalas at the helm, Los Che have quickly proven themselves to be a solid, reliable, effective, and exciting side. They’ve recovered the essence of what made Valencia sides so thrilling over the years, and head to Camp Nou one spot ahead of Barcelona in the standings. In fact, they even rose as high as joint leaders six matches into the season, before dropping points in two tough, consecutive games against Real Madrid and Sevilla FC.

Jose Gaya and Carlos Soler, two of Valencia’s most important players, are back for this weekend’s match, though they’ll be without Paraguayan centre-back Omar Alderete through suspension, whose place will most likely be taken by Mouctar Diakhaby. Regardless, Bordalas should be delighted with the performances of his team so far this season, and especially so with those of Jasper Cillessen – who returns to the Camp Nou two years after his move to Mestalla – Hugo Guillamon, playing further forward in midfield, the exciting young American winger Yunus Musah, and Gonçalo Guedes, who looks to be back to his thrilling best.

Up the coast in Barcelona, coach Ronald Koeman is set to face his former side with renewed spirits. His side were outclassed last time out at Atletico de Madrid (2-0), but with a number of players now recovered from injury this Barcelona side looks to be a different proposition. Ansu Fati is likely ready to start and has already shown himself to be match sharp with a tremendous solo goal against Levante UD after almost a full calendar year out with injury. Sergio Agüero, meanwhile, could be in line to make his debut for the club, while Ousmane Dembele is also reaching the end of his return from injury. Koeman lost Uruguayan centre-back Ronald Araujo to injury this international break, but both Memphis and teenage sensation Gavi return with their spirits in the sky after strong showings with the Netherlands and Spain, respectively.

Just a glance at the players to watch in Barcelona vs Valencia this weekend demonstrates why this is one of the most important matches in world football when it comes to young talent. Both sides boast one of the most prolific and impressive youth academies in European football, and the list of young rising stars set to be on show at Camp Nou is astounding: Ansu Fati, Gavi, de Jong, Dest, Yusuf Demir, Riqui Puig, Nico Gonzalez, Carlos Soler, Guillamón, Yunus Musah, Racic, Guedes and Hugo Duro… Factor in those likely to miss the match – Pedri, perhaps the brightest young star in world football right now, Dembele, Eric Garcia, Araujo – and it’s clear that these two sides are absolutely ‘can’t miss’ for football lovers around the globe looking to catch an eye on the stars of the future.

What’s more, this weekend will see Camp Nou open its doors to a 100% capacity crowd for the first time since March 2020, thanks to the recent decision by the regional Catalan authorities to remove all restrictions on outdoor arenas. It’s an ideal starting point ahead of next weekend’s ElClasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the biggest stadium in Europe. But all eyes will be on this weekend first, though; FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF has all the ingredients to be one of the best matches of the season so far. You won’t want to miss it.

Watch FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF this Sunday on BeINSports

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LaLiga Santander Matchday 9 preview: Koeman set to face his former club as FC Barcelona host Valencia CF

LaLiga Santander is back following the international break this weekend with eight fixtures taking place over the course of Saturday, Sunday and Monday. One fixture jumps off the schedule: FC Barcelona hosting Valencia CF at the Camp Nou on Sunday night, a can’t-miss match for many, many reasons.

Before that, though, the action starts with a fascinating fixture between two clubs who changed their coach during the international pause. Levante UD, who replaced Paco López with Javier Pereira, will face Getafe CF, who have welcomed back Quique Sánchez Flores to take over from Míchel. Logically, both of the new coaches will be hoping to start on the front foot and to lead their struggling clubs out of the relegation zone as soon as possible. This Saturday evening match should therefore be an engrossing affair.

There is one other match on Saturday night, with Real Sociedad hosting RCD Mallorca with the chance for the Basque side to go top of the LaLiga Santander table. La Real are currently level on points at the top with Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, neither of whom will play this weekend and whose matches were postponed due to the late return of some of their South American players, meaning that the Txuri Urdin have a unique opportunity in front of them.

Four of the Matchday 9 fixtures will take place on Sunday, starting with lunchtime kick-off Rayo Vallecano vs Elche CF. For many analysts, these two clubs were among the favourites for relegation ahead of the season, but they have both proved the doubters wrong with excellent starts to the campaign. Rayo Vallecano, in particular, have started phenomenally and, led by star signing Radamel Falcao, have propelled themselves into the European positions.

Two other teams with European qualification aspirations meet next, with RC Celta welcoming Sevilla FC to Spain’s north-western coast. The Andalusians suffered their first loss of the 2021/22 campaign just before the October international break, so will be looking to scratch that itch when they meet Iago Aspas and co.

Villarreal CF host CA Osasuna on Sunday evening, with the visitors having started the season really well by taking 14 points from their first eight matches. Villarreal, meanwhile, are the only undefeated team left in LaLiga Santander, but they have only won two of their seven fixtures, drawing the other five. Having made a new signing during the October pause, acquiring free agent Serge Aurier, the Yellow Submarine will be hoping for a boost and another victory for the win column.

At 9pm CEST on Sunday night, it’s blockbuster time: FC Barcelona vs Valencia CF at the Camp Nou. For under-pressure Blaugrana coach Ronald Koeman, this meeting with his former club is massive and he’ll hope for a better result than the 2-2 draw these two sides played out last season. Valencia have improved leaps and bounds since then and their new coach José Bordalás even beat Koeman’s Barça side last campaign, when in charge of Getafe, so this won’t be easy for the Catalan side. Over the past six meetings between these historic foes, there have been two wins each and two draws, throwing up an average of 4.5 goals per game, so anything could happen on Sunday night.

On Monday, there are two more fixtures. The first pits together D. Alavés and Real Betis; home team remain inside the relegation zone but they did win their last match at Mendizorrotza against champions Atlético Madrid in impressive fashion. Against the Verdiblancos, they’ll be hoping for another big scalp.

Next up is a historic match. RCD Espanyol and Cádiz CF haven’t faced each other in league play since 2006, but will finally do so again on Monday night. Having always been in different divisions since then, this is far from a common fixture and it’ll be special when these two sides from opposite ends of Spain take to the same pitch to conclude this weekend’s action.  

Watch LaLiga Santander live this weekend on BeINSports

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Five things you may not know about Serge Aurier

Aurier has been a fixture in top level European football for the best part of a decade, but here are five things you might not know about the Ivorian.

Villarreal CF have this week made a late addition to their 2021/22 squad, signing free agent Serge Aurier following his departure from English side Tottenham Hotspur.  

From his time at Lens, Toulouse, PSG and most recently Tottenham, Aurier has built up a wealth of experience and will help the Yellow Submarine as they compete on multiple fronts this season. Here’s all you need to know about him as he looks to make his mark in LaLiga Santander.

His idol is a LaLiga legend

Playing in LaLiga Santander means Aurier will finally be following in the footsteps of his childhood idol: Roberto Carlos. Though the 28-year-old is a right-back and has also expressed his appreciation for Cafú and Dani Alves, Aurier has stated on many occasion that his favourite player to watch as a kid was the great Roberto Carlos. With the Real Madrid legend now working in Spain as a commentator, some of Aurier’s matches may even be called on TV by the iconic left-back.

He brings captain’s leadership to the table

Aurier will bring even more leadership to the Villarreal dressing room. With a decade of professional football behind him, he’s also the Ivory Coast national team captain. The Ouragahio-born right-back has captained Les Elephants for the past four years and has won international titles with his country, most notably scoring in the shootout in which Ivory Coast defeated Ghana in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final. That’s quite some pedigree.

His quick thinking potentially saved a life on the football field

In a World Cup qualifier between the Ivory Coast and Mali in 2016, Aurier rushed over to help opponent Moussa Doumbia when he suffered an epileptic fit on the pitch. Aurier helped ensure that Doumbia didn’t swallow his tongue, later receiving thanks from the Mali coach Alain Giresse.

He’s tremendously versatile

Serge is primarily a right-back but has played in every defensive position over the course of his career. At Toulouse, he was used almost as frequently at centre-back as he was on the right, while he even played centre-back in the Champions League knockouts for PSG during his time in the French capital. At Tottenham, Aurier also played as a left-back and as a winger on occasion under Mauricio Pochettino. It’ll be interesting to see how Unai Emery uses his new addition.

He compulsively watches his performances back after every match

Unai Emery is known for producing detailed video clips for his players to learn from their past performances and to study upcoming opponents, but Aurier takes this a step further. He has revealed that he watches back his full performance after each game, a post-match habit he has held since his days playing for Toulouse. Back then he would ask his agent to send him the recordings so that he could learn and improve after each appearance.

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Who is Gavi, the 17-year-old who became the Spanish national team’s youngest ever debutant?

Aged 17 and 62 days, the Barcelona midfielder has broken the record after featuring in the Nations League’s Final Four.

History was made during the October international break, with Luis Enrique having called up Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, more commonly known as Gavi, to the senior Spanish national team. With FC Barcelona’s rising star making his debut against Italy on Wednesday night in the Nations League semi-finals then he became La Roja’s youngest ever debutant aged just 17 years and 62 days.

The record was held by Ángel Zubieta, who made his first Spain appearance at 17 years and 284 days back in 1936, so Gavi surpassed that feat by more than 200 days. Some give the record for Spain’s youngest ever player to Pedro Regueiro for his appearance in a friendly with Portugal in 1927, but that was technically a Spanish ‘B team’ since La Roja’s starters were playing a game against Italy that same day. Even still, Regueiro’s appearance came with 17 years and 161 days, so Gavi has still comfortably beaten that. He’s also debut more than half a year earlier than his friend and club teammate Ansu Fati, who did so aged 17 years and 308 days.

It has been a rapid rise for Gavi, who has skipped the U19 and U21 age groups to go straight to the senior squad. That is similar to his meteoric progression through La Masia, the academy he joined aged 11 in 2015 after taking his first steps in football with Real Betis in his home province of Seville. After arriving in FC Barcelona’s renowned football school, Gavi worked his way through the various age categories to the point where he made his debut for the Catalan club’s senior side earlier this season by coming on for the final 16 minutes of Barça’s 2-1 victory over Getafe CF in LaLiga Santander.

Gavi’s style of play fits perfectly into FC Barcelona’s midfield, with comparisons to Xavi based on a lot more than the similarity of their names. Despite his small frame, the right-footed midfielder can get the better of bigger, stronger and older opponents through his intuition and rapid reading of the field. Able to accurately spin the ball to a teammate’s feet when pressed, he is exactly what Ronald Koeman is looking for in a midfielder and even drops deep on occasion to take the lead when bringing the ball out from the back.

That’s why Gavi has even been trusted to start important matches, such as the recent clash away at Atlético Madrid. FC Barcelona have suffered an injury crisis to start the 2021/22 campaign, but most of those physical issues have come in attack or in defence. Gavi’s minutes haven’t been given to him because of a lack of alternative options in midfield. On the contrary, he has earned those opportunities to start ahead of older and more experienced midfield talents.

With Pedri and Ansu Fati yet to celebrate their 19th birthdays, FC Barcelona really do have an exciting young core of up-and-coming talents and Gavi is very much a part of this reason for optimism. This is encouraging for the Spanish national team too and the genesis of what could be a promising international career for Gavi taking place this week.

Three things you may not know about Gavi

His move into La Masia accommodation

After being signed by FC Barcelona’s academy from Real Betis at the age of 11, Gavi moved to the Catalan capital with his family and they stayed in an apartment in the very centre of town in La Rambla. Before long, though, he told his family that they should move back to Andalusia and that he would move into the accommodation at La Masia, convinced he could make it at the Blaugrana.

His triumph at LaLiga Promises

LaLiga Promises is one of the most prestigious youth football tournaments in the world and Gavi won this title during his youth career. In the 2016 edition, Barça were the victors as they defeated Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals and final, with Gavi scoring both of the goals in the 2-0 semi-final win over the Catalan club’s great rivals.

His red card on his most recent Spain experience

The last time Gavi played for Spain at any level was in a friendly match for the U18s against France in May of this year. That 2-2 draw wasn’t his happiest experience, as the midfielder was shown a straight red card in the 36th minute. Since then, though, Gavi has enjoyed success after success and now has made history with La Roja’s senior side.

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Iñaki Williams breaks the record of 202 consecutive games in LaLiga Santander: he hasn’t lost a single match in five years and a half!

The Athletic Club striker has participated in all LaLiga Santander matches since April 2016. Since then, five coaches have passed through Athletic, three presidents through the United States White House and Real Madrid has won three more Champions League

History was made during Athletic Club’s Friday night clash with Deportivo Alavés at San Mamés this weekend. It was Iñaki Williams’ 203th consecutive appearance for the club in LaLiga Santander, moving him into first on the all-time rankings, over the legendary Real Sociedad player Juan Antonio Larrañaga, with the longest streak of consecutive games in the whole LaLiga Santander history. The former record of 202 games was set in 1993.

Williams’ incredible run began against Atlético de Madrid. He returned from an injury to play against Los Colchoneros back in the 2015/16 campaign, on April 20th 2016. After playing the final five matches of that season, he played in all 38 of Athletic Club’s games in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21, as well as the first 8 fixtures of the current campaign. In other words, there hasn’t been an Athletic Club LaLiga Santander match that hasn’t featured Williams during five years and a half, since a 1-0 win over Malaga CF all the way back in spring 2016.

At that time, Real Madrid only had won 10 Champions League trophies, the Spanish National Team was still the current European champion, Erling Haaland was still playing in the reserve team of Bryne FK, Stranger Things had not yet been released, and the president of the United States was still Barack Obama… and in all this time in which the world has changed so much, Iñaki Williams has not missed a single Athletic Club match in LaLiga Santander.

Williams’ story is a unique one. Born in Bilbao to a Ghanaian father and Liberian mother, he grew up in neighbouring Pamplona and started playing for local teams in the area. Since he lived far away from the complex, teammates would take turns at bringing him to training and Williams remains grateful for the support he received from those teammates and the various coaches and directors who helped him along the way. He was so talented that Athletic Club took notice while Williams was playing in Pamplona and he was soon incorporated into the club’s Lezama academy.

Playing for the Basque side’s B team, Bilbao Athletic, Williams really stood out and first-team coach Ernesto Valverde was so impressed with what he was seeing that he handed the youngster his first-team debut against Córdoba in December of 2014, aged just 20. A few months later, in February 2015, he netted his first goal for the team by scoring against Torino in the Europa League.

Before long, Williams had become Athletic Club’s talisman in attack, complementing Aritz Aduriz perfectly. By scoring big goals in big moments and by causing problems for opposition defences every time he produced one of his trademark sprints, Williams was key in the various successes enjoyed by Athletic Club over the following seasons.

Williams became so important that he was never dropped. It takes good health and a clean disciplinary record to set a consecutive appearance record like his, but it also requires the unwavering confidence of a coach – or coaches. Over the period of Williams’ 203 LaLiga Santander matches in a row, he has had five coaches and every one has consistently named him on their team sheets: the current coach Marcelino, Gaizka Garitano, Eduardo Berizzo, Cuco Ziganda and Ernesto Valverde.

In the boardroom, they believe in Williams too and, in 2019, he penned a nine-year contract that will run until 2028, a commitment rarely seen in modern football. No other player in LaLiga Santander had a contract that runs that far into the future (Jon Moncayola just renewed his contract for 10 seasons with CA Osasuna until 2031), but Williams and Athletic Club are a match made in heaven and they want this special bond to continue.

“I have always said that I am where I want to be,” he stated as he signed his new deal. “It’s a matter or pride for me to be linked with this great club for so many years, a club that has given me everything. Athletic Club always believed in me and this is my home.”

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