Spain's capital Madrid has been in the headlines this week with the controversy over whether Atletico's UEFA Champions League match against Liverpool next Wednesday would be played at their Vicente Calderon stadium. The venue takes centre stage on Saturday, when Atletico host Real Madrid in an eagerly-anticipated derby match.
Atletico have had a fortnight to lick their wounds after their 6-1 Camp Nou drubbing by Barcelona, when they were 5-0 down after just 18 minutes. They hope to hit back in the best possible way with victory over their neighbours. "We will be facing a wounded animal," acknowledged Real defender Michel Salgado.
Atletico coach Javier Aguirre shouldered the blame for the Barca humiliation, but fullback Antonio Lopez urged his team-mates to stop playing like schoolboys. "We were asleep at the start. Our heads were down and there was no talking on the pitch. We played like schoolboys," explained Lopez.
A reaction is expected against Real as Atletico, who have slipped to seventh after a strong start, aim to show they are ready for Liverpool and give their fans something to cheer by toppling rivals Real. "
After their worst league start for 35 years, Barcelona have recovered well to climb to fourth, level on points with Real, and travel to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday in high spirits after the Atletico mauling. "Atletico are a Champions League side that are playing well, and the result shows we are very serious title contenders this season," explained Barca defender Gerard Pique.
The goals have been flowing for Pep Guardiola's side, and they are the league's joint top-scorers along with Real, with both sides averaging an impressive three goals a game.
It is unusual not to see Barca or Real, who were top for most of last season, at the summit: instead, Valencia and Villarreal the early pacesetters. Both teams have collected 16 points from a possible 18, with Valencia top courtesy of their superior goal difference.
Valencia host promoted Numancia on Sunday with striker David Villa, on target for Spain in their midweek 2-1 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying win over Belgium, calling for caution. "We are at the top and we want to continue winning, week in week out," said Villa. "When there are two months to go we will see who is in the title race. I hope we are one of those teams still in contention."
Villarreal finished second last season, and travel to Espanyol on Saturday looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the new campaign. "Getting 16 points from 18 is an impressive statistic. Our objective is always to try and fight for the title and get closer to the big clubs," explained Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini. "Unfortunately, Real had a great campaign last season because we actually got enough points to be champions under other circumstances."
Elsewhere, bottom side Real Betis go in search of their maiden win of the season at home against Real Mallorca on Sunday. Osasuna are the only other team yet to win in the league but new manager Jose Antonio Camacho, former coach of the Spain national team, hopes to change that at Sporting Gijon on Sunday.