Inside Spain is a weekly installment presented by Football España, providing insight into the top stories emerging from the rich and intense climates of La Liga and beyond.
Barcelona were supposed to be the club in crisis, and while nothing will help them escape their Europa League draw with Manchester United, they will arrive at the World Cup on a wave of euphoria.
Last Thursday, club legend Gerard Piqué announced that he would retire this week. A packed Nou Camp turned out to see him and a 2-0 victory over Almería, Piqué explaining that “I was born here and I will die here” – many believe that he will one day return as president.
However, he was on the bench for his last game against Osasuna, and still managed to get sent off. His foul language prompted a second red card for the Blaugrana, after Robert Lewandowski was sent off. Down a man and a goal, Barcelona somehow pulled off a comeback to beat Osasuna 2-1 with a brilliant moment from former Leeds winger Raphinha.
Those results, combined with a first La Liga loss of the season for Real Madrid, 3-2 away to Rayo Vallecano, mean Barcelona will go top of the World Cup. Suddenly, the Whites are under pressure and the commitment of Karim Benzema, who has missed four of his last five games, is in question.
Across town, things aren’t much better. Atletico Madrid fans basically had a civil war showdown at the stadium, some not showing up for the first half in protest at the players’ efforts. They were whistled by the rest when they returned, creating shocking images. Comically, it was the much-maligned Joao Felix who saved them from a 1-1 draw against Espanyol. Felix is apparently interested in joining PSG in January. Understandable, given that Atleti will go into the break sixth, after a 1-0 loss to Real Mallorca.
Espanyol hosted Villarreal on Wednesday night and Unai Emery’s replacement, former Barcelona manager Quique Setien, is rumored to be sacked. He earned his first victory in six games on Wednesday night, but already faces chants of dismissal, despite only being on the job 16 days. Setién will await his fate with nervousness next week.
All eyes in Spain will be on Luis Enrique this Friday as he announces his final squad for the World Cup. Sergio Ramos is expected to miss out, while Barcelona and Athletic Club youngsters Alejandro Balde and Nico Williams were rushed to catch the plane.
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