Inside Spain is a weekly instalment brought to you by Football España, providing an insight into all of the major stories coming out of the rich and intense climes of La Liga and beyond.
Barcelona were supposed to be the crisis club, and while nothing will help them escape their Europa League tie with Manchester United, they will go into the World Cup on a wave of euphoria.
Last Thursday, club legend Gerard Pique announced that he would be retiring this week. A full Camp Nou turned up to see him and a 2-0 victory over Almeria, Pique explaining that “I was born here and I will die here” – many believe he will return as President some day.
However he was on the bench for his final game against Osasuna, still managing to get sent off. His foul language saw a second red card for the Blaugrana, after Robert Lewandowski was dismissed. A man and a goal down, Barcelona somehow mustered a comeback to beat Osasuna 2-1 with a moment of brilliance from former Leeds winger Raphinha.
Those results, combined with a first defeat of the La Liga season for Real Madrid – 3-2 away to Rayo Vallecano – mean Barcelona will enter the World Cup top. All of sudden Los Blancos are under pressure and the commitment of Karim Benzema is being questioned, having missed four of their last five matches.
Across the city, things aren’t much better. Atletico Madrid fans basically had a civil war face-off in the stadium – some not turning up for the first half in protest at the effort of the players. They were whistled by the rest when they returned, making for impactful images. Comically, it was the much maligned Joao Felix that saved them a 1-1 draw against Espanyol. Felix is apparently keen on joining PSG in January. Understandable, given Atleti will go into the break in sixth, after a 1-0 defeat to Real Mallorca.
Espanyol hosted Villarreal on Wednesday night and the rumour is that Unai Emery’s replacement, former Barcelona manager Quique Setien, will be given the boot. He picked his first win in six games on Wednesday night, but already is facing sack chants, despite having been in the job just 16 days. Setien will await his fate nervously 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 have made a late dash for the plane.