Real face last-place Huesca in bat­tle of large and lit­tle

Lead­ers Barcelona visit their Cata­lan ri­vals Es­panyol to­day, while Atletico Madrid host Alaves

Gulf Times Sport - - SPORT -

Luka Mo­dric has been voted the best player on the planet and Real Madrid crowned Euro­pean cham­pi­ons three times in a row but in Huesca to­day they will meet a team from the op­po­site end of the lad­der. Madrid’s stars gath­ered in Paris on Mon­day, dressed in shiny black suits and bow-ties, to watch their mid­field ma­gi­cian col­lect the Bal­lon d’Or, ahead of Lionel Messi and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. “He is at his peak,” Real coach San­ti­ago So­lari said. “That makes it even more beau­ti­ful.”

From the Grand Palais on the Champs-El­y­sees, they head this week­end to north­ern Spain and Al­co­raz, Huesca’s re­cently-ex­panded sta­dium with a ca­pac­ity of just over 7,000, in a town of lit­tle more than 52,000 peo­ple.

There, they face La Liga’s bot­tom club, on seven points from 14 games, but Huesca’s as­cent be­gan far lower down than that. The ma­jor­ity of their 58-year his­tory has been spent be­tween the third and fourth tiers. They were lan­guish­ing in Se­gunda B as re­cently as 2015. Pro­moted to the top flight for the first time at the end of last sea­son, Huesca pre­pared by over­haul­ing their squad, but on a shoe-string bud­get, with a mix of play­ers from the lower di­vi­sions, promis­ing young­sters and old heads from abroad.

They changed coach too, twice, af­ter Rubi was poached by Es­panyol, who are now sev­enth. He was re­placed by Leo Franco, who only lasted un­til Oc­to­ber. Then in came Fran­cisco, who is yet to see a vic­tory. Some of the pro­mo­tion team re­mained, in­clud­ing top scorer Alex Gal­lar.

He joined in 2017 af­ter spells at Cul­tural Leonesa, Her­cules, Cor­nella and Mal­lorca’s B team, all four sides in the third tier. “When I came here, it was not the main ob­jec­tive to go up to the top flight but we did it,” Gal­lar said.”It was a very good de­ci­sion to come here.”

One of his three goals this term came against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Huesca scored twice there, in­clud­ing the opener, but Barca fin­ished with eight. This, though, will be Huesca´s first time host­ing ei­ther of Spain’s two grandees and a chance for the fans to pon­der on how far their team has come.

“We have seen peo­ple are be­hind us de­spite the re­sults and pushes us to turn it around,” Fran­cisco said last week. “Our home has to be a fortress.”

In the sum­mer of 2013, Real Madrid bought Gareth Bale for a world record 100mn eu­ros while Huesca signed seven play­ers, all for noth­ing. Madrid are in good form and Bale, again, has a point to prove. He came off in the sec­ond half of last week­end’s win over Va­len­cia, rub­bing his thigh, while San­ti­ago So­lari said after­wards he was “ex­hausted”.

It was Bale’s tenth La Liga game with­out scor­ing, even if that run masks some de­cent per­for­mances un­der So­lari, in­clud­ing two goals and an as­sist in the Cham­pi­ons League. “Bale is work­ing well,” So­lari said on Wed­nes­day. “He’s fine.” Real’s vic­tory over Va­len­cia, on the back of beat­ing Roma in Italy, means the 3-0 de­feat to Eibar fol­low­ing the in­ter­na­tional break seems more like a blip amid six wins from seven matches. De­spite chang­ing coach this sea­son, a score­less drought that lasted more than eight hours and be­ing thrashed by Barcelona, Madrid are only five points off the top.

That they re­main just about in touch is down to one of the most er­ror-rid­den ti­tle races in re­cent mem­ory. Last week­end, Barca, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Alaves could all have fin­ished the round in first but only two of the top six man­aged to win. Barcelona were one of them. On Satur­day, Ernesto Valverde’s side visit their Cata­lan ri­vals Es­panyol. Atletico host Alaves, who have fin­ished ev­ery week­end in the top six since round five. Sevilla are away to Va­len­cia, a side that last sea­son fin­ished fourth but now sit 14th.

(AFP)

Real Madrid, who beat Va­len­cia in the La Liga last week­end, are only five points be­hind lead­ers Barcelona.

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