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Preview: Four things to look out for in Spain’s Matchday 18

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Madrid, Spain | THE INDEPENDENT |   A predicted snowstorm that will affect nearly all of Spain in the coming 48 hours has left several of this weekend’s matches in La Liga in doubt, but if they are able to go ahead, here are some things to look out for in the 18th round of games in La Liga.

1. No Zidane in Pamplona

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is unlikely to be on his side’s dugout for their visit to play Osasuna on Saturday night after being in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Although Zidane has returned a negative PCR test, in theory he needs to pass the second test on Sunday before he can return to the dugout.

It will be interesting to see if his absence from the touchline affects his players in a game against a side that is playing better football than their league position suggests.

Pamplona is one of the places predicted to be hit worst by the wintery weather and if the game does go ahead, conditions could also play a factor in a game that will be a test of both sides’ personalities.

2. Messi and Pedri to continue their happy relationship

Barcelona’s last two games have seen Ronald Koeman’s side produce arguably their best two league displays of the season with a 1-0 win in Huesca followed by a 3-2 victory away to Athletic Club Bilbao. The key to both of those victories was the understanding that seems to be developing between Leo Messi and 18-year-old Pedri.

Pedri arrived from Las Palmas in the summer and has quickly adapted to Barcelona, showing a confidence and vision beyond his age and he has also built an understanding with Messi.

It’s tempting to think that Messi views Pedri as a protege to protect and nurture. Their on-field relationship is clearly developing, all they have to do is now take three points from the tricky visit to Granada.

3. Will the Marcelino method bring rewards?

Although his side lost at home to Barca on Wednesday, the first 20 minutes saw Athletic Club Bilbao’s show when new coach Marcelino Garcia Toral is looking for.

Athletic had only two training sessions with the former Villarreal and Valencia boss ahead of the Barca game and they have two more before visiting league leaders Atletico Madrid this Saturday.

Atletico crashed out of the Copa del Rey to third tier opposition on Wednesday night and in his post-game press conference, coach Diego Simeone appeared to leave his future hanging in the air. However, Simeone’s side has a habit of bouncing back, so Marcelino can expect another difficult game as he begins his reign with Athletic Club.

4. Make or break for Michel and Javi Gracia

Huesca coach Michel Sanchez admitted after his side’s defeat to FC Barcelona last weekend that he feared he could lose his job. Those fears will have increased after Huesca were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by third tier Alcoyano on Thursday. If he survives that long, anything other than a win against Betis on Monday will probably see him sacked. Huesca have competed in nearly every game this season, but lack that extra bit of quality needed to survive.

Valencia coach Javi Gracia earned himself some breathing space as his side cruised past Yeclano in the Cup, but with Valencia just a point above the relegation zone, their visit to Valladolid is also vital for his future.

Valladolid’s stadium is nicknamed the ‘Pneumonia Stadium’ because of the cold temperatures there, and a defeat this weekend could see Gracia frozen out.

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XINHUA

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