The autumnal equinox generally marks the start of fixture cramming in Europe's leagues, and La Liga is no exception, largely due to its jealously guarded winter break. Thus, as Espanyol beat visitor Athletic Bilbao 3-2 to close match day five on Monday night, several teams were preparing to take to the field on Tuesday for week six.
Now is the time coaches start to tinker with their lineups to keep everyone as fresh as possible, none more so than Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino, who has already faced a barrage of questions since he took over at Camp Nou, mostly about the change in the club's vaunted playing style, but also about his use of personnel. On the first point, his response at a Monday press conference was concise: "When the coach [of Barcelona] isn't from Catalonia or Holland, these debates will occur." And the Argentinean was equally straightforward about the national hand-wringing over Andrés Iniesta's extended time on the bench: "No one could suggest Andrés isn't a regular starter, of course he is. But because of how intense the summer was, with so many players involved in the Confederations Cup, some players need time before they return to the ideal level of fitness."
Real visits Elche, where Alfredo di Stéfano started his coaching career
However, the rumor mill refuses to grind to a halt and Iniesta's rejection of a new contract at Camp Nou has apparently seen ears prick up across the English Channel. But even Xavi was benched in favor of Cesc Fàbregas against Ajax in the Champions League, and with a squad as rich as Barcelona's, any 11 is going to be up to scratch. Martino will rotate his team again for Tuesday's match against Real Sociedad, with Fàbregas set to be given the evening off and Sergio Busquets returning to the squad as Barcelona aims to maintain its perfect start to the season, with six wins from six and 22 goals scored.
One of the few other remaining sides in Europe still with a 100-percent record is Atlético, which hosts Osasuna on Tuesday night. The visitor chalked up its first win of the season under Javi Gracia at the weekend to lift it off the bottom of the table but Osasuna will need more than new-coach syndrome to take another three from a team that lost that many times in the Calderón during the last campaign.
In Elche's Martínez Valero Stadium on Wednesday a little piece of history will unfold as two clubs with entwined legacies meet anew in a league fixture after almost quarter of a century. Real Madrid is the visitor, and its honorary president, Alfredo di Stéfano, started his coaching career at Elche. Historically, Real has not enjoyed traveling to the Valencia coast, having won just seven times in 19 visits, with six defeats inflicted by the home team. Santiago Bernabéu, the godfather of the Madrid-based side, is said to have supported Elche as a youth.
But the passing of the years has created a chasm in competitive terms and it was Elche that provided Osasuna with its first points of the season and Fran Escribá's side is still in search of its inaugural Primera win.