Tough Las Palmas visit offers Madrid chance to take Liga lead

Real Madrid can take the reins at the top of La Liga at Las Palmas on Saturday, but the hardy hosts have proven one of the season’s surprise packages. BSS

Girona’s stunning charge to pole position has overshadowed the Canary Island club’s own impressive campaign, but Las Palmas could do their fellow overachievers a favour against Madrid.

Carlo Ancelotti’s Los Blancos are second, a point behind Girona having played one fewer match.

While the trip to Gran Canaria is an opportunity to provisionally overtake the Catalan minnows, it will likely be a difficult afternoon.

Led by former Barcelona reserve coach Francisco Garcia Pimienta, who will also be looking to help out his former club, Las Palmas are eighth and in contention to qualify for Europe next season.

The islanders are the strongest defensively in the division behind only Madrid, conceding 17 goals in 21 matches.

Goalkeeper Alvaro Valles has excelled in particular for the promoted side, who were last in La Liga in 2018 before this campaign.

The Spaniard is also protected by Garcia Pimienta’s set-up, dominating possession — no surprise given his two decades at Barcelona — to deny opponents the ball and time to create chances.

In midfield Kirian Rodriguez, who recovered from cancer treatment last season, has become the team’s key player, while former Barcelona duo Munir El Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez add technical ability in attack.

Despite the team’s strong first half of the season, Garcia Pimienta says Las Palmas cannot get carried away.

“We can’t dream,” said the coach after last weekend’s 2-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.

“We are a humble team who are sure of the style we play with.

“It’s true we have 31 points, which has a lot of merit … I hope we get to salvation (from relegation) as quickly as possible, that’s the objective.”

Only a stoppage time penalty earned Barcelona three points from their visit to Gran Canaria earlier in January and Las Palmas beat Atletico 2-1 in November.

Real Madrid almost stumbled last weekend against another promoted side, Almeria, producing a controversial comeback to win 3-2.

Los Blancos have come under fire this week for their club TV channel’s constant criticism of referees and the officiating team will be under the spotlight.

Madrid will miss leading goalscorer Jude Bellingham, suspended after receiving his fifth yellow card of the season against Almeria.

Elsewhere champions Barcelona, third, welcome Villarreal to their temporary Montjuic home at the Olympic Stadium later on Saturday.

League leaders Girona visit Celta Vigo on Sunday and may have to play catch-up as they did last weekend after both Madrid and Barca won, but Michel’s men showed no nerves as they thrashed Sevilla.

Player to watch: Borja Mayoral

The Getafe striker is enjoying the best season of his career and has netted 13 times, behind only leading scorers Jude Bellingham and Artem Dovbyk, of Real Madrid and Girona respectively. Getafe, 10th, are hoping to push on and compete for a European place and the former Real Madrid striker’s goals could prove crucial.

Key stats

22 – Girona have gained the most points from losing positions this season of any team in Europe’s top five leagues.

167 – Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos leads the league in progressive passes.

1,889 – Celta Vigo’s Unai Nunez has played the most minutes of any outfield player in La Liga.


Friday (all times GMT)

Almeria v Alaves (2000)


Real Sociedad v Rayo Vallecano (1300), Las Palmas v Real Madrid (1515), Barcelona v Villarreal (1730), Mallorca v Real Betis (2000)


Celta Vigo v Girona (1300), Cadiz v Athletic Bilbao (1515), Sevilla v Osasuna (1730), Atletico Madrid v Valencia (2000)


Getafe v Granada (2000)

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