Sergio Ramos faces Real Madrid for first time since Sevilla return, Barcelona hosts Bilbao
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Sergio Ramos, a long-time defensive pillar for Real Madrid, will face his former club on Saturday when the Spanish league leader visits struggling Sevilla.
Ramos left Madrid in 2021 after helping the club win 22 titles in 16 seasons, including four Champions Leagues and five Spanish leagues. Following two disappointing seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, the 37-year-old Ramos re-joined boyhood club Sevilla last month for what is expected to be his last hurrah.
Madrid is playing the best football in Spain, largely thanks to the explosion of new arrival Jude Bellingham.
The game will also mark the debut of Sevilla’s new coach, the Uruguayan Diego Alonso, who replaced José Mendilibar during the international break that has just ended.
Mendilibar led Sevilla to the Europa League title last season but was let go with his team in 14th place and just two points off the relegation zone.
Ramos returned to Sevilla with the season already underway and Mendilibar left him on the bench for two of the four league games he was available for.
Madrid leads the surprising second-placed Girona by two points, with Barcelona three points off the pace in third spot.
Bellingham has been on a superb scoring run since joining Madrid in the off-season. The England midfielder has netted 10 times in as many appearances overall for the club, including a league-leading eight goals.
BARCELONA UNDER SCRUTINY
Barcelona hosts fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, after a judge stepped up his scrutiny of the club by including its current president in his investigation into the payment of millions of euros (dollars) to a referee official.
The judge, investigating the payments made over several years to a vice president of Spain’s refereeing committee, widened his probe on Wednesday to include the first mandate of current president Joan Laporta between 2003-2010. Laporta returned to power in 2021.
Laporta denied any wrongdoing on Thursday while accusing the judge and state prosecutors of working against his club and in favour of Madrid.
“We can remain calm, nothing has been proven and nothing will be proven, because (the accusations) are not true,” Laporta told Catalunya Radio.
“There is an orchestrated campaign to destabilize Barça … by those in favour of Madrid in the centre of power in the capital that is very strong.”
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández may be without several key players due to injury.
Striker Robert Lewandowski, who missed Barcelona’s last game, a 2-2 draw at Granada, may still be suffering with an ankle injury. Xavi is also expected to be without starting midfielders Pedri González and Frenkie de Jong, forward Raphinha and defender Jules Koundé.
Forward Lamine Yamal and defender Alejando Balde could be back fit for Barcelona.
Bilbao will be without central defender Yeray Álvarez, who is expected to be sidelined for several months with a leg injury, while it hopes to have winger Nico Williams back.
Girona will try to keep up its impressive start to the season when it hosts last-placed Almeria on Sunday.
Atletico Madrid is in fourth place before playing Celta Vigo on Saturday. Álvaro Morata has scored seven times this season for Atletico, including five goals in the league, and four goals for Spain in recent European Championship qualifiers.