Spanish league leader Valencia is looking to continue its impressive start when it plays Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday, having won three and drawn one of its opening four games under new coach Unai Emery.
|Unai Emery has made a flying start to the season [GALLO/GETTY]
Valencia's form confounds bleak preseason predictions about the club, which is labouring under heavy debts and made Emery its fourth coach of the past year after the team's disappointing 10th-place finish last season.
With his team aiming to repeat its league titles of 2002 and 2004, Emery attributes some of its early success to the prolific scoring of striker David Villa and the emergence of midfielder Juanma Mata.
"They are players who, given that they are still improving, could make
Valencia greater and could also make football greater as it benefits from
players like them," Emery said after Villa scored twice in Valencia's 2-0
win over Malaga on Wednesday.
No. 12 Deportivo heads into the match at Valencia's Mestalla stadium having won just once and scored two goals.
With 10 points, Valencia leads Villarreal on goal difference. Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid follow with nine points, while Sevilla has eight.
Villarreal's good start has been a continuation of the form which made it last season's runner-up, the best-ever placing for the small-town club.
On Saturday, Villarreal will be confident of adding another three points when it visits the El Molinon stadium of last-place Sporting Gijon, which has already leaked 19 goals in its four defeats since returning to the top flight this season after a decade's absence.
"We have to start winning some points and we have a match at El Molinon to do so," Gijon coach Manuel Preciado said.
"I trust the people I have.
"I see them every day and I know how much they can give.
"They haven't done so yet and that's serious."
Defending champion Madrid will aim to secure its fourth straight victory when it visits Real Betis on Saturday.
Having trounced Gijon 7-1 on Wednesday, Madrid now faces another team lacking a win so far this season.
Worryingly for Betis, Madrid's demolition of Gijon was achieved without three of its top players, as striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and defenders Sergio Ramos and Gabriel Heinze were rested by coach Bernd Schuster.
Van Nistelrooy is likely to return on Saturday to share attacking duties with Raul Gonzalez, whose two goals against Gijon were his first in seven games, ending the captain's worst goal drought since the 2004-05 season.
Betis lost 3-2 at FC Barcelona on Wednesday although the team's first goals of the season provided some consolation.
|Can Henry find his form? [GALLO/GETTY]
On Saturday, Barcelona will bid for its third straight victory when it visits crosstown rival Espanyol.
In its past two matches, coach Pep Guardiola's team has grabbed nine goals, including six against luckless Gijon last Sunday.
Those goals were shared among five players, but not Thierry Henry, who was left on the bench against Betis after missing the Gijon game through illness, again raising doubts over whether his talents are suited to Barcelona's game.
"I understand the criticisms I'm receiving because I still haven't won anything with Barcelona," Henry said.
Espanyol will be aiming to bounce back from its first defeat of the season, the 2-0 loss at Sevilla on Wednesday, with a shortage of players.
Espanyol's recent signing from Liverpool, Ireland defender Steve Finnan, is among five players sidelined through injury, while four others are doubtful.
Atletico will seek to maintain its perfect record at Vicente Calderon Stadium, where it has scored eight goals in two matches, when it hosts unbeaten Sevilla on Sunday.
Atletico has been boosted by the form of Florent Sinama-Pongolle, the league's joint leading scorer with four goals together with Villa and Madrid's Rafael van der Vaart.
Sinama-Pongolle, who arrived in the offseason from Recreativo Huelva, has helped compensate for the absence of injured Diego Forlan and boosted his hopes of a call-up to the French national squad.
Other games this weekend are: Almeria vs. Recreativo; Athletic Bilbao vs.
Getafe; Malaga vs. Valladolid; Numancia vs. Osasuna; and Racing Santander vs.