It should be plain sailing for Madrid, Barça and Atlético this weekend while Marcelino has a derby to win the crowd and Athletic an unbeaten run to maintain.
Sevilla – Levante (Saturday 13:00) Prediction: home win
Even with the Copa return against Barcelona in mind, Pablo Machín’s side should be too much for Levante to handle in the Sánchez Pizjuán. Since leaving the Bernabéu on the shoulders of his players last October, Paco López has failed to engineer an away win in five attempts and although Sevilla have lost their last two league games they haven’t been beaten on home soil since 16 September, winning six of their subsequent seven games.
Atlético – Getafe (Saturday 16:15) Prediction: home win
Diego Simeone’s side have lost only one league game this season, despite all their best efforts to do so on several other occasions. Seven 1-1 draws is not Atlético’s style, and neither is it title-winning form, those 1-0 victories that generally keep Simeone’s ship afloat having hit the buffers in 2018-19 not least because the Argentinean can rarely send out a full-strength side. That will be the case against high-flying Geta, who have only lost once on the road but enjoy a draw outside the Colisuem as much as Atlético do in the Metropolitano. It will be a tight one, but Atlético should be considered favourites to sneak it.
Leganés – Eibar (Saturday 18:30) Prediction: draw
Leganés’ home form is what’s keeping them out of the relegation mire with 16 points picked up in Butarque and just seven goals conceded. Eibar finally snapped a six-game winless streak since beating Real Madrid 3-0 at home by doing Espanyol by the same score line, but the Gunners’ away form has been woeful this season, a single win by a single goal at Girona pretty much the only highlight. Barring a miracle, they won’t be taking three points from the Cucumber Growers on their own patch, but scraping a draw isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
Valencia – Villarreal (Saturday 20:45) Prediction: home win
Are Valencia back? Marcelino will certainly hope so, even if talk of the chop emanating from Singapore has ebbed away somewhat after four points from Los Che’s last two Liga outings. In all reality, Valencia’s best chance of getting anything out of a disappointing season is the Copa del Rey, where a 1-0 deficit against Getafe at home next Tuesday looks recoverable, and Marcelino may ring the changes here. Villarreal have had the better of the regional derby over the past few seasons, but what better way for the Mestalla boss to win the crowd back than turning over the Submarine, who are 19th for good reason.
Valladolid – Celta (Sunday 12:00) Prediction: draw
Both Valladolid and Celta have slipped down the table in recent weeks and it’s 16th versus 17th in the José Zorrilla. New Celta boss Miguel Cardoso has hardly improved the Galicians’ fortunes with four defeats on the trot and he’ll be without Iago Aspas again after the Spain striker’s calf problem flared up again. Valladolid have also been up against it with three defeats and two draws in their last five, making that four-game winning streak and a place in the European spots earlier in the season seem an awfully long time ago. The air in Valladolid is ripe with eau d’0-0.
Girona – Barcelona (Sunday 16:15) Prediction: away win
Barça won’t admit to throwing the Copa del Rey tie against Sevilla – and Ernesto Valverde might have expected more from a second-string side littered with internationals in the opening leg – but the league and Europe are the priority and Leo Messi and co will be back in Montilivi to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises. Cristhian Stuani may be particularly up for this one after Barça balked at his 15-million-euro release clause and plumped for the Prince instead and fans of both teams to score may want to tickle the big Uruguayan to do the business. But Barça have a five-point Liga lead and the chances of them allowing dropped points twice against Girona in the same season are pretty slim.
Real Socieded – Huesca (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: home win
Huesca stand on the cusp of history, but it’s not a record they’ll want. If they concede at Anoeta, Francisco’s side will match the negative mark set by Atlético Tetuán in 1951-52 of failing to keep a clean sheet in 21 consecutive Primera fixtures. Huesca are conceding at rate of just under two goals a game and have been rock-bottom for 15 weeks. New Sociedad coach Imanol has revitalized the Basques with two wins and a draw since taking over, and crucially his side haven’t failed to score less than two in a match during that time.
Athletic – Betis (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: home win
Another club enjoying new manager bounce are Athletic: Gaizka Garitano is unbeaten in his six games in charge and masterminded a 2-0 victory over Sevilla in his last home fixture. Before the promotion of the B team boss, the Lions had gone 13 games without tasting victory under Eduardo Berizzo but Garitano has been quietly getting the best out of the likes of Iñaki Williams, who ended his bizarre San Mamés drought two weeks ago, Iker Muniain et al. Betis meanwhile have been up and down on the road, equally capable of beating Barça 4-3 at Camp Nou a few weeks ago and handing Huesca their second win of the campaign last time out.
Espanyol – Real Madrid (Sunday 20:45) Prediction: away win
Santiago Solari has guided Madrid up to third and done what even Zinedine Zidane could not by overcoming Leganés in the Copa to put a smile back on the face of Madridismo. Consecutive wins over both halves of the Seville divide has temporarily banished the memories of Eibar and Real Sociedad and a trip to the RCDE at the moment is hardly a daunting prospect. After a promising start that at one stage had the Parakeets in second, Rubi has seen his side’s wings clipped and a run of eight defeats in their last nine isn’t the best prep for the visit of a side Espanyol have beaten once in the last 11 years, even if that was last season. A repeat on Sunday should not be the subject of a mortgage job.
Alavés – Rayo (Monday 21:00) Prediction: draw
Rayo Vallecano are unbeaten in their last four games and were 2-0 up against Real Sociedad before the Basques stormed back to draw the game in Vallecas last weekend. Alavés have lost their main creative threat in Ibai Goméz after he returned to Athletic Club during the January transfer market and lost to Getafe 4-0 in the first game after that move. They have replaced him with Takeshi Inui, who struggled to stake a claim for a place at Betis, but played his best football in the north of Spain when he moved to Eibar. Míchel has switched to a back five recently, which has made Rayo more solid at the back and gives them a chance to attack down the wings with more numbers. Kakuta and Alegria didn't train on Friday as the pair are close to exits but Rayo have a full squad aside from those injuries. Meanwhile, Alavés have John Guidetti back in training and will be looking for a win to get themselves back on track but Rayo's new found stability and confidence should see them hold on for a point.