Barcelona and Real Madrid may only have eyes for each other this weekend as Betis, Rayo and Celta look to get something positive on the road.
Espanyol – Huesca (Friday 21:00) Prediction: draw
The Parakeets have turned a bit of a corner after going three games unbeaten after a run of nine defeats in 10, easing pressure on Rubi a little and giving his side with six points separating them from the drop zone. It’s all a far cry from the heady heights of second though and with Espanyol having little left to play for this season Huesca’s need is the greater in the RCDE and the Aragonese should recover from last week’s narrow defeat at Athletic to nick a point as they look to add to their seven-point haul from their last four games.
Getafe – Rayo (Saturday 13:00) Prediction: home win
Rayo’s great escape has hit the buffers in recent games, the Madrid minnows suffering three straight defeats after a run of four wins and a draw. That those 13 points only allowed Rayo one week outside the bottom three shows the mountain Míchel has to climb and away at Getafe, who have won five of their last seven at the Coliseum – Barça and Valencia being the exceptions – isn’t the best place to look for a new foothold.
Sevilla – Barcelona (Saturday 16:15) Prediction: home win
Barcelona are in a bit of a delicate moment in the season: four draws in their last five games, and a very unconvincing 1-0 victory over Valladolid, has opened up the old debate about rotation and Messi-dependency and with Luis Suárez a little off-form, Philippe Coutinho under the spotlight and Arthur out of action, Ernesto Valverde has some magic to spring over the next few fixtures. Two Clásicos and a tough Champions League return against Lyon will be his priority with a decent cushion in LaLiga over Saturday’s opponents making the two trips to the Bernabéu more season-defining. For Sevilla, this is a free hit. Qualified for the last 16 in Europe – and handed a tidy draw – Pablo Machín masterminded a 2-0 Copa win on home turf against the reigning champions and if he goes for broke in a 3-4-3 again as he did then, a similar result can’t be ruled out with Valverde inevitably looking beyond the weekend.
Alavés – Celta (Saturday 18:30) Prediction: home win
This does not bode well for Celta. We have a tendency to bang on about Iago Aspas but no player has been directly responsible for as many points for his side this season as the Spain international. Since he limped off against Barcelona before Christmas, Aspas has managed 24 minutes of league action. Celta have lost all but one of their last eight without their talisman and were an utter shambles at Balaídos last weekend in a 4-1 drubbing by Levante. Alavés have lost just once at home all season and Abelardo can send Celta back into the drop zone, and El Glorioso potentially fourth, by carving out another win at Mendizorrotza.
Athletic – Eibar (Saturday 20:45) Prediction: home win
The bookies have Athletic at short odds for the win in San Mamés and the Garitano affect shows no signs of slowing down. A single loss, in the crap shoot of the Basque derby, in 10 is a staggering return after the mess Eduardo Berizzo left behind and the Lions have moved from 18th up to 11th under the former B team boss. Eibar have managed seven draws in their last 10 but have leaked more than any other side in the top 10 and Athletic have tended to get the better of their neighbours in this one over the last few years. It will be close, but the bookies are probably spot on.
Leganés – Valencia (Sunday 12:00) Prediction: draw
It wasn’t so long ago that Valencia seemed to be flirting with disaster, Marcelino’s job was on the line and the white hankies were being ironed every week for a showing at Mestalla, but now Los Che are up to ninth in the division, five points off the Champions League places and through to the last 16 of the Europa League. Leganés have a terrible record against Valencia, with the draw earlier this season their first point in seven league meetings, but the Cucumber Growers have only been beaten once at home all season, in September. Marcelino’s men are back to the drawing board, with three all-squares in their last three, and on course to break the Liga record of 18 set by Depor in 2015-16.
Atlético – Villarreal (Sunday 16:15) Prediction: home win
As expected, Villarreal have improved no end under the returning Javi Calleja, knocking Sporting Lisbon out of the Europa League and knocking three past Sevilla last weekend to continue their unbeaten run under the coach in his second stint this season. Can they upset the odds against Atlético in the Metropolitano though? If Juventus couldn’t make a dent in Diego Simeone’s brick wall, which has conceded just seven in the league this season at home, then probably not. Only Real Madrid have walked away with three points this and Athletic are the only side outside the current top 10 to have even scored in Atleti’s fortress.
Valladolid – Betis (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: home win
Chants of “Quique out!” rang around the Villamarín as Betis were dumped out of Europe by Rennes on Thursday, the side 11th in Ligue 1 beating Setién’s side 6-4 on aggregate. That has been the story of Betis’ season: when they are brimming with confidence they have been capable of beating Barça, Sevilla and Atlético, but when their heads drop so does their goal difference. Betis have conceded two or more 10 times in LaLiga and Valladolid, despite a wretched recent record, can take advantage on Sunday.
Levante – Real Madrid (Sunday 20:45) Prediction: draw
Levante’s 4-1 win last weekend coincided with Real’s 2-1 defeat at home to Girona, the same scoreline the Frogs beat the European champions by in the Bernabéu earlier in the season towards the end of Julen Lopetegui’s tenure. Santiago Solari’s side are a different prospect an had won five on the trot before then, but like Valverde, the Real boss has some serious squad management to pull off with a double Clásico and Ajax in the Champions League looming. The visitors will be without Sergio Ramos, the source of a few key goals this season, in the Ciutat de Valencia and Nacho and Casemiro are both one yellow away from missing the Barça league game. If Paco López plays on the front foot he could profit from Real’s congested fixture list and he has more or less a full squad to choose from.
Girona – Real Sociedad (Monday 21:00) Prediction: draw
Two sides on completely different trajectories meet in Montilivi, with Girona having slipped to 15th from a high of sixth and Sociedad rising to seventh from the same position in the space of seven games under Imanol. The La Real boss remains unbeaten since taking over at Anoeta while his opposite number on Monday, Eusebio, is skating on thin ice despite beating Real last weekend to arrest a run of 10 games without a win and four straight defeats. That may just be enough to turn things around and Sociedad have drawn their last two on the road.