Real Madrid welcome Barcelona to the Bernabéu for the second time in four days. Atlético have a tough away trip at Real Sociedad and Betis are guests at 4th-placed Getafe.
Rayo – Girona (Friday 21:00) Prediction: draw
It’s amazing how perceptions change in the blink of an eye in football. After securing a top-10 finish last season under Pablo Machín and flirting with the European places for much of this campaign with Eusebio at the helm, the latter suddenly finds himself at pretty short odds for the chop. A victory over Real Madrid ain’t what it used to be and was one of only six the former Barça midfielder has rustled up this season. Two games without defeat – the most recent a 0-0 at home to his former club Real Sociedad – has steadied the ship a little but the feeling is Eusebio is only one thrashing away from the dole queue. He isn’t likely to get one against Rayo, who have lost their last four, but with Girona drawing a blank in four of their last five they’re hardly likely to dish one out either.
Espanyol – Valladolid (Saturday 13:00) Prediction: home win
This season has become a bit of a trial for both Espanyol and Valladolid, the former at one point as high as second and the latter in the European places for a couple of weeks. Now, it’s just a case of avoiding being dragged back into the relegation reckoning. The Parakeets are unbeaten in four and welcome a side who have failed to score in the same number of games, the Pucelanos picking up a single point in a 0-0 home draw against Villarreal and being hammered 4-0 away at rock-bottom Huesca during that run.
Villarreal – Alavés (Saturday 16:15) Prediction: home win
The Submarine’s last home game was a 3-0 walloping of Sevilla, no mean feat despite the form of Pablo Machín’s side on the road this season. In their previous guise, that would have probably gone the other way but the return of Javi Calleja has galvanised a squad completely lost under his predecessor, Luis García. Villarreal honcho Fernando Roig must be wondering where his side would be if they had kept the faith with the coach he sacked in December. In the meantime, the Submarine can pull their heads above water this weekend if results go their way. Alavés look ripe for the plucking having won two away games since September, both by a single goal.
Huesca – Sevilla (Saturday 18:30) Prediction: draw
Sevilla have lost four on the trot away from home, perhaps distracted by the Europa League and a route into next year’s Champions League having dropped out of the top four. Machín’s side also haven’t scored during that run, conceding eight in reply. Meanwhile Huesca have won two and drawn two of their last five. It may not yet be too little, too late with the Aragonese side just four points off Villarreal in 18th and with Sevilla back in European action next week Francisco could pull off a minor shock in El Alcoraz.
Real Madrid – Barcelona (Saturday 20:45) Prediction: away win
If only there was a recent precedent for this one… Ah yes, Barça’s 3-0 win three days ago. Apparently, Santiago Solari may be considering resting Karim Benzema for the second Clásico of the week, which will no doubt enamour the Real Madrid boss to his paymaster Florentino Pérez. What will probably have the Bernabéu president reaching for his file-o-fax will be another defeat to the eternal enemy, who are in some ominous form heading into Saturday. An away win will see Barça move 12 points clear of Los Blancos with 12 games to go. That will probably do it for Madrid’s chances of clawing their way back into the title reckoning.
Eibar – Celta (Sunday 12:00) Prediction: home win
Miguel Cardoso’s job hangs by a thread and a 0-0 draw away at Alavés last weekend won’t have steadied trigger-fingers in the Balaídos boardroom. Eleven points from a possible 39 is not “sign here” form and the Celta bigwigs must be pondering the plug with the side two points clear of the relegation zone. Eibar have been pretty solid at home, not losing at Ipurua since September, and José Luis Mendilibar’s side have stuck three past Espanyol and Girona without reply at home in recent weeks. Celta have managed five in their last six and kept just two clean sheets under their current manager.
Betis – Getafe (Sunday 16:15) Prediction: home win
Quique Setién is a man under the microscope. The Europa League defeat to Rennes showcased everything that Betis stand for this season: individual brilliance, the occasional sweeping move that ends in a stunning goal, and utter defensive ineptitude. The Betis boss is skating on thin ice and with the Europa League and a Copa del Rey final now gone, a top-four finish is probably the least the Villamarín board will accept before they rubber-stamp Setién’s P45, particularly given the location of this year’s Copa final. A home victory against the team currently occupying fourth would bring Betis level with Sunday’s visitors and go some way to dispelling concerns that a promising position on three fronts a couple of weeks ago is destined for nothing more than a damp squib top-10 finish and a managerial change in the summer that most Betis fans know will not necessarily be for the best.
Real Sociedad – Atlético (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: away win
Three of the last four against Atlético have gone Real Sociedad’s way at Anoeta but Diego Simeone knows that with one of Madrid and Barça – or both – dropping points this weekend, he has to go all-out. El Cholo has said he would like to unleash Antoine Griezmann, Álvaro Morata and Diego Costa together given the opportunity, and against a side that have conceded at just a goal a game at home it might be just that moment. Atlético have been drawing too many on the road to really pressure Barça and a win in the Basque Country will do just that, whatever the result in the Bernabéu: Barça visit the Metropolitano next month and the gap then could be fewer than the current seven points if Real Madrid do the champions’ nearest pursuers a favour.
Valencia – Athletic (Sunday 20:45) Prediction: home win
From being a manager on the brink a couple of months ago, Marcelino now has Valencia in the top 10, into the final of the Copa del Rey and playing for a place in the Europa League quarters against fairly amenable opposition in the shape of Krasnodar. The feel-good factor is back at Mestalla, injuries have dried up and although Athletic have still only lost once under Gaizka Garitano, the Lions have also scored more than once away from home in five games under the current boss. Valencia should be able to manage one more than that.
Leganés – Levante (Monday 21:00) Prediction: home win
Levante were - for want of a less litiginous word - robbed at the Ciutat de València last weekend but find themselves behind Monday’s hosts on goal difference and will be suitably incensed about VAR and all its capricious trappings when they take to the pitch at Butarque against a side who have lost just once on their own cucumber patch all season. There have been a fair number of draws in Leganés and Levante thumped Celta 4-1 on their last away day so it could be a cagey affair between two sides who are probably safe but won’t be taking too many chances against a very direct rival. No side has conceded more than the Frogs or allowed more shots though, so a 1-0 home win sounds about right.