Real Madrid's crisis will be tested in Valladolid while Atlético will aim to keep pace with Barça at home to Leganés and Geta host Huesca dreaming of Europe.
Athletic – Espanyol (Friday 21:00) Prediction: draw
It’s a tricky one to call in San Mamés with both sides in resurgent form. The Lions have lost just twice under Gaizka Garitano in 12 games while the Parakeets are on a five-game unbeaten run that has lifted them out of the danger zone. The two sides are level on points and have 18 draws accumulated between them this season; Athletic’s injury list suggests Gaizka won’t be going too gung-ho on Friday evening and neither side are exactly banging them in so a stalemate could be on the cards.
Alavés – Eibar (Saturday 13:00) Prediction: home win
Alavés have been on a decent run since a three-game losing streak saw them drop out of the European places but four without defeat has them back in fifth and chasing the dream. At home Abelardo’s side have an almost perfect record – only Rayo have walked away with three points this season. Eibar have won only once on the road in 2018-19 and that was back in October. For correct score fans, 2-1 has a bit of a ring to it.
Atlético – Leganés (Saturday 16:15) Prediction: home win
The Cucumber Growers have not beaten Atlético since they coincided in Segunda almost two decades ago and have not scored against Diego Simeone’s side away in two attempts in Primera. Lega managed a 1-1 draw in Butarque earlier this season but Simeone’s side are a different prospect now and despite a few rotations with Juve in mind the home win here is a mortgage job against a side with eight points to their name on the road this season.
Barcelona – Rayo (Saturday 18:30) Prediction: home win
The division’s most-breached defence travel to the leaders and top scorers and there really is only one outcome in Camp Nou worth considering. Ernesto Valverde may shuffle his deck with Lyon on the horizon but there is still little for Rayo fans to cling to here after five straight defeats that has left Míchel’s position in serious doubt. He won’t go this weekend but a hammering in Catalonia won’t do his near-future prospects any good either.
Getafe – Huesca (Saturday 20:45) Prediction: home win
Getafe have lost only five games this season, and four of those were against Real Madrid, Atlético (twice) and Barça. At the Coliseum, José Bordalás’ Champions League-chasing side have won their last three, scoring nine and conceding two. Huesca have been in decent shape recently and scored the surprise of the round last week by knocking off Sevilla to make it three wins and a draw in their last five: were this one in El Alcoraz who knows, but in Getafe a 1 on the coupon is the obvious call.
Celta – Betis (Sunday 12:00) Prediction: draw
It’s come to something, it really has, when your team are eighth in the division and the fans are calling for their coach’s head. Losing a winnable Copa semi-final with the showpiece to be played at the Villamarín and then being beaten by Rennes in Europe isn’t ideal – the Ligue 1 side proved that was no fluke against Arsenal - but Betis are a point off Sevilla in sixth and only six off Getafe in fourth. It’s hardly Defcon 5 stuff. Anyway, Celta were bloody awful under Miguel Cardoso and sacked the Portuguese earlier in the week, bringing in a safe pair of hands in Fran Escribà to ensure they remain a Primera División side. A home draw will be a step in the right direction after a run of one win in 10.
Girona – Valencia (Sunday 16:15) Prediction: away win
Valencia are back. It’s now definitely official, rubber-stamped and fully cleared for re-entry. Los Che are in the Copa final, up to seventh in LaLiga and beat Krasnodar 2-1 in midweek to take a step towards the quarters of the Europa League. That result would have been better had Viktor Claessen not grabbed an away goal, but the Russian side are very beatable even away from home. As are Girona, who have gone into freefall at Montilivi since last October with five draws and two defeats. It’s been a long drop from sixth to 14th and Eusebio is under a bit of pressure despite a 2-1 win in the Bernabéu. Zero left backs and the continued absence of Anthony Lozano won’t help the home side and the momentum is very much with Marcelino’s men.
Levante – Villarreal (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: draw
The east coast derby pits two sides who have lost their last two Liga games against each other in a not-quite relegation six-pointer but one that could see Levante move 10 points clear of the visitors, or indeed the Submarine ease out of the relegation zone depending on results elsewhere. Villarreal have a Europa League match to consider but a 3-1 cushion after the first leg against Zenit means Javi Calleja won’t hold anybody back in the Ciutat de Valencia. Paco López will be aware that avoiding defeat is a must and set up accordingly, the Frogs boss generally preferring a 3-5-2 at home and giving Real Madrid an almighty scare with that formation a couple of weeks ago.
Sevilla – Real Sociedad (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: draw
La Real don’t mind a trip to the Sánchez Pizjuán, picking up four points in their last three visits, and Sevilla complicated their European adventure by allowing Slavia Prague two away goals on Thursday. That will be a distraction and the home side have picked up a measly point from their last five, allowing Getafe to sneak above them into fourth. Pablo Machín will be more about frustrating than dazzling under the circumstances and may pack the back with a 4-4-1-1 to allow the overworked Wissam Ben Yedder an afternoon off. Sociedad have been decent value under Imanol but have drawn their last three on the road, their two most recent fixtures against Valencia and Girona both ending 0-0.
Valladolid – Real Madrid (Sunday 20:45) Prediction: home win
We have been guilty of assuming that Real Madrid’s crisis will end whenever they come up against a malleable side but the European champions have lost to Sevilla, Alavés, Levante, Barça (twice), Eibar, Real Sociedad and Girona this season. With the club in full-blown self-destruct mode, Sergio Ramos suspended, Vinicius injured and the entire starting right flank of Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vázquez out, added to a general atmosphere of pathos and self-pity, we’re backing Valladolid to pull off the shock. If beating Madrid this season still counts as one.