The As Oracle dusts himself down and goes again as Barça look to extend their lead against rock-bottom Huesca, Sevilla and Betis face off in the derby and Madrid become acquainted with Monday-night football in Leganés.
Saturday (all times CET).
Espanyol – Alavés (13:00): Prediction: home win
El Glorioso’s unlikely push for Europe has hit the buffers after two defeats and a draw in their last three and away from home Abelardo’s side have fared just fine against teams at the wrong end of the table. Espanyol have been pretty solid at the RCDE but have taken one point from their last two and been held recently by Getafe and Huesca. This one could go either way but the form of Sergi Darder but might just tip the balance if the midfielder is in the same mood he was last week against Girona.
Huesca – Barcelona (16:15): Prediction: away win
Bottom vs top should be straightforward enough but Barça can afford a couple of slip-ups with their 11-point advantage after beating Atlético last week more or less sealing the title with seven games to go. Huesca are still in with a shout of survival but it’s out of their hands with six points separating the Aragonese side from Valladolid in 17th. Two draws and five goals scored in their last two show they plan on going out swinging and Barça will be missing Gerard Piqué and Luis Suárez for this one and may rest Leo Messi. The away side are clear favourites but it may be a lot closer than it looks on paper.
Atlético – Celta (18:30): Prediction: home win
Diego Simeone will have to patch up his back four yet again for the visit of Celta while Álvaro Morata is a doubt with a knock and Diego Costa will be occupying the naughty step for the remainder of the season. That does not bode well with Iago Aspas battering in five in his last three games since returning from injury to fire Celta out of the danger zone. The Spain striker has only scored once against Atlético in 12 league fixtures though and if anyone can keep him quiet it’s Simeone, who won’t be going too gung-ho with a depleted squad. Celta have scored three in each of their last three games. 1-0 to Atlético then.
Sevilla – Betis (20:45): Prediction: Prediction: draw
Betis claimed local bragging rights in the derby earlier in the season via a Joaquín-inspired 1-0 victory in the Villamarín and it will be close again in the Sánchez Pizjuán with neither side giving an inch in these encounters and the pragmatism of Joaquín Caparrós ensuring the home side won’t be doing anything silly to gift the visitors anything. Sevilla are a point off the Champions League and Betis one win away from the Europa League places so both sides have plenty to play for. The last derby at the Pizjuán finished 5-3 to Betis: under-fire Quique Setién would certainly take that but he may have to settle for a draw against a side who have conceded just once in four since the eternal caretaker stepped back in.
Valladolid – Getafe (12:00): Prediction: home win
If Valladolid go down it will be on the basis of some occasionally shoddy defending and an odd reluctance to have a pop when the chance arises. VAR spared Valladolid at home last weekend before a collective switch-off with five minutes to go opened the door for Roque Mesa to ensure a sixth defeat in eight. Earlier in the game, the home side were all over Sevilla but seemed intent on walking the ball in to the net rather than swinging a boot, probably causing majority shareholder Ronaldo to call for his in the stands. No side has scored fewer goals than Valladolid’s 24 – even rock-bottom Huesca have 11 more – but with Celta pulling away and Villarreal and Rayo hard on their heels Sergio’s side have to pull off a win somewhere and “Euro-Geta” have often hitched a lift with lady luck on the road this season.
Athletic – Rayo (14:00): Prediction: home win
Paco Jémez once touted himself for the Spain job but his last gig before returning to the scene of his greatest achievements was failing to keep Las Palmas up in 2017-18. Beating Valencia last weekend was a huge step towards saving Rayo, who are now a win away from the 30 points Villarreal and Valladolid sit on. It’s difficult to see that victory coming in San Mamés however, where the Lions remain undefeated in nine games under Gaizka Garitano. During that run, Athletic have failed to score just once but in the same game prevented Barcelona from doing so for the one and only time in LaLiga this season.
Real Sociedad – Eibar (16:15): Prediction: home win
The absence of Willian José would normally stay the hand hovering over 1 on the coupon but Eibar’s away record is on a par with Rayo and Huesca and would have the Gunners in the bottom three of that particular table. José Luis Mendilibar’s side gave Real Madrid an almighty game in the Bernabéu last weekend but it’s not difficult to get the blood pumping for fixtures like that. An away day at nearby Anoeta in the Basque drizzle inevitably leads to thoughts of flip-flops and La Real’s outside chance of a European berth should settle matters in the Gipuzcoa derby.
Girona – Villarreal (18:30): Prediction: home win
Betting on Girona at home is a little like backing the turkeys at Christmas: Eusebio’s side have managed just two wins at Montilivi this season but the return of Patrick Roberts lends them an edge and in Cristhian Stuani they possess the most decisive striker in Europe – the Uruguayan has had a hand in over 50 percent of his team’s goals in 2018-19. With both fit and firing, and without the bad luck combination of the post and keeper Bono’s back that denied them a point against Espanyol, Girona may finally give their fans something to cheer against a Villarreal side who will be smarting from their home European defeat against Valencia and hardly have a formidable away record.
Valencia – Levante (20:45): Prediction: home win
The Valencia steamroller had its tires slashed in Vallecas rather unexpectedly last weekend, bringing an unbeaten run of 16 games to a halt, but those two late goals against Villarreal in the Europa League were further proof that Marcelino’s side are in rude health. A European semi-final beckons and the domestic route to the Champions League remains very much open for Los Che, who will look to keep their momentum going in the derby against a Levante side who have won once away from home since November.
Leganés – Real Madrid (21:00): Prediction: away win
The symbolism of Real’s first-ever Monday night game – reserved for those sides not in Europe – will be not be lost an anyone, least of all whichever Atlético-supporting Liga pen-pusher smilingly decided this week’s fixtures. It won’t have taken Zinedine Zidane long to realise just what a mess he has walked back into and without Karim Benzema to bail them out over the last few games it could have been considerably worse. Too many of Zidane’s players have clearly stopped giving the merest hint of a toss and if Leganés go into this one in a Copa del Rey frame of mind who knows? The Cucumber Growers have beaten Real twice in that competition but have a record of 0-5 in the league. The obvious money is on the away win but if the usual suspects can’t be bothered by a Monday evening in the burbs a not-that-surprising-surprise can’t be ruled out.