Leaders Barcelona host Valencia in La Liga weekend’s tasty fixture

Levante vs Getafe

Estadio Ciudad de Valencia, Valencia

Saturday, 02-02-2019 @03:00pm

This Saturday’s early game in La Liga comes from Valencia, probably the last place Getafe want to be after a fiery and controversial Copa del Rey exit at the Mestalla on Wednesday night. Their opponents here are Levante, who are gunning to move back into the top half following a more difficult period in their season.

Levante have only won 2 of their last 9 coming into this in all competitions. However they’ve had a host of tough games, including a two-legged Copa del Rey tie with Barcelona and a trip to Sevilla last weekend which ended in a heavy defeat. There have been a few results like that this season but they’ve invariably bounced back quickly and did win their most recent home outing against Valladolid.

Getafe meanwhile have had an exceptional season but it has been a dreadful week for them so far. They were beaten 2-0 away to Atletico Madrid last weekend in a game they finished with 9 men. They are a team that has always pushed the line in terms of discipline and they completely lost their rag late on in the Copa del Rey in midweek. Getafe conceded two stoppage time goals to exit the competition at the Mestalla and had a further two players sent off in a bad-tempered game that ended with police on the pitch to restrain the Getafe coaching staff and players.

Mentally as well as physically it has been a draining week for them and it’s hard to see them picking themselves up in time to put in a performance here. Their chances aren’t helped by the suspension of their two first-choice centre-backs, both of whom have been key figures for a side that boasts La Liga’s joint second best defensive record. Djené Dakonam was actually sent off in both matches over the past week and without the Togolese defender.

Real Sociedad vs Athletic Bilbao

Estadio Municipal de Anoeta, San Sebastian

Saturday, 02-02-2019 @6:15pm

While other Basque clubs have joined La Liga in recent seasons, this is the big derby in these parts. While the clubs have a relatively friendly rivalry, meetings are still often feisty affairs and this Saturday’s clash should be no different as Athletic Bilbao seek revenge on Real Sociedad, having been beaten by their rivals at San Mames earlier this term.

Both sides have since sacked coaches and appointed new ones and overall you’d have to say they have both benefited from those alterations. Athletic in particular have really improved under Gaizka Garitano. They looked in genuine relegation danger earlier in the season but victory here would see them leapfrog their opponents and move to the brink of the European places, which would represent a massive turnaround.

Sociedad meanwhile turned back to Imanol after dispensing with the services of Asier Garitano in late December. La Real are yet to lose in 6 outings since making the switch but were left frustrated as they failed to see off bottom club Huesca at home last weekend. They too will be eyeing up a European push but will be well aware that a poor run of form could yet see them slip into trouble in a congested bottom half.

Overall, it’s hard to see this being anything other than a pretty even game. Sociedad have become tough to beat under Imanol and obviously will take confidence from their unbeaten record so far in 2019. However they have drawn all of their last 3 matches and 4 of their last 5 in all competitions. Therefore it’s questionable how much progress is being made, particularly at home where they still average just a point per game in La Liga this term.

Barcelona vs Valencia

Estadio Camp Nou, Barcelona

Saturday, 02-02-2019 @8:30pm

This Saturday’s clash sees two sides who mounted dramatic cup comebacks in midweek battle. Valencia travel to Camp Nou with a renewed sense of belief after some much improved recent displays and they will fancy they can ask a few questions of Barcelona here. The Catalans though know they would move 8 points clear at the top with a win, which would pile the pressure on 2nd placed Atleti ahead of their tough game this Sunday.

Barca were 6-1 winners over Sevilla on Wednesday in the Copa del Rey to overturn a 2-0 1st Leg deficit. They named a strong side to try and turn the tie around and did just that, with Philippe Coutinho netting twice, a big boost to his confidence levels after some very poor recent displays. They are now back on track for yet another domestic double and certainly in La Liga it’s hard to see anyone stopping them.

Valencia will provide a genuine test here though. Los Che also staged a dramatic cup comeback, with Rodrigo scoring twice in Stoppage Time to complete his hat-trick and a remarkable 3-2 win over Getafe, who were 2-0 up on aggregate with an away goal in the bag heading into the Second Half. A bad-tempered match ended with 3 players sent off but Valencia now have fresh reason to believe they are very much getting back to last season’s levels.

Marcelino’s side are suddenly scoring goals again and have only failed to net in 1 of their last 13 matches. 9 of those games saw both teams score and the return to form of Rodrigo Moreno is key to their hopes. He was brilliant last term with 16 league goals but has struggled to hit those heights. However he comes into this having finally found form again with 5 goals in his last 4 games and his pace should cause problems here.

Barca are missing Sergio Busquets to suspension. That is significant, in that he’s the one player who they don’t really have a natural replacement for. Ivan Rakitic is likely to drop into the holding role but the home defence could be more vulnerable as a result and they are less likely to exert control in midfield without Busquets.

Celta Vigo vs Sevilla

Abanca Balaidos, Vigo

Saturday, 02-02-2019 @10:45pm

This Saturday’s late game in La Liga sees Sevilla head to Balaidos to take on out of form Celta Vigo. The hosts are in freefall and defeat here is highly likely to cost Miguel Cardoso his job. They can though take some comfort from the Andalusians having struggled for results on the road of late.

Sevilla’s Copa del Rey hopes ended in similar fashion to last season, with a heavy defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday. 2-0 up from the 1st Leg, they were hit for six to leave Pablo Machin’s men focusing on trying to secure a top four finish in La Liga. They also have Europa League action to come later this month but they won’t be thinking about that just yet.

Their plight is certainly more promising than that of Celta Vigo. The Galicians have suffered five straight defeats since a goalless draw with Leganes in mid-December. Many expected Cardoso to lose his job this week following defeat to Valladolid in a relegation six-pointer last weekend. The Portuguese coach is still at the helm and is less than three months into the job but with Celta in the drop-zone, he appears to be on borrowed time already.

A key factor in Celta’s demise has been the injury absence of Iago Aspas. He is not only their best attacking player and biggest goal threat but also a real leader for his hometown club. Aspas is yet to feature in 2019 and has been ruled out again here against his former club, a huge blow to Celta’s chances.

That alone is a big reason to fancy Sevilla, despite a pretty poor recent away record. Certainly if they can find a performance like they put in last weekend to dismantle Levante 5-0, the Andalusians should emerge victorious. They do have some fresh legs and genuine quality to bring in after their trip to Camp Nou, in which the likes of Tomas Vaclik, Wissam Ben Yedder and Franco Vazquez were only on the bench.

Villareal vs Espanyol

Estadio de la Ceramica, Villareal

Sunday, 03-02-2019 @2:00pm

This Sunday’s game in La Liga marks the return of Javi Calleja to once again take charge of Villarreal, a club that hasn’t won a league game since he was dismissed in December. They’ve still managed to pick up more points than Espanyol over that period so this game is suddenly a huge one for two sides who weren’t expecting a relegation battle this term.

Villarreal are right in the thick of one now. The decision to bring back a coach they fired just 50 days ago is bordering on ridiculous but unquestionably things hadn’t really improved under Luis Garcia, who was sacked this week without a league win. Villarreal now have just 17 games to save themselves and are 5 points off safety. This is quite simply a must win as far as they are concerned.

Espanyol are in freefall and are one of the sides that the Yellow Submarine will certainly fancy they can catch. The Barcelona club have lost 9 of their last 10 in La Liga to slip down from a top four position into the bottom half. They also exited the Copa del Rey in midweek in the worst possible circumstances given the game went to Extra Time meaning they’ve had an extra 120 minutes of football this week compared to their opponents, who they knocked out in the previous round.

Villarreal effectively sacrificed the cup and Rubi may already be regretting not doing the same with his side now slipping towards danger. Certainly the hosts should be the fresher of the two sides. You can only assume Calleja wouldn’t have been brought back unless he retained the respect of the dressing room and there should be some kind of reaction here.

The hosts certainly have more quality than they’ve shown this term but the main reason to fancy them here is the awful form of Espanyol. They’ve been abysmal in some of their recent league games and their away record all season have been poor with just 0.55 points per game on the road. Only rock bottom Huesca have an inferior record.

Real Betis vs Atletico Madrid

Estadio Benito Villamarin, Seville

Sunday, 03-02-2019 @6:15pm

This is a really big game in La Liga on Sunday as Atletico Madrid face a stern test of their title credentials away to Copa del Rey Semi-Finalists Real Betis. Diego Simeone’s side are the only team that are still close enough to Barcelona to suggest they can really take the fight to the Catalans but a lack of away wins this season has cost them and this is one of the tougher trips in the Spanish top flight at the moment.

Betis are having another good season under Quique Setien. They have though made a real point of prioritising the cup competitions with Europa League and Copa del Rey progress secured and at times they have even rested players in La Liga. It’s refreshing to see in some ways and in fairness they have managed to still do pretty well in the league and are right in the mix for European qualification again.

Atletico Madrid may end up benefiting from their early cup exit and they are in good league form with 6 wins from their last 7 in the Primera Division. Significantly they’ve looked better away too with 7 points from their last 3 road games, which included a tough trip to Sevilla. Back in the Andalusian capital, they will know there is little margin for error if they are to hold serious title hopes.

This match could see Jese line up against former Real Madrid teammate Alvaro Morata after both players made January moves. It will be intriguing to see the latter in Atletico Madrid colours as he looks to get his career back on track and the Spaniard is tipped to start with Diego Costa still sidelined through injury.

Overall the visitors do look capable of edging this. Betis had 8 games in January and 120 minutes in midweek against Espanyol in a match when they again picked close to their strongest line-up. They may have a lot of possession here but Atleti should be able to have a lot of joy on the break at times.

Betis haven’t fully convinced at home either this term, needing a late goal to see off Girona last time out in La Liga at the Benito Villamarin. Their average of 1.64 points per game at home is poor for a side with their ambitions and there is a sense that a few teams are starting to figure out how to counter their passing style.

Eibar vs Girona

Estadio Municipal de Ipurua, Eibar

Sunday, 03-02-2019 @08:30pm

This Sunday’s showdown in La Liga at Ipurua sees two sides meet who could probably be classed as mid-table but ones that don’t have an enormous cushion on the drop-zone. Girona are just 3 points above the bottom three heading into this round of fixtures so the pressure is really on them to find a few results in the league now their cup adventure is over.

They named a stronger than expected side against Real Madrid on Thursday night but to no avail as Los Blancos cruised into the last four of the Copa del Rey with a 3-1 win in Catalonia. Girona really now need to focus on their league form which hasn’t been great of late. They’ve not won any of their last 8 Primera Division outings since claiming a 3-1 victory at Espanyol back in November.

Eibar meanwhile had also been struggling for results after a fine November win against Real Madrid. Their only win since then was another 3-0 victory, in their last home game against Espanyol. This is a good chance for them to seriously put some breathing space between themselves and the relegation zone and they’d actually be knocking on the door of the European places were they to win it.

They do look well capable of that in a game that has the potential to produce goals. It will feature La Liga’s highest scoring non-Barcelona player in the shape of Cristhian Stuani. He has 10 for the season for Girona, who have scored in 70% of their road games this term. They’ve been involved in plenty of high-scoring games of late too with 8 of their last 9 in all competitions seeing both teams score and it’s 14 without a clean sheet now for Eusebio’s men.

5 of Eibar’s last 8 matches have also seen 3 or more goals scored. They will feel they should have seen the game out last weekend, having led 2-0 at Leganes but they have been struggling defensively at times and like the opposition they have just a 24% clean sheet ratio this term in the league.

Real Madrid vs Deportivo Alaves

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Sunday, 03-02-2019 @10:45pm

Real Madrid have the opportunity to make a bit of a statement here heading into a pivotal fortnight in their season which will see them travel to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, Atletico in La Liga and then Ajax in the Champions League. First though they must get past Alaves this Sunday, who have lost their way a bit in La Liga after a brilliant first half of the campaign.

Los Blancos have returned to form over the past fortnight with Karim Benzema starring in away wins at Espanyol and Girona. It’s now 4 straight wins in all competitions and they should make it 5 here to ensure they head into that huge triple-header with real momentum. Santi Solari appears now to be getting the best out of some of his star players and is boosted by the return to fitness of a number of key men.

Alaves meanwhile should have key winger Jony back here but they’ve not been able to threaten so much since selling Ibai Gomez to Athletic Bilbao. Defeats to Getafe and Rayo Vallecano precede this. The former was a thumping 4-0 loss and as they face Madrid opposition for the third weekend running you have to fear for them a little bit.

Competition will be fierce in the Real Madrid camp to seal a starting role for those upcoming games and this match should offer the likes of Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio the chance to stake their claim. They’ve all been outshone by Karim Benzema of late though. The Frenchman has bagged successive braces with brilliant all-round displays to underline his status as Real’s best player so far this season. Backing Benzema to score anytime could be worth considering here as his confidence will be sky high right now and he is currently providing the finishing touch to go with his impressive all-round game.

There was always a sense that Alaves were overachieving in the first half of the campaign and they will do well to maintain a European challenge having seen their squad weaken rather than strengthen in January. With Takashi Inui, the man signed effectively to replace Ibai Gomez, still at the Asian Cup, they will do well to create much here.

Backing Real Madrid -2.0 Asian Handicap looks very good here. Solari’s men have really picked it up a gear in recent weeks. Defensively they’ve actually been quite strong all season at home with a 70% clean sheet ratio in La Liga at the Bernabeu and with the likes of Benzema and Modric hitting form, they are offering more in the final third now.

Rayo Vallecano vs Leganes

Estadio de Vallecas, Madrid

Monday, 27-01-2010 @11:00pm

The Monday night game in La Liga is a Madrid derby and the fourth meeting of the season between Rayo Vallecano and Leganes. It’s a rivalry that has favoured Lega so far this term with the side from the South of the capital progressing in the Copa del Rey and also sealing all the points when the sides met in La Liga earlier in the campaign.

Rayo though take plenty of momentum into this game. They’ve won 4 of their last 5 in La Liga to breathe new life into their battle to beat the drop. Their home showings have been particularly impressive of late but it was a 1-0 win at Alaves last time out that finally lifted them out of the relegation zone and they would move above their opponents with victory here.

Leganes were always expecting a relegation battle this term but they’ve shown enough quality to suggest it’s one they can win. Defensively they’ve been reasonably solid again but they will be a little disappointed to have only drawn at home to Eibar last weekend although ultimately it was a case of two points gained given they trailed 2-0 at one stage in the match.

This is not only a derby but a genuine relegation six-pointer so there is the potential for a feisty game between two sides that know each other pretty well. The cup meetings featured weakened teams though so we probably shouldn’t read too much into Leganes’ 3-2 aggregate success. Right now the momentum is certainly with Rayo and they look capable of bagging the points.

Leganes are not great travellers and only bottom club Huesca have picked up fewer points than them away this season. They’ve lost their last 3 on the road in all competitions and a record of just 1 win in 26 away league games is pretty abysmal and alone a strong reason to suspect Rayo are the more likely victors here.

Only Barcelona can better Rayo Vallecano’s return of 13 points from their last 5 league matches and they’ve turned Vallecas into a bit of a fortress at last with wins in 3 of their last 4 in front of their home fans, who are amongst the best in Spain.




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