Barca, Atletico at home as La Liga rolls into week 27

Athletic Bilbao vs Espanyol

Estadio San Mames Barria, Bilbao

Friday, 08-03-2019 @11pm

Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol find themselves locked on 33 points heading into this Friday’s clash in La Liga. That leaves them in the middle of the table with work to do in order to ensure another season at this level but also with the European places by no means out of reach. Victory for either side would move them level with Valencia in 7th, which is likely to be enough for Europa League football next term.

Espanyol endured a long and miserable winter but they appear to be turning things around again to some extent. Rubi was starting to come under real pressure but has steadied the ship with 5 unbeaten league games heading into this one. The latest was a 3-1 victory over Valladolid last time out in which their Chinese January signing Wu Lei opened his account. A reported 25 million watched the game between two of La Liga’s least glamorous sides back in China and he has the potential to be a really good addition on and off the pitch.

Athletic won’t be signing anyone from China or indeed anywhere outside of the Basque Country anytime soon. They were beaten 2-0 at Valencia in their most recent game but had been going very well with just 2 defeats in 14 matches under Gaizka Garitano prior to that.

This isn’t a game that promises to deliver many goals and all of the last five meetings have produced under 2.5 in total. Athletic have tightened up considerably since the change in coach and head into this one following four straight home clean sheets. That sequence includes games against Sevilla and Barcelona, 2 of the 3 highest scoring teams in La Liga.

Therefore it’s going to be a real test for Espanyol to break them down. They still have some injuries to their wide players and top scorer Borja Iglesias is out here through suspension which is a major blow. They’ve only won 1 of their 16 away games this season in all competitions and that was against bottom club Huesca so they won’t travel with a great deal of confidence.

Deportivo Alavés vs Eibar

Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria Gastiez

Saturday, 09-03-2019 @3pm

This Basque derby has produced quite a few red cards in recent meetings with both sides reduced to 10 men when the clubs met earlier this term. There is plenty at stake this Saturday with Alaves targeting a win that would take them into a Champions League place. Eibar are only 6 points back though and have European aspirations of their own as they seek to further climb La Liga.

Alaves are punching above their weight in truth but every time it looks as though they are about to drop down the table, they pull a result out of the bag to maintain their top six status. The latest was a 2-1 win at Villarreal last weekend which took them on to the magic 40 point figure with 12 games to go. That would have been their principal aim this term and it’ll be interesting to see what more they can achieve.

Eibar will be keen to get there as soon as possible too but they have more than enough about them to avoid any late relegation scrap. They beat Celta Vigo last weekend by a solitary goal to nil with Sergi Enrich netting three minutes from time. It could though have been much more with the Basque minnows dominating the game.

It may surprise some to see that Eibar are the favourites here. Certainly their away record does little to justify that with just 8 points on the road this term, the worst record in the division. However their recent away showings have been much more solid. They’ve drawn 3 of their last 5 on their travels with very decent points away to the likes of Betis, Sevilla and Leganes. They were unfortunate not to win at least a couple of those games and an overall record of 2 defeats from 13 competitive outings suggests they can get a result here.

Atletico Madrid vs Leganes

Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid

Saturday, 09-03-2019 @6:15pm

The second game this Saturday in La Liga is a derby in the capital as Atletico Madrid take on Leganes. Both sides are in reasonably good form but Atleti are the clear favourites having never dropped points or even conceded a goal against Leganes in the top flight. Diego Simeone’s side need to ensure that they bag another win here to keep themselves in with a slim chance of winning the title.

They will be relying on several Barcelona slip-ups if that is to happen. However unlike their city rivals, Atletico also still have Champions League dreams and they have a huge 2nd Leg against Juventus in Turin this coming week. Leading 2-0 from the 1st Leg, Atleti have a great chance to progress but Diego Simeone may still opt to rest a few players here with that game in mind.

That may give Leganes a bit more of a sniff but they will need to pull something really special out the bag to get the job done. They weren’t at their best on Monday night but still managed to edge past Levante at home. That made it 10 points from 5 league outings and they are now just 3 points off a possible European place.

Diego Simeone doesn’t tend to rotate quite as much as some coaches on the eve of big games and he does have a fair deal of strength in depth now in any case. Therefore any alterations shouldn’t throw Atleti off their course. They’ve built up some positive momentum with 4 straight wins to nil in all competitions and are very much looking more like the Atleti of old.

They will strongly fancy they can keep another clean sheet here. They’ve done that in a huge 69% of their home league games this season. They also again have the best overall defensive record in the division and should have all the tools necessary to cope with Leganes’ direct approach.

Leganes have built their season around their home form but on their travels they haven’t convinced. 62% of their road games this term in La Liga have ended in defeat while they failed to score in over half of those games.

Barcelona vs Rayo Vallecano

Estadio Camp Nou, Barcelona

Saturday, 09-03-2019 @8:30pm

Barcelona are up against Madrid opposition for the third match running here following back-to-back Clasico wins. The Catalan giants will be revelling in the knowledge that their arch-rivals are now out of the running for silverware this season and Barca will be hungry to hammer home their superiority with another win in La Liga against Rayo Vallecano this Saturday.

Ernesto Valverde’s side won twice at the Bernabeu in the space of 72 hours to put them firmly on course for another domestic double. They do still have work to do in both competitions though with Atletico 7 points back in La Liga but in good form. Barca will also have one eye on their Champions League clash with Lyon this coming week and may consider resting players in this match.

They couldn’t really have picked a better game to have on the eve of a big European night. Rayo Vallecano have lost all of their last 5 league games and find themselves in deep relegation trouble again after a brief spell where it looked like they may pull clear of immediate trouble. They suffered a damaging 2-0 home defeat against Girona last time out but fortunately almost all the sides around them also lost and they are only 2 points shy of safety heading into this match-day.

Any kind of result here would clearly be a bonus but it’s hard to make a case for Rayo getting something from this game. They’ve lost all of their last 12 matches against Barcelona and have been on the end of some absolute batterings at Camp Nou down the years. Defensively they don’t really have enough to keep even a weakened Barca side quiet here. Rayo have conceded 1.73 goals per game on average this season, the 2nd worst record in La Liga.

Barcelona are virtually at full-strength right now and certainly their first choice eleven is all fit. That may be a source of frustration for the likes of Philippe Coutinho who has been warming the bench of late but he will be hungry to seize his chance if he gets it here. Barcelona have scored 23 more goals than the next highest scorers in La Liga this term and are averaging 3 per game at home so there is plenty of reason to think they could work up a relatively comfortable win here.

Getafe vs Huesca

Coliseum Alfonso Perez, Getafe

Saturday, 09-03-2019 @10:45pm

There is plenty riding on this Sunday’s late clash between Getafe and Huesca in La Liga. The hosts find themselves in an unlikely battle for Champions League football and they are currently in pole position with 12 games to go. Huesca meanwhile are now suddenly back in with a fighting chance of staying in La Liga, having looked doomed to relegation only a month or so back.

They are still bottom of the division but they are in considerably better form than one or two sides above them who are now within touching distance. They’ve taken 11 points from their last 6 games to double their tally for the season in a matter of weeks. They scored a dramatic 98th minute winner last time out to beat Sevilla at home although they were hanging on somewhat before they grabbed the goal.

Getafe meanwhile were impressive again as they travelled to Real Betis and claimed a deserved 2-1 win. A victory over one of their likely rivals for a European place was just what they needed and they now look very genuine contenders for that 4th Champions League place. They have solid foundations but have increasingly started to score more goals and they’ve developed into a very useful all-round side.

That increased goal threat suggests they could have a bit too much firepower for Huesca here. Getafe have scored twice or more in each of their last four outings in La Liga and in Jorge Molina and Jaime Mata, they have one of the most deadly strike duos in the division right now.

Molina is in double figures for the season, an impressive feat for a player who turns 37 next month. However it is Mata who is really in form with goals in each of his last four matches. He has really built on a stunning season in the Segunda Division last term in which he netted 35 goals for Valladolid. Backing Jaime Mata to score anytime could be worth a punt here.

Huesca’s defensive record, particularly away from home, is another reason to fancy Getafe will bag at least a couple. They’ve conceded 1.92 goals per game on their travels this season in La Liga while only two sides have picked up fewer points than them away so despite recent improvements, there are still vulnerabilities there that Getafe should be able to exploit.

Celta Vigo vs Real Betis

Abanca Balaidos, Vigo

Sunday, 10-03-2019 @2pm

Celta Vigo will welcome in their third coach of the season here as Fran Escriba takes over what has descended into a relegation battle. His first opponents are an out of form Real Betis side who have had a poor few weeks in which they’ve exited two cup competitions and struggled for results in La Liga. Therefore this Sunday’s game is a big one for both sides as they look to get their seasons going again.

The inevitable happened this week as Celta opted to sack Miguel Cardoso after just 14 league games. The former Nantes boss never really looked like a good fit and while he was said to retain popularity in the dressing room, a dreadful run of 8 defeats from 10 matches sealed his fate. His replacement is former Villarreal boss Fran Escriba, who hasn’t been employed since leaving the Yellow Submarine in 2017.

Betis boss Quique Setien is also under pressure. Some fans were calling for him to go during their 2-1 defeat to Getafe last weekend. On the surface it’s a little harsh with Betis 8th in La Liga and having had two decent cup runs. Setien is actually the man many Barcelona fans would like to see at Camp Nou due to his passing style but many Betis supporters are fed up with the possession-based approach and have also been frustrated by some of the comments Setien has made to the press.

Both sides clearly have issues but overall Betis have more quality and Escriba has a big job on his hands. Celta’s main issue since the turn of the year has been the injury problems of Iago Aspas. He is of huge importance to the team, not just in that he is their main goal threat and it’s a big reason why they’ve won just 1 of their last 11 in La Liga. Aspas is fighting to get back but isn’t expected to feature here and if he does, he’s unlikely to be 100%.

One of Betis’ problems has been the huge workload with 16 fixtures in January and February alone, more than any other Spanish side apart from Valencia. Their Europa League defeat to Rennes finally ensured they would have a midweek free building to this game and that could make a difference. They did win their most recent away game against Valladolid.

Girona vs Valencia

Estadio Municipal de Montilivi, Girona

Sunday, 10-03-2019 @6:15pm

*Details to follow shortly

Levante vs Villareal

Estadio Cuidad de Valencia, Valencia

Sunday, 10-03-2019 @08:30pm

*Details to follow shortly

Sevilla vs Real Sociedad

Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, Seville

Sunday, 10-03-2019 @8:30pm

 *Details to follow shortly

Real Valladolid vs Real Madrid

Estadio Municipal Jose Zorrilla, Valladolid

Sunday, 10-03-2019 @10:45pm

Real Madrid’s season has completely fallen apart over the past fortnight and they essentially have nothing left to play for which makes this the first in a long series of games that are bordering on meaningless from their perspective. This Sunday they travel to La Liga strugglers Real Valladolid, who are owned by their former striker Ronaldo.

It’s pretty safe to say that Santi Solari won’t be in charge of Real Madrid next season after a nightmare sequence of results concluding with a deserved 4-1 defeat to Ajax in the Champions League in midweek. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess and they head into this match having lost 4 of their last 5 in all competitions, the exception being a fortunate 2-1 win at Levante in which they benefited from some dubious refereeing.

Valladolid’s form is even worse though with just 1 point from their last 5 league outings. They only managed to score once in those games and while they remain above the drop-zone, an immediate return to the Segunda Division is starting to look like a real possibility. Despite Madrid’s problems, any result would be a bonus here for Valladolid.

There are many teams in La Liga that are capable of causing this troubled Real Madrid side problems, but on the surface Valladolid aren’t one of them. They lack both creativity and a genuine finisher so it’s no surprise to see them as the lowest scorers in the division with just 0.77 goals per game and their season tally of 20 is five fewer than the next worst side. Therefore Solari’s defence should have a considerably quieter time here than they did against an impressive Ajax in midweek.

At the other end, injuries may force Real Madrid into bringing Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio into the starting eleven and that may be no bad thing as they’ve just not been clinical enough with the likes of Vinicius and Lucas Vazquez starting. Away from the pressure-cooker of the Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s form is actually pretty good. They’ve won 5 of their last 6 on the road in all competitions with the exception being a draw at Camp Nou.




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