La Liga Preview Matchday 16: Golden opportunity for Barca to extend their advantage

La Liga

Barcelona have a golden opportunity to extend their advantage over defending La Liga champions Real Madrid this weekend, as Los Blancos are in Abu Dhabi to contend tomorrow’s Club World Cup final against Brazilian outlet Gremio.

That means the Catalan side could find themselves a whopping 21 points ahead of their arch-rivals heading into next weekend’s El Clasico. With Real Madrid also drawn with Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, could we be starting to see the end of Zinedine Zidane?

Elsewhere in La Liga, the battle to avoid relegation and the fight for European football continues to be very finely poised. This is the penultimate matchday of the calendar year for Spanish football, until the mid-season break that follows.

Sevilla v Levante (Friday, 20:00 GMT)

Friday night’s action sees Sevilla handed the opportunity to pull level on points with Real Madrid, rising into the La Liga top-four and setting up a very interesting battle for Champions League football- particularly with El Clasico next weekend.

Levante, though, have plenty to fight for. They sit just four points above the La Liga drop zone and cannot afford to drop further points, having lost 2-1 to fellow strugglers Athletic Bilbao last weekend. They’ve now gone four games without a win across all competitions though and a trip to Seville could extend that record.

Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad (Saturday, 15:15 GMT)

Not for a long time has the Basque derby had so much riding on it, even in the years where Athletic and Real Sociedad were going toe-to-toe with European football on the line. Indeed, this weekend’s clash is particularly significant to Athletic Bilbao- who secured a vital win against Levante last weekend.

Real Sociedad, sat in mid-table, are just two points above their rivals ahead of the crunch tie at the San Mames. Last weekend’s win has given Athletic a five-point cushion over the top and a win over their arch-rivals could bring an end to the relegation concerns.

Eibar v Valencia (Saturday, 17:30 GMT)

Still Barcelona’s closest competitors at the top of La Liga, Valencia now have to contend with a resurgent Atletico Madrid below them- a side that, crucially, don’t have Champions League distractions in the New Year. As such, Valencia’s sternest battle could come from the Madrid side below them- especially as they’re just three points ahead of Real Madrid.

That advantage, of course, could extend to six points this weekend with Real Madrid in the Middle East and Valencia will be favourites to get a result against Eibar, despite being away from home. Eibar have been inconsistent this weekend but a defeat could suck them into the relegation zone, setting up their battle for the remainder of the campaign.

Atletico Madrid v Alaves (Saturday, 19:45 GMT)

Advantage Atletico, it seems, with Diego Simone’s side starting to pick up steam. As they close the gap on Valencia ahead of them, and Real Madrid beneath them, a home clash with Alaves is the perfect opportunity to make a statement of intent.

Alaves sit inside La Liga’s relegation zone, three points from safety, but have enjoyed a huge upturn in form in recent weeks, securing back-to-back wins against Las Palmas and Girona. That gives them confidence ahead of their trip to the capital but it’s likely to be a stretch too far for the minnows.

Girona v Getafe (Sunday, 11:00 GMT)

Sunday’s early clash sees mid-table Girona and Getafe go toe-to-toe, with the hosts starring in their debut La Liga season and Getafe remaining in the hunt for European football. Girona too could achieve that finish but it seems unlikely.

The two-sides are level on points heading into this weekend’s match-up and both have a comfortable advantage over the relegation zone, although there is still a long way to go this season. That could be more of a concern to Girona and three points for the hosts here would give them a significant boost.

Celta Vigo v Villarreal (Sunday, 15:15 GMT)

Villarreal face perhaps one of the biggest challenges in the second-half of the season as they’re seven points behind Real Madrid ahead of them, though that advantage can of course been reduced to just four points this weekend. Still, their challenge will be remaining ahead of the chasing pack in the attempts to secure Europa League football.

Celta Vigo are one of those sides that the Yellow Submarines are looking to stay ahead of. Victory for the hosts this weekend would see them pull level on points with Villarreal, with one game left of 2017, and could lead to a very interesting battle near the top of the table during 2018.

Las Palmas v Espanyol (Sunday, 17:30 GMT)

The side from the Canary Islands are in real trouble, now five points adrift at the bottom of the table. With Deportivo, the side fourth bottom, facing a trip to the Nou Camp on Sunday evening, a win here would hand a huge boost to their survival hopes.

Their opponents, Espanyol, also have safety in their sights. They’re just two-points above the relegation zone and a defeat to Las Palmas, who sit rock-bottom, could put the Catalan side in real trouble. Back-to-back defeats have already raised problems for Espanyol and a third consecutive loss would certainly throw a spanner in the works.

Barcelona v Deportivo (Sunday, 19:45 GMT)

21 points, that’s the advantage Barcelona could secure over defending champions, and arch-rivals, Real Madrid this weekend with Los Blancos not playing. With El Clasico next weekend, the difference at Christmas could be a whopping 24 points- which would surely put Zidane’s side out of the title race.

Deportivo should be swept aside with relative ease but have their own battle to fight for, as they sit in trouble near the foot of the table. Three points against Leganes last weekend was a huge boost for Deportivo, giving them a three-point cushion, but that could be wiped away on Sunday.

Malaga v Real Betis (Monday, 20:00 GMT)

With Deportivo facing Barcelona, Malaga have a huge chance to give themselves a monumental boost in their fight to avoid relegation. As it stands, Malaga are four points adrift of the side sat fourth-bottom but that deficit could be just a single point by the end of this matchday.

Betis, their opponents, have not won any of their last seven games across all competitions and are certainly beatable. Malaga, with home advantage, will certainly fancy their chances and, like the races elsewhere, it could lead to a very interesting fight at the bottom of the table during the second-half of the season