La Liga preview: Real, Atlético, Celta rest for Europe & Sporting’s last chance

La Liga

It’s a fascinating weekend of Spanish football again as the title race remains neck and neck, the race for Europa League places is just as tight and the last relegation place is looming for Sporting Gijón.

Sevilla vs Real Sociedad

This weekend’s action in Spain kicks off on Friday with Sevilla looking to go level on points with Atlético Madrid. Jorge Sampaoli’s side had previously picked up 10 points from their last 4 games before a 4-2 defeat against Málaga halted the run.

There’s welcome news for Sevilla fans as long-term absentee Michael Krohn-Dehli has been included in the squad for the home side after missing a little over a year with injury.

The visitors to the Rámon Sánchez Pizjuán struggled past Tony Adams’ Granada last week and ultimately confirmed their relegation, however, a vital 3 points keeps La Real a point behind Athletic Bilbao and 2 points behind Villarreal in 5th.

Sporting Gijón vs Las Palmas

It now appears likely that Sporting Gijón will not be pulling off a great escape for relegation despite various chances to do so. It was always going to be a tough ask for Sporting but a 3-1 away defeat to Villarreal last week means they head into Saturday 6 points from safety with just 3 games remaining.

Miraculous as it would have to be, there’s definitely goals in it for the home side with Las Palmas conceding 14 in their last 4.

A top 10 finish is out of reach for Las Palmas but a win would temporarily move them into 13th and would add to the 1-0 home win over Sporting Gijón in January.

Atlético Madrid vs Eibar

Despite the old cliché in football that you ‘take every game as it comes’, Diego Simeone will almost certainly have the Champions League second leg on his mind on Saturday despite his team suffering a 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Real and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Atlético have almost mathematically guaranteed a Champions League place for next season, so Simeone will have the license to rotate and ensure his best players are fresh for the Madrid Derby.

For Eibar, a truly brilliant effort this season resulting in a top 10 finish but anything other than a win against Atletico ends their quest for the Europa League.

Barcelona vs Villarreal

Saturday evening sees Barcelona attempt to keep the pressure on Real Madrid with a win against Villarreal. Despite Fran Escribá’s team winning 5 of their last 6 games ( a 2-1 defeat to Alaves), it’s intimidating reading for Escribá that Barcelona have 10 straight wins at the Nou Camp, scoring at least 3 in the last 7 fixtures.

Villarreal will have pressure of their own however as any slip up could result in nearby rivals taking control of the race for European football.

Lionel Messi could add to his 6 goals in his previous 5 league fixtures as the Argentinian looks to win the Pichichi award for the first time since the 2012/13 season.

Granada vs Real Madrid

Los Blancos have the chance to immediately respond to Barcelona’s result when they play Granada away from home.

Already relegated, you fear it could get ugly for Tony Adams’ side despite the likely number of changes from Zidane which would see Asensio, Morata and Isco among others come into the side.

It’s 5 defeats on the bounce for Granada who seem to capitulate when they go 1-0 down, likely to be because of the number of young and B team players brought into the side by Adams. The exception to this was against Real Sociedad where, in the second half, they showed their best spell of the former Arsenal man’s tenure.

Alaves vs Athletic Bilbao

It has been an impressive season for Alaves who now sit in 10th position, but a string of good performances suggests their minds aren’t on holiday mode quite yet as they could even finish as high as 8th.

The away side come to the Mendizorrotza Stadium in good form themselves, winning the last 4 in a row to keep their hopes of European football alive. Bilbao’s charge to catch Villarreal and stay above Real Sociedad has been fuelled by Aritz Aduriz, who has scored 7 goals in his last 8 games.

Valencia vs Osasuna

As Alaves continue to climb their way up the table, keeping relaxing attitudes well away, it appears Valencia may just have done the complete opposite with their safety ensured.

Voro’s side had gone 7 games without defeat at the Mestalla but a 2-3 defeat to Real Sociedad has ended the run, and it’s now 3 defeats in a row, and Sunday’s opponents won’t be pushovers either.

Apart from a 7-1 annihilation from Barcelona, Osasuna have picked up form since their relegation and have been playing well, winning 2 and drawing 2 of their last 6 in the process.

However, Osasuna have failed to beat Valencia in 10 attempts dating back to May 2011. The side from Pamplona have also conceded 21 goals in 9 matches since their last win against Valencia.

Deportivo vs Espanyol

It was a masterstroke to appoint Pepe Mel to ensure Deportivo did not go down in the end, but it’s difficult to see whether the club will be looking down the barrel of relegation again next season. Mel’s team have been scoring in almost every game which is a good habit when you’re down at the bottom end of the table, but have only picked up 1 win in 8 since beating Barcelona.

Sunday’s opposition come to the Estadio Riazor with 2 victories, 3 defeats and a draw in their previous fixtures.

Málaga vs Celta Vigo

Málaga are another team who have really pushed on late in the season. It has been an incredible surge from the Boquerones with 5 wins in 6, beating Valencia, Sevilla and Barcelona in the process to catapult them to just 2 points behind Celta Vigo.

Celta, who have just lost the first leg of their Europa League semi-final 0-1 to Manchester United, will again be fielding a weakened side to keep the likes of Iago Aspas, who has scored 25 goals in all competitions, fit.

Leganes vs Real Betis

In the final game of the round, Leganes can all but guarantee their league status with a win against Real Betis, who have lost 4 of their last 6 games.

Real Betis won the reverse fixture 2-0 with top scorer Rubén Castro on the scoresheet, and Betis will be hoping their veteran can conjure up more magic after netting just 3 times in the last 15 league games.