La Liga Preview Week 12: Madrid derby takes centre stage

La Liga

After an international break that actually meant something, which saw the final slots for the World Cup next summer secured, we’re back into the domestic football and, thankfully, we won’t be hijacked by international friendlies until 2018.

It’s a big few months ahead as the title races across Europe start to heat up, the European group stages comes to a close and everybody tries to battle for a spot in their respective World Cup squads. Amidst all this, there’s also the European race and the relegation battle.

Spanish football is finely tuned this season around the relegation zone and European spots, with a number of sides surprisingly underperforming and others exceeding expectation. This week, there’s a number of important matches- including one huge one.

Girona v Real Sociedad (Friday, 20:00 GMT)

Friday night’s action is an important game in the top-half of La Liga, as Girona look to leapfrog Real Sociedad in the standings and rise to seventh in the table. The newly-promoted side have excelled after winning three consecutive matches, including a historic victory over Real Madrid.

Sociedad, meanwhile, risk falling behind the European spots after falling apart in the past month or so. A stellar start to the season has come undone but a win this weekend would, at least temporarily, put the Basque side level on points with Villarreal.

Getafe v Alaves (Saturday, 12:00 GMT)

Getafe are one of a number of sides hovering around mid-table, with the results over the course of the next month set to decide the course of their season. A few wins will consolidate their position, whereas a decline in results could see them sucked into the relegation fight.

Alaves, sat third-bottom, are certainly prepared for a fight to avoid the drop. A crucial victory over Espanyol prior to the international break has given them a boost but they remain two points from safety. With Eibar playing on Monday, Alaves can put the pressure on their relegation rivals with a win that will see them rise out of the relegation spots.

Leganes v Barcelona (Saturday, 15:15 GMT)

La Liga’s surprise package this season, Leganes, find themselves just three points behind fifth heading into this weekend. However, they face the unstoppable force that is Barcelona on Saturday afternoon and it’s likely they’ll suffer a defeat, which could see them drop into the bottom-half.

Having won ten of their eleven matches so far, Barcelona look certain to win La Liga this season and they already find themselves eight points above Real Madrid. That can be extended to eleven this weekend, with Real playing later on Saturday night.

Sevilla v Celta Vigo (Saturday, 17:30 GMT)

Sevilla have struggled to find consistency so far this season, losing four games so far, but remain in the hunt for a top-four finish. Currently sat sixth, they’ll be wary of the three sides right behind them and will look for a win on Saturday to ease their concerns.

Celta Vigo, hovering in mid-table, are another side yet to find their feet. The next month or so will decide the fate of their season but they currently don’t look able to fight for European football, whilst they seem too strong to be threatened by relegation.

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

The big match of the weekend commences an important week for Atletico Madrid, who’ll look to move three points clear of their local rivals in the standings before salvaging their Champions League campaign in midweek against Roma.

Real Madrid will also be concerned of their situation, as they could enter this match eleven points behind Barcelona. Questions have begun to be asked of Zinedine Zidane’s side and he faces the first real inquest of his tenure, so defeat isn’t an option.

Malaga v Deportivo (Sunday, 11:00 GMT)

After finally getting a victory to their name, Malaga’s great escape attempt has begun and this weekend’s home clash against Deportivo, another side battling against the drop, is set to be crucial. With a win, Malaga will find themselves one-point from safety and just four behind Sunday’s opponents.

For Deportivo, they’ll aim to stop the rot after three defeats in their last four. This match kicks off a crucial period for the club, where they’ll face Athletic Bilbao, Sevilla, Leganes and Barcelona over the coming weeks- which shows just how important Sunday’s clash is.

Espanyol v Valencia (Sunday, 15:15 GMT)

Espanyol are another side who’s fate this season is yet to be decided but another mid-table finish looks likely. Lacking the consistency and quality to push for European football, the Catalan side also look too strong to be concerned by the drop.

Valencia, meanwhile, look to be back to their best. After a difficult few seasons, they’ve excelled this term and sit second in the table, four points behind Barcelona, whilst remaining undefeated. With the Madrid derby on Saturday, Valencia will know they’ll have a chance to extend their advantage over at least one of their top-four rivals.

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

After seven consecutive La Liga defeats, Las Palmas have found themselves in real danger. Sat second-bottom with just six points, Sunday’s clash against Levante is crucial for the side from the Canary Islands but they’ll find stern opposition.

Levante have done well so far, sitting in 14th and six points above the drop, but they’ll know their work is far from done. Victory in this weekend’s clash would be decisive and would provide a necessary boost after six games without a win.

Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal (Sunday, 19:45 GMT)

The loss of Ernesto Valverde has hit Athletic Bilbao incredibly hard. Struggling in both La Liga and Europe, the Basque side need to step things up significantly as they sit just a few positions above the drop. After three consecutive league defeats, storm clouds circle the San Mames.

Villarreal, meanwhile, are flying high. Sat fifth, with the chance of pulling level with a Madrid side should either lose the derby, the Yellow Submarines look to be in a good position. Five matches unbeaten has played a huge part in this and they’ll certainly fancy their chances this weekend.

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

Eibar play after their relegation rivals this weekend and the results over the coming days could have a huge course on this match. Currently fourth-bottom, two points above the drop, they could find themselves in the relegation zone come kick-off.

Real Betis, meanwhile, are doing very well. One of three sides on 17 points, they could find themselves in the European spots if things go their way this weekend. They have won just one of their last five league matches though, so they could face a stern test.