La Liga preview: Tricky fixtures for the four title challengers
Published on: April 24, 2021 11:55 (EAT)
Following an intense and exhilarating midweek round of LaLiga Santander action, the next chapter of the 2020/21 season is coming up straight away this weekend. It really is a four-team title race, with very few points separating Atlético de Madrid, Real Madrid, Sevilla FC and FC Barcelona, with the latter also having a game in hand, yet this weekend throws up very tricky fixtures for all four of the challengers. There’s also so much to play for down at the bottom of the table in the relegation battle and second-bottom Elche CF host the first match of the weekend as Levante UD make the short trip across the Valencian Community to the Manuel Martínez Valero for the 2pm CEST kick off on Saturday. The next two fixtures could also be key to the relegation fight as two sides hovering just above the drop zone take on mid-table opposition. First, Real Valladolid host Cádiz CF in search of points that will provide a little more breathing space. Then, D. Alavés visit Valencia CF full of confidence having picked up seven points from a possible nine since Javi Calleja took over as coach earlier this month. On Saturday night, at 9pm CEST, the first of the title challengers will take to the field as Real Madrid play Real Betis at Valdebebas. It was a thrilling 3-2 win for Los Blancos in the reverse fixture Seville earlier in the season and the matchups between these teams have produced a lot of entertainment in recent years. Over their past seven meetings, it’s three wins each and one draw so this is not a match the defending champions will be relishing, especially since former Real Madrid coach Manuel Pellegrini has his current Verdiblancos side competing so well. Neither of these teams have lost in their past five LaLiga Santander matches, so it could be tantalisingly tight. On Sunday, there is plenty more LaLiga Santander action and it gets going with SD Huesca vs Getafe CF. This is another huge relegation battle as this is a six-pointer between one team currently inside the bottom three and another hovering just above the relegation spots. At 4.15pm CEST, it’s Villarreal CF vs FC Barcelona. This is a match between the league’s fourth-top scorers and the top scorers, while two of the Pichichi award contenders will be doing battle too as Gerard Moreno and Lionel Messi lead their teams’ equally dynamic front lines. Barça haven’t lost to the Yellow Submarine since 2008, but there have been some incredible draws since then, such as a dramatic 4-4 two seasons ago. The Catalans can’t afford anything less than three points at this stage of the season. At 6.30pm CEST, there are two games at the same time and one of them includes title challengers Sevilla FC. They have just won four matches in a row, the last three of them all away, but they return home to welcome Granada CF to the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán for an Andalusian derby. Sevilla will hope it’s home sweet home as they come back from their travels, but they know it won’t be easy against a team who defeated them 1-0 when they met earlier in the season. At the same time, RC Celta host an in-form CA Osasuna side that have won three in a row and that haven’t lost any of their past six. Confidence is high at the Pamplona club at the moment and they’ll be looking to keep that up, aiming to build on last season’s 10th-placed finish. On Sunday night, with a 9pm CEST kick off, it’s a sibling rivalry as Athletic Club welcome league leaders Atlético de Madrid to Bilbao. These two teams used to be sister clubs, hence their similar names, but that won’t matter when the ball gets rolling as Athletic Club look to finish a turbulent season well and as Atleti keep their eyes on the prize, hoping to stay at the top of the standings. There’s a Basque derby on Monday night to conclude Matchday 32, with Real Sociedad making the short trip to Gipuzkoan neighbours SD Eibar. La Real won at Ipurua last season, in what was the first LaLiga Santander match played behind closed doors because of the pandemic, but before that SD Eibar had won four and drawn one of their other five top-flight home fixtures against Real Sociedad. They need another derby victory now more than ever.