IT’S A CRUCIAL weekend in LA Liga as Atletico Madrid face a test of their title credentials and Barcelona and Real Madrid play catch-up.
Diego Simeone’s side travel to take on Valencia on Sunday with both sides appearing in Europe in midweek.
Valencia are smarting after their 2-0 Europa League semi-final defeat to Seville on Thursday evening whilst Atletico were unlucky to only claim a 0-0 draw in the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final with Chelsea after dominating possession and goal-scoring opportunities.
Los Rojiblancos are four points clear of Barca and six ahead of Real, who have a game in hand, and will go into their game on Sunday knowing how their title rivals have done.
Whether or not this will play into their hands remains to be seen, but Simeone will ensure his players don’t lose any concentration in their hunt for title glory.
“We try to maintain the same concentration and the same eagerness away from home that we do at home” said midfielder Jose Sosa, in the pre-match media conference.
Los Blancos face mid-table Osasuna at the Bernabeu on Saturday evening, and go into the match on the back of a 1-0 win against Bayern Munich in the Champions League Semi-Final on Wednesday.
Indeed Carlo Ancelotti’s men haven’t played a league match in a fortnight, however in that time they defeated Barca in the Copa Del Rey final, to win the first piece of silverware on offer this season, before they defeated the German champions to gain the slender advantage heading into next week’s second-leg.
The Italian has praised his side after their latest two victories: “In terms of teamwork, our last two have been our best two games of the season. This team plays with a lot of enthusiasm. Sometimes we’re better, sometimes we’re worse but we’re always enthusiastic. The environment is really positive.”
At the start of the season Barcelona were favourites to land the title however they are in danger of being cut adrift from the two Madrid sides. Despite a 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao last weekend, the Catalans are playing catch-up.
They face a tricky away trip to Villarreal this weekend, who are chasing a Europa League spot, and defender Marc Bartra accepts his side are now hoping for favours elsewhere: “We know we have to play the remaining four games like finals and the best thing we can do it to be totally committed, so that we are there if Atletico or Real slip up. We have to keep up the pressure and we still hope to win this league.”
At the other end of the table Real Betis could be relegated this weekend. They will definitely be down if they fail to beat Real Sociedad, who are sitting 6th. Even if Betis do beat the Europa League hopefuls, they could still go down if other results go against them.
One of the biggest matches this season see Athletic Bilbao face Sevilla in the battle for the Champions League spot with fourth taking on fifth at San Mames with the hosts three points ahead in the table.
A few weeks ago it looked like Los Leones had fourth place wrapped up however Sevilla come into the game in stunning form. In their last ten matches they have lost just once, winning nine.
And they have also advanced to the Semi-Finals of the Europa League. This could be one of the matches of the season and a home win will almost certainly distinguish any hopes that Unai Emery’s side had of reaching Europe’s premier competition for next season.
Bilbao defender Mikel San Jose isn’t going to settle for a point though: “We don’t know how to play for a draw. We are going all out to win. If we draw, that’s not so bad, but we are only thinking about the win”.
Getafe go into the weekend needing a victory as they take on Malaga at home. Cosmin Contra’s side remain in the relegation zone after last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Levante.
Granada face Rayo Vallecano at Los Carmenes as both teams look to end their seasons on a high. The home side aren’t mathematically safe so will be looking to claim all three points to confirm their stay for next season.
Elsewhere two sides battling with relegation face tough away trips as they look to survive. Almeria are up first on Sunday when they go to mid-table Espanyol before Real Valladolid head to Vigo to play Celta on Monday night.
Elche claimed a 1-1 home draw with Levante on Friday evening to move four points clear of the relegation places. Richmond Boakye had put the hosts in front just after the hour mark but Angel Rodriguez equalised sixteen minutes from time to steal a point.
Fran Escriba’s men will count themselves unfortunate as they dominated large spells of the match, and will now hope for slip-ups from their relegation rivals this weekend.