La Liga Gameweek 24 Preview
Considering the fact that it’s already midweek, it would seem a bit out of place to write a La Liga recap. With that in mind, here’s a little preview for the weekend’s action ahead, with the four matches that you should be watching.
Espanyol v. Levante (Saturday 4:00 EST)
Previous result: Levante 3-1 Espanyol
This is a matchup of 5 v. 7 in the table and the teams are only separated by a point, so it should be a good game. However, it could also turn out to be a drubbing because Levante are definitely on the decline. It appears the bubble has finally burst for Levante. After weeks of hanging on to their Champions League place, they were leapfrogged by both Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol. The fact they remain seventh is more of a testament to the teams around them dropping points rather than Levante actually picking them up. They have still yet to win a league match since their 1-0 defeat of Sevilla on December 10. Another loss here would almost condemn them to the middle of the league table for the rest of the season. Although there’s still 14 games left after this week, it’s hard to see Levante being able to rebound after yet another loss. However, a win could kickstart their Champions League campaign again. Espanyol have been a very good club at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat. They have picked up 20 of a possible 33 points at home compared to only 13 of 36 away. I’ll predict a reverse of these teams’ previous matchup
Prediction: Espanyol 3-1 Levante
Villarreal v. Athletic Bilbao (Sunday 6:00 EST)
Previous result: Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Villarreal
These two teams met in the fifth week of the season. Athletic was still getting used to the tactics of new manager Marcelo Bielsa and Villarreal was yet to endure the tailspin that saw them in the relegation zone. Villarreal has been playing better under José Francisco Molina, last week’s 4-0 loss to Mallorca aside. Their defense has been playing very well, so Bilbao will have a hard time breaking them down. After sputtering in injury time two weeks in a row, Bilbao picked up three big points against Málaga last week. Athletic now sit fourth in the table, and it’s a position that they look like they can hold on to for the rest of the season. Despite sitting in 17th place, Villarreal are still only seven points behind Athletic, so a win could almost get them in contention for a European, and even Champions League place. It is a far cry from where the club was earlier in the season. Athletic, though, really look to be hitting their stride under Bielsa. It took a little while for them to get used to Bielsa’s system, but the club has been very patient and that looks to be paying off. Still, Villarreal definitely has more than a good chance to pick up at least a draw this week, especially with the match at El Madrigal.
Prediction: Villarreal 0-1 Athletic Bilbao
Rayo Vallecano v. Real Madrid (Sunday 10:00 EST)
Previous result: Real Madrid 6-2 Rayo Vallecano
Sid Lowe can’t seem to stop praising this Rayo Vallecano squad. They have looked very good over the past couple of months, and they play a style that is very fun to watch. Rayo’s 5-3 win against Levante was the best match of last week. Diego Costa, on loan from Atlético Madrid, will be the player to watch for Rayo. He’s scored in each of the three games he’s scored for the club. Unfortunately for Rayo, they are facing a Real Madrid that is coming off a draw against CSKA Moscow in which Madrid surrendered an injury time goal. They will be definitely looking to take out some frustration on Sunday. With that said, it hasn’t been the results against the top clubs in Spain that has given Madrid the most trouble over the past couple of seasons. It was dropped points against mid-table clubs like Rayo that prevented them from lifting the title. And if you’re going to steal points against Madrid, it’s going to be away from the Santiago Bernabéu. Away from home, they have managed to drop a whopping five points, almost double their home tally. If things go too badly, this match will just be worth it to see how Cristiano Ronaldo responds to Lionel Messi’s four goals last week.
Prediction: Rayo Vallecano 1-4 Real Madrid
Atlético Madrid v. Barcelona (Sunday 3:30 EST)
Previous result: Barcelona 5-0 Atlético Madrid
The scoreline in the first matchup was actually quite generous to Atlético Madrid. Barcelona completely dominated the match and could have easily scored seven or eight. It dug Atleti in a hole that former manager Gregorio Manzano could never fully get the club out of. The match could do the same for new manager Diego Simeone. Ever since his arrival, Atlético has looked like a different club. Morale is up and the club looks like a realistic challenger for the final Champions League spot. However, the club has been struggling to find goals over the last three matches, in which they’ve only managed to pick up 3 points. A good result here could effectively be the sign that Simeone is the guy who can lead Atleti to Europe. However, an embarrassing loss could start the finger-pointing and plunge the club right back to where they were before Simeone’s arrival. For Barcelona, this match, much like every one throughout the rest of the season, is a must-win. Dropped points could mean Madrid strengthening their lead at the top of the table. Don’t chalk this up as three automatic points for Barca, though. Their away form has been incredibly pedestrian this year, at a record of 4-5-2.
Prediction: Atlético Madrid 2-4 Barcelona