A week before the astronomical showdown in La Liga, Real Madrid will travel to the Basque country where they will take on rivals Athletic Bilbao in what should be an entertaining game filled with much passion.  The weekend will aslo see leaders Barcelona welcome relegation destined Almería to the Camp Nou while the Valencian local derby takes place between Valencia and Villarreal at the Mestalla on Sunday.

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid

Ahead of their big showdown against arch-rivals, Real Madrid will travel North to the Basque city where they will face another rival in the shape of Athletic Bilbao.  Bilbao on Monday rallied back to down struggling Almería 3-1 at the Mediterranéo thereby ending a two game win-less streak.  Their opponents, however, are coming off an important and very comfortable victory over English team Tottenham hotspurs in their first leg of the Champions League quarter-final stage.  However, Real Madrid failed to win last weekend in league and fell at home for the first time against Sporting Gijón which all but killed their title challenge.  Both teams make up two-thirds of the teams that have never been relegated from the first division and this fixture has never lacked passion from either side or their supporters.  They have played each other a total of 165 times and have managed 552 goals between them.  Real Madrid has played at the ‘cathedralSan Mamés 82 times in all competitions and has won 27, drawn 16 and loss 39; the last loss coming last season, a 1-0 defeat as Llorente scored the only goal of the game in the second minute.  Prior to last season’s defeat, los blancos had not lost a game in the cathedral for five consecutive games.  Athletic will be seeking to continue their bid for a spot in Europe next season and a win will at the very least keep them in that final spot for another week.  Real Madrid on the other hand, will be looking to continue taking as much points as possible with the hope that Barcelona will somehow begin to lose points down the stretch.  Additionally, the whites will be seeking maximum points as a means of “motivation” and “confidence” heading into the big clash next weekend.  The last match at the Bernabéu ended in a 5-1 thrashing for the Basques and they will certainly be aiming to repay the visitors on Saturday.  The game may not be as easy as it was for the whites as they have found it hard to score plenty goals on the road this season scoring a meagre 23 goals in 15 games.  Additionally, those 23 goals only account for 33.33% of their total league goals scored this season and an average strike rate of 1.53 goals per game.  Furthermore, the whites defence away from home has been disappointing conceding 15 in 15 games.  The home side currently has Amorebieta and Igor Martínez in the infirmary and both seem unlikely to play.  Also, Muniain spent Wednesday’s training in the gym attempting to recover from a slight knock he picked up against Almería on Monday.  Real Madrid’s sickbay is beginning to empty out as on Tuesday Mourinho was able to welcome back Ronaldo, Marcelo and Kaká and all three played an important role in the team’s thumping of Tottenham.  Additionally, Mourinho will have back the services of Xabi Alonso who was suspended last weekend.

Barcelona vs Almería

The game that immediately follows Real Madrid – Athletic Bilbao will see new coach Roberto Olabe take his Almería side to the Camp Nou to face league leaders Barcelona.  This should be an extremely easy game for the blaugrana and possibly the best tune up prior to their trip to the capital city next week.  Barcelona holds an impressive eight point lead over second place Real Madrid and will hope to extend that provided Bilbao can earn something from their game against Real Madrid.  Almería, however, can only dream of earning something from this fixture and in fact is probably thinking of ways to minimize the potential embarrassment they face, especially following that 8-0 thrashing they received earlier against the blaugrana in round 12 of the campaign followed up by an 8-0 aggregate loss against the Catalans in the King’s Cup semi-final.  Both teams are separated by a walloping 55 points and are at either ends of the table, first and last respectively.  The andalucians are the fifth worst or 15th best visiting team this season winning three games and drawing two of their 15 road games.  The visitors have won only once in their last eight games as well as they have never beaten Barcelona at the Camp Nou nor have they ever scored against their opponents at home, losing their five visits and being outscored to the tune of 13 goals to nil.  At the time of writing there was no injury reports coming from the Barcelona camp.  Almería has a few injury concerns and suspension worries as Acasiete, Marcelo Silva and Carlos García are a doubt for the encounter while Pellerano is suspended.

Mallorca vs Sevilla

Mallorca welcomes Sevilla to the Iberostar in Saturday’s final game.  The Islanders are coming off a loss at Deportivo last weekend; meanwhile their opponents defeated Real Zaragoza at home.  The host team is having an up and down period since the start of the new year which has seen them win once in the last four, twice in the last five and three times in the last ten games.  Sevilla on the other hand is undefeated in the last three games and have only lost once in their last five.  The first meeting this season took place in November at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán which saw the Islanders come from behind to defeat the andalucians 2-1, Webó with a late game-winner.  Sevilla are undefeated for the past nine games away to Mallorca, winning five and drawing four.  Both teams are pushing for a spot in Europe with Sevilla holding on to the final spot by two points while Mallorca is seven points behind.  Mallorca on Thursday welcomed back Ramis and Tejera after the two recovered from their respective injuries.  However, Laudrup will be without Webó and Pereira as the two players are suspended.  Sevilla have a few doubtful players in the shape of Navas, Kanouté and Guarente.

Sporting Gijón vs Osasuna

Coming off an impressive victory over Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu last weekend Preciado’s Sporting Gijón will be back at home to face Osasuna.  The two teams are tied on 35 points with Osasuna sitting above Sporting with a better goal difference.  Sporting’s win last weekend saw them extend their undefeated run to four consecutive games conceding only once in the four.  The visitors are coming off a 3-2 loss against Atlético Madrid last weekend.  Of the 39 competitive games played between the two sides at El Molinón, the home side has dominated, winning 26, drawing seven and losing six.  Osasuna’s last two trips to El Molinón ended in defeat and further more their last win came in October of 1997 in a Copa del Rey second round match and the last league win came in February of 1986.  Canella, Ayoze and Cuéllar are likely to miss the encounter; however, Preciado was able to welcome back Bilic, Carmelo and Diego Castro to the squad this week.  Masoud, Rúper and Aranda are expected to miss the game due to injuries for the visitors and will also miss Serigo due to suspension.

Hércules vs Espanyol

Relegation candidates Hércules will welcome a visit from European hopefuls Espanyol on Sunday.  Espanyol are on a poor run of form of late winning only two of their last ten league matches both wins coming at home.  The eight losses have seen them fall out of their European cup spot and now sit seventh two points behind Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla.  Hércules on the other hand are sitting 18th on 29 points and are battling for their first division lives.  The “good” news is they are only a point out of 17th and a win coupled with a loss by Zaragoza could see them climb out of the bottom three.  The last meeting between the two sides ended in a 3-0 victory for the parakeets.  However, the game may not be as easy for the visitors on Sunday as they have been dismal on the road this season collecting a mere 13 points from a possible 45 and have lost their last four away games.  However, the good news for the away side is that they have not lost against the Alicante side in the last four games both home and away.  Sergio García will be out for the rest of the season as he will undergo surgery next week and is expected to miss up to six weeks.  David García will also be out for the home side as will Baena.  There have been no recent reports of injuries coming from the Hércules camp.

Racing Santander vs Levante

Racing will welcome an in-form Levante side to the Sardinero on Sunday evening.  The away side is on a six game undefeated streak and will most definitely be looking to keep that run of form going in their attempt to reach the “safety zone” by accumulating an amount of at least 43 points as soon as possible and are five points away from doing so.  The home side are two points behind the granotes in 11th and have recently strung two consecutive victories together.  The first time the two sides met this season they were in a different predicament as they were aiming to get away from the bottom of the table.  As the records would have it, Racing have only ever lost to Levante ONCE in ten games at the Sardinero a 3-2 defeat in May 2007.  Arana, Francis and Rosenberg are doubtful for the home side while Munúa, Ballesteros, Juanfran and Iborra are suspended for the visitors.  They will also miss Sergio who is out injured.

Málaga vs Deportivo La Coruña

Relegation candidates Málaga welcome Deportivo to La Rosaleda Sunday evening in what is an important game for both teams.  Málaga is in need of a win in order to climb out of the bottom three while a win is important for their Galician counter-parts as they need to distance themselves from the bottom three.  The first leg of the encounter took place at the Riazor in November last year that ended in a comfortable 3-0 victory for Deportivo.  Deportivo are undefeated in the last eight games away to Málaga and have been undefeated against the anchovies for the last 17 games both home and away.  Neither side have reported any recent injuries.

Atlético Madrid vs Real Sociedad

Atléti will welcome Real Sociedad to the Vicente Calderón on Sunday.  Atlético picked up a win last weekend against Osasuna while Sociedad are coming off a loss at home against Hércules.  The home side have been highly disappointing since the start of the new year and have won only three of their last ten games and a win is mandatory if they are to continue to push for a European cup spot.  Real Sociedad have been on a depressing run of form losing their last four games and have now lost five consecutive away games.  Furthermore, the Basques are win-less at the Calderón in the last four games and have only ever left the capital city with maximum points on six occasions and a point on 12.  Earlier this season Atléti travelled to the Anoeta and snuck away with a 4-2 win.  Antonio López is the only injury concern for the home side and Alberto De La Bella is the only injury concern for the visitors.

Valencia vs Villarreal

The weekend ends in brilliant style with Villarreal making the short trip to cross town rivals Valencia on Saturday in the Valencian Local Derby.  Villarreal on Thursday trounced FC Twente 5-1 in their Europa League first leg quarter-final match and will be seeking to pick up maximum points on Sunday in an attempt to climb back into third.  The yellow submarines‘ recent form has been nothing more than erratic in league and their last five league results have been: a 1-0 win at home against Hércules, a 3-1 loss to Atlético, a draw at home against Sporting, a win away to Bilbao and a 1-0 loss against Barcelona at home.  Valencia last weekend ended their three game skid with a 4-2 victory over Getafe at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez and will be looking to build on that on Sunday.  The home side are undefeated in the last three home games against their rivals and have lost only three times against the yellow submarines in the Mestalla.  Both sides boast a clean bill of health and should have all their players available for the encounter.

Real Zaragoza vs Getafe

Getafe travels to Aragon where they will face Real Zaragoza in La Romareda where they will be hoping to turn their season around.  El geta have won only ONE game since the new year and are currently win-less in the last eight.  The home side on the other hand have lost their last two games and have won only twice in the last five games.  The visitors have only won once and drawn once at La Romareda in their six encounters.  Contini is the only injury concern for the home side while the visitors continue to have an injury problem with long term injuries to Gavilán, Rafa and Albín.

Top Matches of the weekend

  • Valencia vs Villarreal: when has a derby never been entertaining?  For that mere reason the match should be a “doozy” between two wonderful footballing and quality teams.  This is a game that cannot be considered over at 3-0 as the opponent is likely to fight back and pull level before the game ends.
  • Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid: one of La Liga’s fierce rivalries and between two teams that have never known life outside of the primera division.  One team is notable for their achievements in league and Europe’s premiere club competition versus one that can boast of having the most King’s Cup trophies (depending on what side of the fence you sit on).  Either way it should be an intense match between two strong sides, one team with some of the best players from around the world while the other boasts the best Basque players.  Indeed, a mouth-watering affair.
  • Barcelona vs Almería: not entirely a mouth-watering affair when you consider Barcelona’s opponents but it will be an interesting match as it is the match that will lead up to the biggest match in all of Spain and perhaps all of football, El Clásico.  This should be an easy match for Barcelona and as such worthwhile watching because you are probably bound to see some lovely, silky football from the home side.

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