Spanish League Preview – Week 12

Xavi against Real Sociedad / PHOTO: ARCHIVE - FCB
With Atlético not playing until Sunday night, Barça could go 6 points clear on Saturday, whilst 3rd place Real Madrid could close the gap on their neighbours to 2 points if they beat Bilbao

At the bottom, Ossauna will be looking to build on their win over Espanyol last week when they entertain Malaga, whilst Pochettino’s men face a tough task away to Valencia. Both Deportivo and Celta are at home  – to Levante and Mallorca – and will fancy their chances of putting some space between themselves and Espanyol.

Atlético travel to Granada

Atlético Madrid travel to Granada on Sunday for a game their captain Gabi reckons: “is one of those games you have to win if you want to be up there at the top”. Their hosts will be boosted by last week’s win at Betis, but could be without midfielder Mikel Rico, as they look for a home win after two defeats to Zaragoza and Bilbao, whilst Atlético have so far lost just once on the road. Real Madrid could close to within a couple of points of Atletico if they can see off Athletic Bilbao on Saturday night: Mourinho can count on Ronaldo after his cut head against Levant last week and Khedira and Benzema are likely to return, whilst the Basques will be without the suspended Herrera and De Marcos and the injured Iñigo Perez.

Derby game in Seville

Betis face Sevilla in the Seville derby at the Sánchez Pijuan – a game the hosts striker Álvaro Negredo reckons is: “different from any other match and a must-win game. If you look at the table, you’d have to say that they come into it as favourites, but we are both coming into the game on the back of defeats”. Betis are currently fourth on 19 points, four ahead of tenth placed Seville.

Tricky trip for Málaga…..

Málaga are just a point behind Betis, but after back to back league defeats to Rayo and Real Sociedad they could have asked for an easier trip than Saturday’s to Pamplona, where Osasuna will be looking to build on their win at Espanyol last week. Osasuna have only won once at home so far this season, but that conceals a brave effort against Barça(1-2), a 0-1 defeat to Valladolid after a late winner for the visitors, draws with Betis and Mallorca and  – perhaps more ominously for Málaga – a 4-0 thrashing of Levante. That’s a record Manuel Pellegrini was no doubt well aware of when he warned on Friday: “it doesn’t matter where they are in the table, Osasuna is always a difficult place to visit – they really let you know that they are the home team and though they’ve had some poor results this season, I’m sure we will be up against a tough opponent”.

….and a tough one for Espanyol too

With just a point more than Osasuna, Espanyol, who are also embroiled in presidential elections at the moment, face a tough trip to Valencia – two hours after kick off in Pamplona – and could go into the game back at the bottom. Their hosts are also in need of points, with home form vital to offset their terrible away record and will be without the injured Pereira, Gago and Jeremy Mathieu as well as the suspended Aly Cissokho, whilst Pochettino has dropped Capdevilla and will be without the suspended Stuani.

Celta and Deportivo favourites at home

Celta and Deportivo are both a point ahead of Espanyol and will be looking to move further ahead with home games against Mallorca and Levante. Celta – whose players all took part in Wednesday’s General Strike in Spain – have only lost once at home so far, whilst Mallorca have still to win on the road. Deportivo haven’t been quite so effective in La Coruña – winning two, drawing one and losing two more – but Levante haven’t been great on the road either, with just one away win from home.

In the weekend’s other games, Getafe are at home to Valladolid on Sunday and Real Sociedad host Rayo in the Monday night match.