Spanish League Preview Week 23 (season 2012/13)

Puyol and Piqué, at Getafe / PHOTO: ARXIU FCB
With Barça clear at the top of the table, attention will focus on the bottom, with Mallorca’s new boss Manzano facing Osasuna, Deportivo hosting Granada and Celta at home to Valencia

Two six-pointers at the bottom, whilst Atletico travel to Rayo and Levante and Malaga meet in the fight for European spots

With the sacking of Joaquim Caparros in midweek, Gregorio Manzano has returned to Mallorca, who he previously managed in 2002 and from 2005 to 2010. He faces a tough task as he takes his team into their must-win six pointer with Osasuna, knowing that they are without a home win since September, but on his appointment he insisted: “I know the squad and the club. We need 120% from all of the lads now, but I am convinced we have the quality to stay in the top flight”. Mallorca are currently next to bottom on 17 points, four behind Osasuna, who are just outside the relegation zone. On 16 points, Deportivo are in last place and they too have to get a result at the Raizor against a Granada team boosted by last week’s win over Real Madrid. Granada, on 23 points, could lift themselves clear of the relegation dog fight ahead of next week’s visit from Barça, whilst a defeat could see them drop into the bottom three.

Valverde effect boosts Valencia

Celta are the other team involved in the relegation places, sitting in 18th on 20 points, and they face a tough task when Valverde’s Valencia, who come into the game on the back of three wins away to the other teams at the bottom – Osasuna (0-1), Granada (1-2) and Deportivo (2-3) and their 1-1 draw with Barça last weekend. Valencia could lift themselves into fourth spot with a win – a great boost ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League game against PSG – if Malaga slip up in their trip to Levante. Pellegrini’s side have won just once in the league in 2013 and although they have a good record on the road – having conceded just six goals all season – Levante, just three points behind Malaga, have one of the best home records and have won their last three games at the Ciutat de Valencia.

Rayo: “won’t settle for a draw”

Rayo have also put themselves into the European mix with an impressive run that has taken them to seventh on 34 points and they will prove difficult opponents for Atletico Madrid in the Madrid derby on Sunday – as their striker Chori Dominguez declared on Friday: “we’ll not settle for a draw – we want a win”. The other Madrid team, Real, play Seville at the Bernabeu and with the Champions League game against Manchester United on the horizon, Di Maria is rested, whilst Xabi Alonso hasn’t yet recovered from his groin strain, though Mourinho can welcome back Pepe after his injury layoff. Seville will be looking to take advantage of any lack of concentration from their hosts and build on the excellent start made by Unai Emery, who is still unbeaten in the league since taking over from Michel last month.

In-form Real Sociedad at Zaragoza

With just one defeat in their last twelve games – and that a narrow 4-3 result at the Bernabeu- Real Sociedad are one of the league’s most in form sides and a win in Zaragoza on Sunday would take them to 36 points, level with Malaga, whilst Betis – on 35 – host Valladolid on Monday night with the chance to put an end to their recent run of poor results that has seen them take just one point from the last three games.

Espanyol look to maintain good run

In the weekend’s other game, Espanyol travel to the Basque Country to take on Athletic Bilbao on Sunday and maintain their excellent recent run under Aguirre with four draws in La Liga, three wins and just one defeat – against Barça – since the Mexican took charge. A win for the Catalans would take them above Bilbao, whose irregular season has seen them so far win less than half of their games at the traditionally safe San Mames.