Liga preview: week 35

Iniesta against Betis / Photo Miguel Ruiz
Espanyol find themselves in the peculiar position of knowing that a win against Real Madrid would ensure their local rivals collect the league title, while there are also key matches this weekend in the battles for Europe and survival.

Celta could land themselves in big trouble if they fail to get anything out of their trip to Betis, while Valencia and Real Sociedad are locked in a fierce battle for fourth place.

Since Javier Aguiire took over, Espanyol have enjoyed the kind of success that would have seen them challenging for a Top Four spot if they’d been able to replicate it in the earlier part of the season under Pochettino. After just 2 wins in their first 13 games of the campaign, Barça’s city neighbours went on to lose just three of their next 18 –away to Barça, Atletico Madrid and Rayo – and three weeks ago after winning 0-2 at Getafe, there was talk of going for a European place. Unfortunately successive defeats to Granada and Seville have put a dampener on that, though Saturday’s visit of Real Madrid, who Espanyol held to a 2-2 draw in the Bernabeu in December, could be just the fillip the team needs for the final sprint. A win or draw would, of course, also make Barça champions ahead of their game on Sunday. Will Espanyol do their city neighbours a favour?

Will Celta be the first team to go down? Celta’s midweek defeat to Atletico Madrid(1-3) means that if they are beaten on Sunday at Betis, they would be firm favourites for the drop. Celta have 31 points, having played one more game than the teams around them: Deportivo (32 points) are away to Valladolid, Mallorca (29) are at San Mames, and Zaragoza (33) managed to get a point away to Levante on Friday night. Granada (35) face the toughest task, away to Real Sociedad on Monday night, whilst Osasuna (33 points) will be desperate to make the most of their home advantage when they entertain Getafe on Saturday.

Who will take the fourth Champions League place? Monday night’s game is just as crucial for the home side, as in-form Real Sociedad have their sights firmly set on a place on European football’s biggest stage next season. They start the weekend with a two-point difference over fifth-placed Valencia, but that may well have changed by the time their game kicks off, with their main rivals playing away to Rayo Vallecano in the Sunday lunchtime match. This season’s quarter finalists, Malaga, are also still in the hunt, but anything but a win at home to Sevilla on Sunday night will probably create a gap too wide to make up in the three games that remain.