La Liga Week 35 Preview: El Clasico to decide the title?
Most of Spain will come to a halt on Saturday night for El Clasico, a game that could well decide the title if Real Madrid manage to avoid defeat.
Nearest rivals Barcelona are four points adrift in second place and victory for Jose Mourinho’s team at the Camp Nou will virtually ensure the La Liga trophy ends up at the Santiago Bernabeu, with just four more games to play.
Despite unexpected midweek losses in their Champions League semi-final first-leg ties, both sides know they need to go flat out for victory and cannot afford to cast their eyes towards the return legs just yet. Barca boss Pep Guardiola has a full complement of players to choose from with the exception of long-term injury victim David Villa, while central defender Gerard Pique, who missed the defeat at Chelsea, is expected to return.
Mourinho could rotate his players after the disappointment against Bayern Munich with Mesut Ozil, Fabio Coentrao and Karim Benzema all sweating on a place as Brazilians Kaka and Marcelo, alongside Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, all push for a starting spot.
Third-placed Valencia need to see off a resurgent Real Betis at the Mestalla with Malaga breathing down their necks just one point away, yet boss Unai Emery will have to pick his players up after Thursday’s 4-2 Europa League mauling at the hands of Atletico Madrid. Pepe Mel’s Betis will guarantee safety with a win although they will be missing midfielder Juanma through injury.
Malaga do not play until Monday night when they travel to Pamplona to face Osasuna, whose sixth place in the table on 46 points is threatened by no less than five teams one point below them. Raul Garcia for the hosts and Joris Mathijsen for Los Blanquiazules are both sidelined.
The fight for the European places sees two games between teams with aspirations of a top-six berth. Firstly, Levante visit the Sanchez Pizjuan to take on Sevilla and will be without the banned Juanfran, with Atletico Madrid up against Espanyol at the Vicente Calderon with both teams level on points.
The fixture list also sees matches involving sides fighting for top-flight safety. Racing Santander face north coast rivals Athletic Bilbao at El Sardinero and could even be relegated if they lose and both Granada and Villarreal win, with third-bottom Real Zaragoza needing victory at Real Mallorca to give them a chance of staying up. Los Manos have Ruben Micael and Pablo Alvarez suspended while Joaquin Caparros’ islanders will be without the injured Alvaro, Pedro Bigas, and Nunes.
Another side that cannot afford to taste defeat are 19th-placed Sporting Gijon who entertain Rayo Vallecano at El Molinon. The Asturians will have Oscar Trejo available after last week’s red card against Real Madrid was rescinded but will be without Roberto Canella; the visitors for their part will not be able to count on the services of Raul Tamudo, Alejandro Arribas and Tito.
The two remaining fixtures see Granada take on Getafe at Los Carmenes and Villarreal play Real Sociedad at El Madrigal, both the home teams seeking the points that will pull them clear of danger.
The full fixture list is (UK times):
Real Mallorca-Real Zaragoza 17:00
Sporting Gijon-Rayo Vallecano 17:00
Barcelona-Real Madrid 19:00
Real Sociedad-Villarreal 11:00
Racing Santander-Athletic Bilbao 15:00
Atletico Madrid-Espanyol 17:00
Valencia-Real Betis 20:30