La Liga Preview: Fight for European spots hots up as Real Madrid look to increase seven-point lead

The fight for European competition heats up this weekend as Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao, who both currently occupy Europa League spots, go head-to-head at the San Mames on Saturday. Espanyol currently sit two points ahead of Bilbao and are unbeaten in their last six league games but Marcelo Bielsa’s side have lost just one of their last 10 matches in all competitions (a 4-1 defeat to Real Madrid) and have collected maximum points from their last five home fixtures.

New signings Philippe Coutinho and Kalu Uche could make their debuts for Espanyol but the Periquitos will have to do without Victor Sanchez, another January transfer acquisition. Bilbao duo Gaizka Toquero and Inigo Perez have both picked up injuries and are doubts for the meeting with Mauricio Pochettino’s men, whilst Igor Gabilondo trained on Friday and could feature for Los Leones.

Depending on Levante’s result, a victory for either side could propel them into a Champions League spot and leave them breathing down the neck of third-placed Valencia.

After battling against Barcelona for 90 minutes in midweek, Los Che face a tough fixture against an Atletico Madrid side which has won three of their previous four league matches, drawing one and conceding zero goals under new coach Diego Simeone, who has brought them into contention for a European place.

Levante will be looking to end their five game winless streak and hold onto fourth place with a victory over Racing Santander on Saturday. Granotas Coach Juan Ignacio Martinez says his side can recover from their recent dip in form and can begin by collecting three points this weekend. He told reporters: “Beating Racing would be a starting point to get back to winning ways because we have gone too long without a victory.”

Real Madrid face no easy task in maintaining their seven point lead at the top of the Primera Division this weekend as they face Getafe, who haven’t lost in their last seven league matches and have lost just one at home all season.

Xabi Alonso has recovered from injury and will be available for selection but Angel Di Maria, Sami Khedira and Marcelo have returned to training but are all doubts for the match.

Real Sociedad are currently in good form, having lost just one game since mid-November, and midfielder Xabi Prieto has acknowledged that a difficult task awaits them at the Camp Nou this weekend but he hopes that the Txuri-urdin can cause an upset by getting a result against the Blaugrana. He said in a Press conference: “You go there knowing that it is very difficult. The most any other side has managed [at the Camp Nou] so far has been a draw and until the Betis match they had not conceded a goal [at home]. They are probably the best team in the world. But we are hoping to be able to get something from this match.”

Diego Ifran is likely to be part of Sociedad’s starting line-up in place of Imanol Agirretxe who, along with Gorka Elustondo and David Zurutuza, has been ruled out of the clash. Pep Guardiola has no fresh injury worries heading into the match.

Mallorca have the opportunity to leapfrog Real Betis this weekend as they meet the Verdiblancos at the Iberostar Stadium on Saturday. Los Bermellones are in 15th place and are one point behind Betis. These sides are struggling to find any consistency of late as both teams have won just one match since the turn of the year.

The clubs rooted to the bottom of the table face tough tests this weekend with Real Zaragoza hosting Rayo Vallecano, Villarreal travelling south-west to face 11th placed Sevilla and Sporting Gijon meeting Osasuna.

Granada will have a hard time pulling themselves further away from the drop zone as they play ambitious Malaga who are closing in on a European place.

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