La Liga Week 31 Preview: Barca and Real Madrid face tough tests


It is another crucial round of fixtures in La Liga as the title challengers both face tough matches this weekend, and the battle for third place heats up by a few degrees as Levante host Valencia.

Title race

Athletic Bilbao, who are looking to salvage their domestic campaign and reiterate their challenge for the Europa League spot which seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent weeks, travel to Catalonia to play a Barcelona side which is anxious not to drop any more points in order to maintain their recently resuscitated title contention. Since the first-leg against Manchester United in the Europa League, Marcelo Bielsa’s side have won just one game in all competitions – the second-leg.

Barcelona, however, are in fantastic form at this point of the season. Early in this campaign doubts had been cast over Camp Nou as to whether the potency of this exceptional group of players and their Coach was waning and the Blaugrana have responded by firing themselves back into the title race since the turn of the year. Pep Guardiola’s men have failed to pick up maximum points from just six of their 21 games in all competitions in 2012, winning 10 of the 13 league games they have played in that time.

However, Barcelona can win every game between now and the end of the season and will still finish runners-up if arch rivals and league leaders Real Madrid do not slip up before the close of the campaign. Los Blancos have three very tough fixtures coming up before they meet Barca in Camp Nou with Osasuna the immediate hurdle.

Jose Mourinho’s side recovered from successive draws against Malaga and Villarreal with a 5-1 thumping of a spineless Real Sociedad but the challenge posed by Saturday’s opponents will resemble more of the former two than the latter.

Osasuna haven’t lost in their last six league matches, form which has seen them leap from 10th place to sixth and Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men will fancy their chances of collecting at least a point when Madrid come to town in order to boost their campaign for European qualification.

Third place

Desperate to hold onto third place, Valencia face the arduous task of disposing of a Levante side which also has its eyes on stealing La Liga’s final automatic Champions League qualification spot from under Unai Emery’s men and Malaga.

The Granotas are in good form at the moment but their record against European qualification rivals is worrying as they have dropped points against Osasuna, Malaga, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid. But they will be confident as they travel to the Mestalla to face a Valencia team which has won just three games since the New Year and could be fatigued following Thursday’s Europa League match against AZ.

Relegation

At the other end of the table Real Zaragoza can build on their recent string of good results and augment their chances of survival with a win over fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon, whilst Racing Santander play Granada, who are just six points out of the relegation zone, and Villarreal host Espanyol as they look to improve their chances of survival which have been given an invaluable boost in recent weeks.

Saturday

17.00 Racing Santander v Granada

17.00 Sporting Gijon v Zaragoza

19.00 Osasuna v Real Madrid

21.00 Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao

21.00 Malaga v Real Betis

Sunday

11.00 Atletico Madrid v Getafe

17.00 Valencia v Levante

20.30 Real Sociedad v Rayo Vallecano

20.30 Villarreal v Espanyol

Monday

20.00 Sevilla v Real Mallorca

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