Athletic Bilbao v Real Mallorca
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
It seems we’ve been looking at the bottom of the table for weeks and suggesting the pivotal moment is arriving. Yet matters refuse to be resolved: each of the bottom four have had phases of good form, but each has balanced them out with spells of abject capitulation. We might see something decided this week though: if Real can’t get something out of this match, they might have run out of time to recover.
Stuck at the bottom of the table, having spurned some opportunities at home to pick up precious wins, they simply must make history on their final visit to San Mames and pull off a victory which will live in the Mallorcan memory.
Their situation isn’t helped by the fact that Athletic aren’t quite a team with nothing to play for. While relegation is a distant possibility, they probably need to win a couple more points before they can totally relax, and here’s an opportunity to do just that.
Athletic haven’t won in five, but they have drawn their last three, while Mallorca have won one in seven. More worrying for Real, they’ve lost seven of eight away games. Oh, and they’ve lost their last three games at San Mames, failing to score on each of those occasions: in fact the last player to score at San Mames was Aritz Aduriz in May 2010, funnily enough!
Iker Muniain v Alan Hutton
Hutton seems to be enjoying life in Spain, despite his side’s precarious league position, and has always been a full back capable of pushing on and getting into threatening positions. That might make him vulnerable to the sort of overloading on the flanks that Marcelo Bielsa loves, and if Iker Muniain is in good form he would no doubt fancy breaking into the spaces he’d leave behind him and combining with those around him.
The trouble is, Muniain hasn’t been in the sort of prime form he enjoyed last season since, well, since last season! One goal and one assist in 2012-13 in the league tells you everything about his dip in form, and there are concerns that Bielsa’s relentless approach has burned out one of Spanish football’s most effervescent talents.
So can Hutton turn the tables, push forwards with impunity and assume Muniain won’t punish him? If so, Mallorca will have won a key battle.
Levante v Real Zaragoza
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
Levante defied their dismal 2013 form by ending their losing streak with a draw which dented Mallorca’s survival hopes in the last round: can they now do the same to one of the other relegation scrappers?
Only Celta Vigo have scored fewer away goals than Real, and only five sides have conceded more on their travels, but actually their away record isn’t quite as catastrophic as those statistics would have you believe: they’re one win short of a midtable position in a league made up only of away results (remarkably, those extra three points would put them level with Valencia on away results!)
Back-to-back wins have given them hope just when they appeared to be at rock bottom. By way of contrast, Levante’s form is horrible. Since January ended they’ve won just once in the league, at home to Sevilla, in thirteen games.
Zaragoza have dominated the fixture lately, winning four of the last six matches and keeping five clean sheets in their last seven clashes. But can they maintain that run now the chips are down?
A return of two goals in nine games is hardly setting the world on fire, so it might be argued that losing Obafemi Martins and replacing him with Robert Acquafresca has been a big part of the problem for Levante.
To spin things around the other way though, it can hardly have been the most promising of circumstances for a new player to assimilate himself with Spanish football, being parachuted into a team which has lost form and been drifting down the table since the winter break.
Acquafresca has the attributes to be a success in La Liga, but he has never been a prolific striker apart from the three spells he has spent with Cagliari. Having already had a peripatetic career, moving constantly from club to club, it’s time for him to settle down and prove himself somewhere. Levante need him to. He must build on his strike last weekend and start putting defences to the sword. Real Zaragoaza’s accident-prone back line seems a good place to start.
Osasuna v Getafe
(Primera vuelta: 1-1)
Osasuna need a win desperately, and Getafe’s away record of late suggests this is their best remaining chance to grab one. One win in their last eleven away games – and that was a match in which they trailed for 47 minutes to bottom club Real Mallorca – is hardly scintillating form.
However, that statistic is misleading. Getafe are better than that.
Their hopes of grabbing a Europa League spot are still alive following their fine fightback to beat in-form Real Sociedad in the last round. They needed that impressive result to arrest a wobble in form which had seen them pick up just two points from the previous fifteen available. While the run of five games in which their form slipped wasn’t the easiest, it didn’t include either of the top two, and the points they picked up were in what looked on paper to be the toughest matches, against Real Betis and Atletico. Perhaps they need to be more ruthless in games they ought to be looking to win, and here’s a good place to start.
Osasuna just can’t pull away from the bottom. They haven’t won in five games, and scored in only one of those matches. It’s five games since they scored at home!
Worse still, the 4-0 thumping they suffered at the hands of Valencia last weekend came at a high cost: the sendings off of David Timor and Alejandro Arribas landed José Luis Mendilibar with suspensions he doesn’t need right now.
Expect a tense affair, as clashes between these two sides tend to be tight. Indeed, five of their last six contests have ended in draws with just eight goals shared between the two sides! It’s five years since Osasuna beat Getafe; they need to break that pattern.
Kike Sola v Federico Fernández
So where do the goals come from for Osasuna? Because, let’s be honest, if they don’t find an answer to that question, they’re going down.
Kike Sola started up front last weekend and wasn’t particularly exciting, although it’s fair to say that the abject performance by the whole team was the issue, not the ineffectiveness of a forward who didn’t get much service.
He was subbed before the hour though, and hasn’t scored in his last four starts. That was when a purple patch of five goals in seven games ended abruptly, and it does seem to be famine or feast with him: that’s more than half his total for the season, and he isn’t really chipping in through other means: he has just one assist all season.
He’ll do well to get much change out of Fernández too. The Argentinian centre back has looked solid since his arrival from Napoli in January. So have Getafe: in his eleven matches they’ve conceded just eight goals and kept five clean sheets. He was terrific against Real Sociedad last weekend, and it’s fair to say the San Sebastien side pack a more potent attacking punch than Osasuna do.
Real Betis v Celta de Vigo
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
Apart from the regular codicil you must add to all Betis matches – that they have tripped up too often in home matches that they really ought to have won – there’s little to offer too much hope for Celta as they continue to struggle for those crucial away points. With less than a third of their points coming on the road and the worst away attack in La Liga, here’s a home match Betis surely won’t mess up.
Real Valladolid v Deportivo La Coruna
(Primera vuelta: 0-0)
In form Depor have a winnable game on their hands here. However, Real’s spirited showing at the Bernabeu last weekend undermined my constant attempts over the last few weeks to convince everybody that they’ve given up on the season. They’ve been decent at home, especially when egged on by their eager supporters, but they might not have the energy and motivation the visitors will bring into this one.
Real Sociedad v Granada
(Primera vuelta: 0-0)
A high stakes game, with Europe and survival at stake, but the tension might not last long beyond the opening stages of the match. Patchy old Granada seem to be back on an upward surge, but surely this is a match which will see the natural order maintained.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona
(Primera vuelta: 1-4)
Welcome to the anti-climax roadshow, the clash between two sides which have achieved genuinely great things this season, but end it feeling a terrific sense of missed opportunity and underachievement. Barcelona’s European capitulation has done enormous damage to their self-image, and even finally clinching the championship they’ve dominated from the outset won’t wipe away the painful memory; Atletico have done brilliantly to clinch a top three spot, but look back at missed opportunities which cost them second place and two characteristically limp derby performances with regret.
Espanyol v Real Madrid
(Primera vuelta: 2-2)
The Real camp is hardly in the most harmonious of moods at the moment, and an awkward trip to Catalonia is probably the last thing they wanted right now. As Jose Mourinho’s messy divorce from the club rumbles on, Eapanyol will see this as a chance to get a notable scalp on their CV.
Malaga v Sevilla
(Primera vuelta: 2-0)
An Andalucian derby which sadly lacks much importance beyond the actual occasion itself. Perhaps Sevilla could keep their form going and squeak into a Europa League spot, which would be a genuine achievement for Unai Emeri, perhaps the guarantee of a passionate atmosphere will rouse a Malaga team which is limping towards oblivion. They’ll have to face their local rivals with a seriously patched up defence though, as half of their back four are suspended and the magnificent Willy Caballero is injured after Wednesday night’s mugging in Madrid.
Rayo Vallecano v Valencia
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
Rayo’s dream of Europe is starting to look a little far-fetched, but that shouldn’t detract from a fine season or distract us from the fact that they’re a dangerous proposition for any side. Valencia, with the Champions league spot still within their reach, will have to go for the win and therefore set up an intriguing match.