Round 33 of La Liga has just become a lot more interesting and important than initially expected after Real Madrid tied 0-0 at home against Valencia. With Barcelona winning each of their past nine league matches, the gap at the top is now only four points, with seven games left including an El Clásico at Camp Nou. José Mourinh0′s side’s hardest test before travelling to Catalunya comes this Wednesday with another installment of the Madrid derby at the Vicente Caldéron, which is definitely the highlight of this round.
Barcelona, on the other hand, will host Getafe, the first team to defeat them in this season’s La Liga (1-0 in the reverse fixture), looking to extend their winning streak and put pressure on Real Madrid ahead of the Madrid derby.
But there’s more to be played for than just the title race, much more. This round will continue shaping up the race for Champions League/Europa League spots, and the dogfight against relegation.
Estadio Reyno de Navarra
April 10, 2012; 20:00 Hrs GMT
This might be a very important match in the fight for a Europa League spot at the end of the season. Osasuna are currently sixth in the league with 43 points, while Espanyol are ninth with 42 points. Only two points separate 6th and 12th place, and 3rd place isn’t exactly that far either, which makes any match between the teams involved in this fierce struggle for European spots a potentially decisive one.
Osasuna come from a thumping and demoralizing 6-0 defeat at Rayo Vallecano, after an equally crushing (but more expected) 1-5 home defeat against Real Madrid, and they will be desperate to turn the tide, or else their European dream might be soon gone.
Espanyol come from a 2-2 home draw against Real Sociedad, in a match where they were losing 0-2, but they’ve generally been playing well and getting decent results over the past few weeks and a win at the Reyno de Navarra could really help them in their European quest. The likes of Vladimir Weiss and especially Philippe Coutinho have been very impressive lately.
The two teams should remain faithful to their identities with Espanyol playing their possession-based football and Osasuna trying to beat them on the break.
Prediction: Osasuna 1-1 Espanyol
April 10, 2012; 20:00 Hrs GMT
This is another match between two teams who are very close to each other in the table. Betis are 12th with 38 points, Real Sociedad 15th with 37 points. Both teams have a relatively comfortable cushion over the relegation zone and are closer to the European spots than to being relegated. Whoever manages to get a win here will be allowed to dream of playing in Europe next season.
Both sides have been getting good results in recent weeks, especially Betis who have won their last two matches, including a sensational 2-0 win at Malaga and a very tight match is expected. These two sides have two of the best strikers in the league in Aguirretxe and Roque Santa Cruz, so we can fully expect goals in this one between two teams who play very attractive football.
Prediction: Real Sociedad 3-2 Betis
Camp Nou, Barcelona
April 10, 2012; 21:00 Hrs GMT
With Real Madrid within 4 points, this match is even more important than initially expected for Barcelona. A win would put the Catalans only one point behind Real Madrid, putting pressure on the latter ahead of the Madrid derby on the following day.
But it won’t be an easy task. The reverse fixture ended with a 1-0 win for Getafe, the first defeat for Barcelona this season. Luis Garcia’s side has often got good results against the top sides and they are still in contention for a European spot, so this promises to be a quite difficult match for Barcelona. The likes of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta were rested on the weekend, so they’re bound to start on Tuesday, as well as Lionel Messi, who has already scored an unbelievable 60 goals this season.
Getafe are a team that can defend really well and they will try to frustrate Barcelona by defending deep and delaying the first goal. Stopping Lionel Messi will be key, but Getafe has already done that once this season.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-1 Getafe
Estadio Mestalla, Valencia
April 11, 2012; 20:00 Hrs GMT
After months of poor performances and results in the league, Valencia played a spectacular match at the Santiago Bernabeu, creating more chances than any team except Barcelona has in year in that stadium. The 0-0 scoreline doesn’t make justice to what was arguably the best game in La Liga this season, with both teams playing positive attacking football and creating chance after chance.
While that draw will make them lose third place if Malaga win tonight, it will surely bring great motivation to the team, who will now believe that they are capable of great things. The Mestalla expects a win over Rayo Vallecano.
But Rayo don’t exactly lack motivation; they beat Osasuna 6-0 at the weekend and are within three points of a European spot. Michu has already scored 15 goals this season and established himself as one of the revelation of this year’s La Liga. Sandoval’s team will try to exploit some possible fatigue from Valencia following their Bernabeu exploits in order to get a result at Mestalla.
Prediction: Valencia 2-0 Rayo Vallecano
Estadio El Molinón
April 11, 2012; 20:00 Hrs GMT
This is a match between two teams in need of points, although for completely different reasons. Sporting are seven points below the safety zone and their chances of staying up are looking smaller and smaller with each passing game.
Levante, on the other hand, are sensationally still in the mix for a Champions League spot. After their spectacular 2-0 win over Atlético Madrid, they are currently 4th, only one point behind Valencia in third (although they might fall to fifth if Malaga wins tonight). A victory here at Sporting would certainly boost Levante’s Champions League hopes; given how inconsistent their direct competitors have been, a couple of victories against lower ranked teams might be enough to keep Levante in contention until the last day.
Sporting have had trouble finding the net all season, with David Barral either injured or off form for long stretches and Levante are one of the deadliest counterattacking teams in La Liga, so an away win is a likely scenario here, which would make things even more bleak for Javier Clemente’s side.
Prediction: Sporting Gijon 0-1 Levante UD
Los Cármenes, Granada
April 11, 2012; 20:00 Hrs GMT
A win for Granada in this match would almost guarantee that they’d stay up. With a seven point cushion over the relegation zone, Granada have their faith fully in their hands. But the opponent isn’t exactly the most desired.
Although Athletic are only 11th in La Liga, they’re worth considerably more than that. Their focus on the Europa League has made go into a slump in recent weeks, but Marcelo Bielsa knows that his team only needs a few wins to get back in the mix for a Champions League spot, considering how inconsistent everyone below the top 2 have been.
With no Europa League commitments until next week, Bielsa might go all out in this match, which spells trouble for Granada. As the likes of Schalke and Manchester United will confirm, this Athletic are a force to be reckoned with when they’re at full force. The likes of Ander Herrera, Iker Muniain, Fernando Llorente and co. can destroy any team.
For Granada, a point will be enough to continue pursuing their goals, while Athletic need a win at all costs to be back in contention for the top spots.
Prediction: Granada 0-2 Athletic
Vicente Caldéron, Madrid
April 11, 2012; 22:00 Hrs GMT
This is obviously the most eagerly awaited match of this round. Diego Simeone will try to put an end to Atlético Madrid’s 13-year streak without a victory over their city rivals. His job won’t be easy as Miranda, Mario Suarez and Eduardo Salvio are all suspended, but as an Atlético fan, Simeone would love nothing more than to be the one to stop the streak. We can expect a fully motivated Atlético side in this match, and with Falcao on their side everything is possible. El Tigre was once described by Pep Guardiola as the best player in the world inside the box and he has been living up to that description.
But there will be no shortage of motivation in the Real Madrid camp either. José Mourinho knows that in order to take a 4-point lead to the Camp Nou Clásico, Real Madrid must absolutely win at the Caldéron. Any other result will put Real Madrid’s title challenge in serious jeopardy. Real Madrid might have dominated the derby historically, but they are likely to find an Atlético side more motivated than ever this time. Getting through this match might be absolutely crucial for José Mourinho’s outfit in their quest for the league title.
Prediction: Atlético Madrid 2-3 Real Madrid
Estadio El Madrigal
April 12, 2012; 20:00 Hrs GMT
Villareal have been having a frankly terrible season and their fortunes haven’t changed much under Lotina. The Yellow Submarines are merely 4 points above the relegation zone and it seems like they will be in the fight to avoid relegation until the very end. A victory over Malaga would certainly help their cause, but it’s not looking very likely.
Apart from the big 2, Malaga have been the best team in La Liga in the second half of the season and they will take third place if they manage to beat Racing at home tonight as expected. Manuel Pellegrini will face his former team, looking to further sink them in the table in order to boost Malaga’s Champions League’s challenge. Malaga have finally started to click as a team in recent weeks and they’re clear favorites in this match, even if they’re on the road.
Prediction: Villareal 1-3 Malaga
El Sardinero, Santander
April 12, 2012; 21:00 Hrs GMT
Mallorca are one of those (many) teams who are already pretty much saved from relegation and not very far from a European spot. The pressure will not be on them, as their season’s goals are already assured.
Racing, on the other hand, are in a much different situation. They will play tonight against Malaga at La Rosaleda: if they win, they will be four points below the safety zone; if they lose (the most likely result), they will be seven points away from safety, making this home match against Mallorca completely decisive. Racing haven’t won any of their past five matches (six if they fail to beat Malaga) and failure to put an end to this streak against Mallorca might be the final nail in their coffin.
Mallorca have improved greatly under Joaquin Caparros and they’ve shown to be very dangerous on the road. With Hemed in great form in recent weeks, the Islanders will be looking to climb further up the table with a win at Racing.
Prediction: Racing Santander 2-1 Mallorca
REAL ZARAGOZA S.A.D.
Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pijuan, Sevilla
April 12, 2012; 22:00 Hrs GMT
The final match of the round will pitch Sevilla with a resurgent Zaragoza side, which seemed certain to be relegated just a few weeks ago. After three consecutive wins and a good performance (despite the defeat) against Barcelona, there is new hope at La Romareda. They are still 4 points away from safety, but their recent performances are surely encouraging. Apoño, Postiga and Aranda have all been in great form, proving that Zaragoza are more than good enough to stay up.
Sevilla were having a terrible season by their standards, but three consecutive wins (before this weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Athletic) put them back in contention for a European spot and they’re now only one points behind a Europa League place and six behind the last Champions League spot – further proof of how unpredictable this league is below the big 2.
Kanouté might be injured for the rest of the season, but Michel’s side will fancy their chances to be at least 6th in the end and beating lower sides is absolutely vital.
Prediction: Sevilla 1-1 Zaragoza