MD 22 Preview: Tough Road Trips For Real Madrid, Barça

epa08682051 FC Barcelona's French striker Antoine Griezmann (7) celebrates with Argentinian Lionel Messi (2-R) after scoring against Elche CF during the soccer match of Joan Gamper trophy played at the Camp Nou stadium, in Barcelona, Spain, 19 September 2020. EPA/Quique Garcia

Atlético de Madrid have opened up a 10-point gap at the top of the LaLiga Santander table and still have one game in hand over Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who are tied in second place. This weekend, Zinedine Zidane and Ronald Koeman’s sides will look to cut that gap to put the pressure on Los Colchoneros, who round off the Matchday fixtures on Monday night.

Before that, Matchday 22 gets going with a Friday night duel between D. Alavés and Real Valladolid.

Neither of these teams have won in their past four league matches and they’re both caught in the relegation battle, so the pressure is on. Real Valladolid suffered a 2-0 loss when these sides met earlier in the season, though on that night they played most of the game with 10 men thanks to an early red card for left-back Nacho Martínez. They have a brand new left-back now in the form of Lucas Olaza and he could make his debut in this game, after completing a January loan switch from RC Celta on deadline day.

The next match sees Levante UD host Granada CF on Saturday afternoon, a game which could see a lot of goals. Levante matches this season have produced 2.90 total goals on average, while Granada have averaged 2.76. Only Barcelona and Betis games have averaged more in LaLiga Santander this season, so we could be in for a goalfest at the Ciutat de València.

Real Madrid are in action next and they’ll be looking to bounce back from the defeat they suffered at the hands of Levante last weekend. Los Blancos visit bottom-placed SD Huesca but are likely in for a tough game. The home side’s form has improved since new coach Pacheta took over and they come into the game on the back of a big win over Valladolid thanks to a hat-trick from in-form striker Rafa Mir.

Up next is a Valencian Community derby on Saturday evening, with Elche CF hosting Villarreal CF. This is a huge game for both teams, albeit for differing reasons. Elche are in the relegation zone and haven’t won any of their past 14 LaLiga Santander matches, so they need a three-point haul as soon as possible. Villarreal, meanwhile, are pushing for a Champions League spot and need every point they can get in that competitive top four tussle.

Sevilla FC currently sit in fourth and they’ll look to consolidate their position when they host Getafe CF in the Andalusian capital on Saturday night. New signing Papu Gómez could make his LaLiga Santander debut in this one, after enjoying his first minutes in a Sevilla shirt during their midweek Copa del Rey victory.

Sunday’s action begins with an intriguing clash between Real Sociedad and Cádiz CF. Both of these clubs strengthened their attacks in the transfer window, with La Real bringing in Carlos Fernández and Cadiz signing Ivan Šaponjić and Rubén Sobrino. The potential return of David Silva from injury will be like a new signing too for Real Sociedad, who still maintain their own hopes of Champions League qualification.

A historic LaLiga Santander matchup then takes place on Sunday afternoon as Athletic Club play Valencia CF in Bilbao. The match will be a meeting of familiar faces as new Athletic boss Marcelino coached Valencia as recently as 2019, while his opposite number Javi Gracia came through the ranks at Athletic’s Lezama academy before starting his playing career. Considering these two teams are separated by just one point in the table, this match has huge implications in the standings too.

The CA Osasuna vs SD Eibar match on Sunday evening also has huge implications, in this case in the relegation battle. These two teams are also separated by just one point, as they each hover precariously just above the bottom three.

On Sunday night, two attack-minded and in-form teams face off as Real Betis play FC Barcelona. As previously noted, these are the two teams whose matches produce the most goals: 2.95 goals per Barça game, 2.90 per Betis game. Both sides have also yet to experience a LaLiga Santander defeat in 2021, too, so this is definitely a match worth tuning in for.

League leaders Atlético de Madrid then round off the weekend with their home game against RC Celta on Monday night.

They might have seen their lead at the top cut by the time their game kicks off, so the pressure could be back on Diego Simeone’s side. Their form over the first half of the season has put them in pole position to win a first LaLiga title since 2014, making this match essential Monday night viewing.