Madrid (AFP) – Ahead of a huge round of La Liga action at both ends of the table, AFP Sports looks at five things to watch out for this weekend:
Valverde’s Barca audition
Real Madrid’s trip north to the Basque country to face Athletic Bilbao is always a fixture laced with tension based on decades of political divide.
However, there is even more on the line than normal on Saturday.
Victory would move Madrid five points clear of Barcelona at the top of the table, whilst Athletic are also in need of the points as they sit just four points off the European places.
Moreover, with Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde the favourite to take charge of Barcelona next season, what better way for the former Barca player to prove his credentials than helping out his old and potentially future club in the title race.
Battle for third
A disastrous two weeks for Sevilla has seen them slip out of contention for the title and dumped out the Champions League by Leicester City in midweek.
Now the Andalusians must concentrate on holding off a resurgent Atletico Madrid to seal third and a direct route back into the Champions League next season.
Sevilla hold a five-point lead over Atletico, but visit the Vicente Calderon for the final time on Sunday needing an immediate reaction from their Leicester debacle.
Last chance for Sporting, Granada
For Sporting Gijon and Granada to have any chance of beating relegation a win when they face off on Sunday looks imperative.
Granada in 18th are six points adrift of safety with Sporting one place and point even worse off.
Sporting haven’t won at home since December, whilst Granada have failed to win on the road all season. Neither side will have a better chance to end those unwanted runs that at El Molinon.
After the euphoria of the biggest Champions League comeback of all time against Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona were quickly brought back to earth with a bang in a 2-1 defeat at Deportivo la Coruna last weekend.
With Neymar fit again, though, the Catalans will be expecting to add to the 25 goals they have scored in winning their last six La Liga games at home when a struggling Valencia visit Camp Nou on Sunday.
Amidst a desperately disappointing season, Valencia have though tended to save their best for the big occasion.
Last month Los Che beat Real Madrid, whilst Barca needed a stoppage time penalty from Lionel Messi to secure all three points when they visited Mestalla in a bad-tempered encounter in October.
Galician pride on the line
Deportivo’s first win over Barca since 2008 moved Pepe Mel’s men eight points clear of the relegation zone and to within eights points of Galician rivals Celta Vigo.
Celta enjoyed a great week themselves by booking their place in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
But with Celta boss Eduardo Berizzo prioritising Europe over La Liga, Deportivo have a great chance to keep rising up the table and avenge a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Celta earlier in the season.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Las Palmas v Villarreal (1945)
Eibar v Espanyol (1200), Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid (1515), Alaves v Real Sociedad (1730), Real Betis v Osasuna (1945)
Leganes v Malaga (1100), Atletico Madrid v Sevilla (1515), Sporting Gijon v Granada, Deportivo la Coruna v Celta Vigo (both 1730), Barcelona v Valencia (1945)