OSASUNA draw with Valladolid
Interestingly, la Pucela haven't lost a match at El Sadar since 2001. They are 1-5-0 in their last six matches in Pamplona. Coming off two positive results against Almería and Valencia respectively, JIM will be eager to achieve another, as the Castilla y Leon side sit just above relegation in 17th place. After Osasuna, Valladolid have remaining matches against Celta, Espanyol, Betis, and Granada. You have to think JIM's experience may prove useful down the stretch, as opposed to Javi Gracia, who's in his first Primera season. Los Rojillos got the better of Valladolid back in Jornada 14. Damià and Armenterros pretty much controlled that left flank, as Osasuna based the majority of their attacks out wide, hoping to exploit Patrick Ebert on the counter. I suspect JIM will adapt here, and should look to neutralize Osasuna's proclivity to play wide.
Osasuna 1 Valladolid 1
CELTA DE VIGO draw with Real Sociedad
Going out on a limb here. Arrasate's side know they are virtually locks for Europa League. The Basque side are nine points clear of Valencia, who are so hot-and-cold they could be IcyHot's new marketing focus. I'm still baffled by Arrasate's reluctance to play Rubén Pardo regularly, but I won' flog a dead horse. As for Celta, coming off a disappointing 0-3 loss to Rayo Vallecano, the Galician side would do well to pick up a positive result here. Because I never miss an opportunity to hype Celta's cantera, it should be mentioned that the Spain under-19 team just recently named four Celta academy players to it's roster -- Rubén Blanco, David Costas, Yelko Pina, and Santi Mina. Only Barcelona (5) will feature more players. The club is doing an excellent job to invest into Madroa (Celta's youth academy), and are developing an admirable youth model to ensure long-term permanency in the Primera División.
Celta de Vigo 2 Real Sociedad 2
VILLARREAL over Levante
In the last 10 matches, Villarreal sit 17th on the La Liga table, with a 2-3-5 record. With 15 goals conceded, only Rayo, Osasuna, and Almería have conceded more during this period. Like Real Sociedad, I would wager los Submarinos are locks for Europa League, but it's clear some problems are persisting. For one, Marcelino's side lack impact players beyond Gio, Cani, Bruno, Uche, and Perbet. Tomas Pina has really struggled to assert himself as anything other than a 70th minute sub. Young players Óliver Torres, Moi Gómez, and Nahuel Leiva are still developing, and are not quite ready for the European stage. Despite my partiality toward Villarreal's focus on youth development, it is imperative the club acquire depth next season, to ensure competitiveness across competitions.
Villarreal 2 Levante 0
Barcelona over GRANADA
Barcelona's Champion's League exit has been aptly covered in other posts, so I'll focus on this Granada tie instead. I've maintained for several weeks now that this could be a "trap game" for the Catalans. With an expected make-shift back-line, and possible starts for Adriano and Montoya, that possibility becomes even greater. Not that Adriano and Montoya are inferior in quality to Granada's attackers, but there is one match-up in particular that could pose problems for Martino's side, i.e., Montoya vs. Yacine Brahimi. I've mentioned before, Brahimi has the highest take-on percentage in La Liga, and the third highest in all of Europe. While the Algerian international doesn't score many goals, he is an excellent dribbler, and is el Grana's most dangerous player in the final third. While there is an obvious difference in overall quality between these sides, Tata's tendency to overlook tactical concerns against middle and bottom-table Liga opposition could present problems.
Granada 1 Barcelona 2
REAL MADRID over Almería
Not that it's much relevant to this fixture, but I've ascertained that this Real Madrid team lacks mental toughness. After di María's missed penalty against Borussia Dortmund, you could just feel the fear among the Madrid players. Then Marco Reus scores two goals, and it's all-out paranoia. The self-doubt is worrying. And I fear Ancelotti is not the manger to correct that. I find it bizarre that, excluding Ronaldo, there are no high-impact players in these situations. Whatever the case, a match against Almería should be no problem.
Real Madrid 3 Almería 1
REAL BETIS 2 Sevilla 1
In what will likely be the last Seville derbi for at least 18 months, a win for Betis here would be a minor consolation in what has otherwise been a dismal season. Calderón's side nearly achieved the impossible against Barcelona last week, but fell 3-1 thanks to some bad luck and questionable officiating, not to mention a lack of precision in the final-third, that to an average football fan, would seem rather appalling. It's been like that all season for Real Betis. The Andaluz side has the worst conversion rate in the Primera División. We can talk about anti-Betis conspiracies all we want, but as I've maintained all season, Betis has no one but themselves to blame for their position. Here's to hoping the ghost of Pepe Mel's middle-finger salute can guide Los Béticos to one last victory in el derbi Sevillano.
Real Betis 2 Sevilla 1
VALENCIA over Elche
Both teams here are coming off dramatic performances, albeit in different in competitions. Elche beat Getafe last week thanks to a 93rd minute match-winner from Juventus loan-out Richmond Boakye. In case you missed it, here's some brilliant commentary from an Elche radio broadcast. You can just feel the emotion. Unfiltered and raw. It's part of why I prefer to watch matches with Spanish commentary, rather than English. It's much more spirited. Even if you don't understand, I recommend it just for dramatic purposes.
Valencia, meanwhile, are coming off their own sensational remuntada in Europa League, overcoming a three goal deficit to FC Basel, and advancing into the competition's semi-final stage. What Spanish striker, by the way, is in better form than Paco Alcácer? Only Messi has more goals in the second half of the Liga season than the young Spaniard. As a Mestalla player, I've had doubts with Alcácer. But under Pizzi, we are witnessing the kind of rapid development that could take the Torrent-born striker all the way to Brazil. Jesé, who?
Valencia 2 Elche 0
Atlético de Madrid over GETAFE
Simeone after Atlético's Champion's League ousting of Barcelona: "We need to recover as quickly as possible. We've a game on Sunday." Classic Cholo there. His partido a partido approach has taken Atlético this far, and I don't expect that to change against Getafe. While it remains unclear on how long Diego Costa and Arda Turan will be out for, I expect at least one of Simeone's superstar attackers to make an appearance at the Coliseum. There is an equal possibility that Adrián López makes a second consecutive start, after his tremendous midweek performance against Barcelona. Nothing encapsulates what Simeone has achieved at Atlético better than his belief in Adrián, who despite only scoring two goals all season, and not making Atléti's bench in five of the past six matches, started in place of Costa, and put in a performance of the season. Prior to the game, Simeone stated in regard to Costa's replacement: "Adrián will start, and he'll score." The phrase "In Cholo we trust" has never rang more true.
Getafe 0 Atlético de Madrid 2
ESPANYOL over Rayo Vallecano
As much as I'd love to see Rayo's resurgence continue here, I suspect it to halt at some point, and what better place than Cornellà-El Prat, where los Rayitos have only won once in the last 34 years. Though Aguirre's side don't have much to play for, with their permanence in Liga pretty much guaranteed, the Barcelona-based side will be keen on a positive result after two consecutive defeats. Back in Jornada 14, the Catalans put a season-high four past Jémez' side, thanks to a hat-trick from Sergio García. I expect this to be more evenly contested, though I like Espanyol here in bounce-back victory.
Espanyol 2 Rayo Vallecano 1
ATHLETIC BILBAO over Málaga
Málaga's immense 4-1 win over Granada last week has the Costa del Sol side feeling more optimistic in relation to possible permanence in La Liga. The win put Schuster side in 11th place on 38 points. With six matches remaining, I'd fancy 2-3 more points, and you're safe from relegation. A match against Athletic Bilbao is a tall task, who will be eager to extend their lead over Sevilla for the last Champion's League position, should Emery's side drop points in the Seville derbi. According to Turkey-based source, SUR, Málaga have reached a principle agreement with Galatasaray for the transfer of Nordin Amrabat, who's been Málaga's best player in the second half of the season. With the Moroccan national's inability to regularly make appearances for Galatasaray, I suspect he'd be keen on a permanent move to the Spanish side. Good news for Malguistas.
Athletic Bilbao 2 Málaga 1