ELCHE over Levante
If Elche are to play in the Primera División next season, this is a must-win for them. The problem, as it is every week for Super Fran, is their inability to consistently score goals. Normally, I wouldn't fancy Elche's chances here, being the lowest-scoring team in La Liga -- especially against Levante, who's 41 goals conceded are sixth best in the league.
But if top-flight permanence isn't incentive enough, Elche Ilicitano, after defeating Badalona last week, are now third in Segunda B on 61 points with three matches to play. Ilicitano's promotion to Segunda would be dependent on Escribá's side's ability to maintain their status in the first division. With some talented canteras in the pipeline, and the rumored budget increase, it is imperative Elche aren't relegated this season. Hopefully the best is yet to come with this team.
Elche 1 Levante 0
GRANADA over Rayo Vallecano
After winning just six times through 25 rounds, Los Rayitos have now just lost once in the last nine, and that was at the Bernabeu. What Paco Jémez has achieved with this team is nothing short of remarkable. Leading the smallest-budget team in the Primera to an 8th place finish last season, and now resurrecting a side left for dead due to mismanagement and financial inequality. I want nothing more than for Jémez to join a club with increased resources, though I fear that might result in his departure from Spain entirely.
Granada, meanwhile, are looking for one more victory to seal their permanence in the top-flight. Alcaraz took his squad to the Marbella Football Center (Granada's fifth training location this season) on the Costa del Sol, in preparation for this somewhat intriguing mid-table match-up. El Grana have been dealt a bad hand with injuries this season. I don't have the statistics on this, but I can't imagine Alcaraz has fielded the same XI in consecutive matches more than a handful of times this season -- striking, considering Granada don't play in any European competitions. If Granada are at full strength, I like the home side here, who should be aptly focused on the prize of permanence.
Granada 1 Rayo Vallecano 0
GETAFE over Málaga
Cosmin Contra should be licking his chops with Nordin Amrabat's two-match suspension, as this is the decisive game if Los Azulones want to ensure survival. After this, Getafe have Barcelona and Rayo Vallecano away, and Sevilla at home. If they fail to pick up three points here, I'd wager their relegation is inevitable. Málaga have been playing much better in recent weeks, winning four out of their last six. But with star loan signing Amrabat's absence, I like Getafe in what is a must-win for them.
Getafe 2 Málaga 1
REAL MADRID over Osasuna
Osasuna may have nothing to lose in this one, but it's hard to see Los Rojillos getting a result here. To be fair, Real Madrid are coming off a physically demanding Champion's League clash with Bayern Munich, and have a return leg to consider following the Osasuna game. With the likelihood that Gracia's side will put the entirety of their focus in low-block defence, Real Madrid will have to be assertive in the final-third. Osasuna defend well, though much less so away from El Sadar. I like Los Blancos in a comfortable home win.
Real Madrid 3 Osasuna 0
Real Sociedad over REAL BETIS
Another game, another disappointment. Paulao made two excruciating mistakes that all but sealed Real Betis's descent into Segunda. Following his errors, the defender sat on the ground and wept, before asking to be subbed off. Part of me sympathizes with him. It's very difficult to deal with what the Betis players are experiencing. Seeing Roberto Trashorras console Paulao on the pitch was emotional. Everyone feels for Betis, it seems (excluding Sevillstas). Such an incredible fan-base and historic club does not deserve this. But due to financial and administrative irresponsibility, this is where the club stands. It will be a grueling climb back to the Primera, but Béticos must maintain their support, of which I fully expect. Manque pierda.
Real Betis 0 Real Sociedad 2
ESPANYOL draw with Almería
This is a difficult one. Espanyol are classic end-of-the-season mid-table team with nothing to play for. Javier Aguirre, however, is not one to succumb to that kind of decline of form. But Los Pericos have only won twice in their last 10 matches. Reading reports, it seems Francisco is keen to exert pressure and maintain possession at Cornellà-El Prat, a tactic not often used in his largely defensive system. I'd like to see Almería stay in the Primera, but it is becoming less and less likely. I like a draw, but I'm not sure how desirable that really is.
Espanyol 1 Almería 1
Atlético de Madrid over VALENCIA
Nine points. That's the magic number. If Simeone can manage that in four games, Atlético will be campeones de La Liga. A match against Valencia is hardly an easy task, though. Atlético have only won once in their last 14 matches at the Mestalla. Despite their inconsistent form, Valencia are capable of a class performance. Just ask Barcelona. Coming off a disappointing 0-2 to Sevilla in Europa League, Pizzi should be keen to refocus on Liga, even if it's somewhat of a lost cause. With Valencia virtually out of Europa League contention for next season, I expect both sides to come out a bit more subdued than normal.
Valencia 0 Atlético de Madrid 2
Sevilla over ATHLETIC CLUB
What a colossal match this is. If Sevilla win, they will overtake the Basque side for 4th place, and the last Champion's League position. If Athletic win, they will extend their lead to six points over Sevilla, with three matches to go. Back in Jornada 16, Athletic managed a draw at the Pizjuán, though against a Sevilla side missing Ivan Rakitic. The Croatian's inclusion here, along with a much improved Carlos Bacca, could be the difference in Bilbao. If I was Ernesto Valverde, I would man-mark Rakitic. Without his influence, Sevilla's attack will subside. Though that's much easier said than done. An additional problem is that Carlos Bacca is in such immense form. His understanding of spacial arrangements is tremendous. If you're not aware of his movements, he will find ways to exploit space, even without Rakitic's on-the-ball play. I like Sevilla for the above reasons. But this can really go either way.
Athletic Club 1 Sevilla 2
Barcelona over VILLARREAL
It's difficult to find the appropriate words to express how I feel about Tito's passing. Words cannot do justice the sadness we feel as Culés. To win La Liga and reach 100 points in your first season is incredible in itself. But to think Tito achieved this while battling a life-threatening illness is incomprehensible. At the time of this write-up, it's only been about two hours since his passing. So forgive me, as I'm still a bit distraught. He will always be in our hearts. He was our coach. He was our leader. DEP.
Villarreal 0 Barcelona 2
CELTA DE VIGO over Valladolid
Valladolid have the fifth most clean sheets in La Liga. By comparison, Levante have the fourth most. But what makes Levante more effective? I genuinely have no idea. You can even argue that La Pucela possess more individual quality. The managerial styles of JIM and Caparrós are relatively similar -- defend and counter. But Levante are 11th on the table, and Valladolid 17th. With remaining matches against Espanyol, Real Betis, and Granada, the Castilla y León side have an excellent opportunity to save themselves. But with Celta probably keen on one last victory to ensure their permanence, I like the Galicians here.
Celta de Vigo 2 Valladolid 1