Real Sociedad @ Almeria
Jornada 23 kicks off with a Friday night match between hosts Almeria and visiting side Real Sociedad. Almeria are coming off an away win at fellow relegation battlers Cordoba. As has been the case this year, Almeria were stronger on the road with two goals in quick succession, both scored by right back Michel Macedo and both assisted by his fellow Brazilian and Arsenal loanee, Wellington. Almeria have now claimed 16 points and 13 goals on the road, while collecting a mere six points in 10 home games with a negative eight goal differential. They’ve now won two straight matches against bottom of the table competition and look to continue the streak against Real Sociedad. La Real’s position belies their ability, as they sport an average team rating and goal differential that is more fitting for a top half side. They recently drew at home against suddenly feisty Celta Vigo. RSD have been as awful on the road as Almeria has at home, so something will have to give, as the saying goes.
Cordoba @ Sevilla
Sevilla enter the game after two straight losses, most recently to relegation candidates Getafe. Sevilla’s season form has seen mostly positive results when not playing the top three teams. Recently, however, they have lost 4 of their last 6 matches, with wins by Valencia and Villareal eroding their hold on fourth place in La Liga (Valencia has now passed them with Villareal sitting one point out). Fortunately, they have been very hard to defeat at home. With some of his choices being second-guessed, it’s hard to say what Unai Emery’s lineup will be, but Barca loanee Gerard Deulofeu is expected to be back in the lineup, and he could trouble Cordoba on the wings. Cordoba have fought hard over the last month, winning both at home and away to Granada and Rayo Vallecano, showing determination and defensive solidarity even in losing efforts (they played tight games against Eibar, Celta Vigo, and even stayed within a goal of Real Madrid). Cordoba’s level of play is not fitting of the bottom three, at least defensively; though they have been unable to produce many goals (17 total this year, second to last in La Liga). They are still dealing with injury concerns, limiting their lineup. Fede Cartabia is having an impressive season and will be leaned on, while Man City loanee Bruno Zuculini is expected to get his first start, A hungry Sevilla at home should be too much, however.
Deportivo La Coruna @ Real Madrid
Real Madrid’s portion of this section will be easy writing, as most cules on this site are well aware of their recent struggles. Questions of the team’s heart, Ancelotti’s rotations, or "peaking too soon" may actually be cause for concern at some point, but the real problem against Atletico was three injuries and a suspension, leaving them without the creative talents of James and Marcelo, but also the experience and leadership of Ramos and Pepe. Creative lynchpin Marcelo will be back after a suspension and his playmaking ability on the wing will be welcomed after a stagnant match against Atletico Madrid in which the squad could only muster one shot on goal. The loss of Sergio Ramos and Pepe showed itself against Atletico, as the lack of experience and playing time in the back line could be directly attributed to at least one of the goals conceded. Statistics for this year still show Madrid as one of the best sides in the world, though in the last month they have looked unspectacular in wins against bottom-dwelling teams (Barcelona have now surpassed them in terms of goal differential and sit one point off the league lead), were sluggish in handling Sevilla at home, and then were eviscerated by a dominant-looking Atletico. The La Coruna squad, sitting a whopping 30 points off the leaders, looks to be the perfect remedy for what ails Madrid. They are mediocre across the board, not showing any preference for playing any better or worse at home or away. Distressingly, though, Coruna have the least amount of away goals this year. Injury concerns have left their backline wanting, as well. However, they have played better as the year has progressed. Even with injuries and what looks to be a lack of urgency as of late, Madrid should have way too much talent for Coruna to challenge them. Ancelloti should also fix some of the tactical errors he made against Atletico. However, Madrid need to get back to the inspired play soon, or else not only will Barcelona and Atletico apply pressure, but the second tier teams of La Liga (Valencia, Sevilla, Villareal) will be able to steal points as well.
Athletic Bilbao @ Granada
As most here will know, Athletic played bravely against Barca, pressing the visiting side high while avoiding park the bus tactics, and took a 5-2 beating for their efforts. Granada, who would never be mistaken for an in-form Barca, lost against Villareal 2-0 at one of the toughest away venues, El Madrigal. Granada sits in the relegation zone, one point below Levante, who are currently 17th. Bilbao, seemingly more comfortable at 13th place, actually only sit 5 points ahead of Granada. Both teams will be on the favorable side of their home/road splits, as Granada has been slightly better at home and Bilbao has performed well on the road. Otherwise, these teams are not far apart. This match looks like a toss-up for those reasons, and given the fact that the bottom half of the table is almost the same quality-wise from 11th to 20th place, it’s difficult to predict outcomes between such teams.
Espanyol @ Malaga
Malaga are coming off a surprise thrashing by bottom dwelling Levante. The home side had scored a mere 13 goals in 21 games before going off for four on a sloppy Malaga side. Individual errors and careless fouls led to two penalties and the attack never got going. The Andalusians currently sit in a peculiar position in the table. They are six points off Villareal and don’t look to threaten for Europa League qualification, yet are nine points ahead of Eibar and are clearly above the very crowded relegation battle. Funny enough, their goal differential of ZERO encapsulates their position at the moment: not bad, but not good. The other Barcelona club is coming off an understandable home loss to Valencia. Espanyol are only two spots lower on the table, but are nine points off Malaga. Unfortunately for Espanyol, 21 of their total 26 points have been earned at home, and they are 1-2-7 on the road this year, the worst mark in La Liga.
Getafe @ Valencia
Valencia had a great weekend, their win at Espanyol and Sevilla’s surprise loss left them in 4th place in the league, in position for a Champion’s League playoff spot. Pablo Piatti returned and scored a goal, and Dani Parejo hit a free kick square off the keeper’s face for an own goal, just to add insult to injury. Notably, wonderkid Jose Luis Gaya continues his scintillating play down the left sideline. The teenage left back, a product of the Mestalla academy system, has been given an opportunity after the departure of Juan Bernat to FC Bayern (Jordi Alba was on Valencia at one point, too, it’s a left back factory), and he’s been a revelation. He has been the prototypical wingback, using his immense acceleration and stamina to patrol the entire left side of the field, with defensive midfielder Javi Fuego dropping back to cover his runs at times. His crossing and ball skills have been phenomenal, and he has a defensive work rate to match. Against Espanyol he provided the assist to Piatti in the 61st minute and then cleared a dangerous ball off the line in the 80th, for example. He should become one of the best left backs in Europe, but before this article becomes a testament to Gaya, lets look at Getafe. They are coming off a surprise victory (much to the delight of Valencia), which helped them keep their heads above the relegation zone for another week. Unfortunately for Getafe, Valencia have collected the second most home points this year (and remain one of the toughest places to play), while they have collected a measly eight points out of a possible 30 on the road. They also looked to be a little "lucky" against Sevilla, as the visiting team looked off, Unai Emery’s coaching lacked imagination and the side just looked generally uninspired. Valencia should handle this matchup with ease.
Levante @ Barcelona
Barcelona will kill them. Read the in-depth preview on this site!
Villareal @ Rayo Vallecano
Villareal kept up their position to qualify for Europe with a 2-0 win over now last place Granada. It was a competent if not spectacular performance, though Villareal clearly was the deserving winner. They are now 5-1-0 in their last six, beating bottom-dwellers and losing in a close match to Barcelona. Rayo had a chance to get a little above the relegation fray, but were thoroughly outplayed by 17th place Elche on the road. They are in poor form, losing their last three. Amazingly, Rayo have gained only seven of a possible 30 points at home this season. The team makes a lot of errors and has problems defending the counter-attack, so this should play right into Villareal’s strengths.
Atletico Madrid @ Celta Vigo
Atletico Madrid is last weekend’s winner, reminding everyone in Spain who last year’s league champ was with a dismantling of Real Madrid. They also showed that they are capable of more than physical tackles and set piece goals in the process, with Antoine Griezman continuing to prove that he is becoming one of the best young attacking players in Europe. Atletico travel to Basque Country and bring with them an impressive 19 points out of a possible 30 on the road this year. Midfield workhorse Koke will be out for a considerable time and is a very difficult player to replace. It will be seen what Simeone decides to do with his midfield, but he does have capable backups. Celta Vigo started the year off well, but had seen some bad form over the past month before picking up the slack in their last two matches, and has more talent than their current position on the table suggests. They have been much harder to defeat at home, and will have at least that consolation when a much more talented Atletico side come to town. Although Celta Vigo have shown strength in defending set pieces, Atletico won’t feel like they need one to score.
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