La Liga Review looks ahead to all of this weekends Spanish League fixtures...
Saturday 22 March 2008 (Spanish Time)
20:00 Mallorca - Deportivo
22:00 Sevilla - Atlético Madrid
Sunday 23 March
17:00 Barcelona - Vallaolid
17:00 Levante - Villarreal
17:00 Murcia - Espanyol
17:00 Osasuna - Betis
17:00 Racing - Recreativo
17:00 Zaragoza - Almería
19:00 Real Madrid - Valencia
21:00 Athletic - Getafe
Real Madrid - Valencia
There is concern in Madrid that the prolonged absence of Ruud Van Nistelrooy will have a negative impact on Los Merengues title hopes: the Dutch striker will be out for around six weeks after undergoing surgery on his ankle this week. The 31 year old has scored 49 goals in 75 appearances for Real Madrid in all competitions and will undobtedly be missed.
However, Roberto Soldado believes Real Madrid are well equipped to cope with the loss of his fellow striker: it represents a terrific opportunity for the academy graduate to cement a place in the first team. Soldado said "Ruud's injury is bad for all of us, but there are 25 of us and we're all capable of starting.
"The doors may have opened a little more for me. I was given the chance to start last weekend and I have been working hard so that I get another chance to play."
The Madrid striker will have to put those words in to action and do a considerably better job than he and Raul did in their toothless display at Deportivo last weekend: the Madrid forwards, while undeniably deprived of decent service, were virtually anonymous in the 1-0 defeat.
Real have lost three out of their last five games but that still compares favourably with this weekend's opponents Valencia who have only won one of their last five. Koeman's side sit just four points above the relegation zone and the club is in turmoil. They will, however, be buoyed by their midweek 3-2 Copa del Rey semi final win over Barcelona but it remains to be seen whether or not they can use that victory to spur them on against a Madrid side who beat them 5-1 back in October.
Form: Real Madrid: W6 D0 L4 Valencia: W2 D3 L5
Real Madrid Squad (confirmed): Iker Casillas, Dudek, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro, Heinze, Marcelo, Diarra, Gago, Robben, Sneijder, Guti, Drenthe, Baptista, Robinho, Higuaín, Soldado & Raúl.
Valencia (confirmed): Hildebrand, Mora, Caneira, Miguel, Marchena, Albiol, Helguera, Alexis, Maduro, Sunny, Joaquín, Ever Banega, Mata, Baraja, Arizmendi, Zigic, Silva, Morientes & Villa.
Prediction - 1X
Barcelona - Valladolid
Second-placed Barcelona simply must defeat relegation candidates Real Valladolid and bounce back from their midweek Copa del Rey defeat if they are to sustain any realistic hope of catching Real Madrid at the top of the table. earlier in the day. A win over Valladolid would provisionally close the gap to 4 points and place tremendous pressure on Madrid who kick off two hours later on Sunday evening.
The injury to Lionel Messi has clearly had a negative impact upon Barcelona, but it is in defence, an area in which they have looked fairly solid this season, that Rijkaard's side look incredibly vulnerable. In their last ten games Barcelona have managed just one clean sheet - against Celtic in the Champions League - and they have shipped eleven goals in their last five games. Their case is not helped on Sunday by Diego Milito's suspension.
Valladolid managed a draw with Barca at home and, level on points with 18th-placed Recreativo Huelva, they will certainly be fired up for their trip to the Camp nou. José Luis Mendilibar believes his side can win, something they haven't managed to do at the Camp Nou since 1997. The Valladolid coach will at least be able to count on an almost full strength side as García Calvo has been declared fit and Iñaki Bea is the only reported absentee.
Team News: Once again Ronalinho has been omitted for Barcelona.
Barcelona squad confirmed: Valdés & Pinto; Puyol, Zambrotta, Thuram, Sylvinho, Abidal; Xavi, Touré, Iniesta, Edmílson, Gudjohnsen, Víctor Sánchez; Eto'o, Henry, Bojan, Pedrito, Víctor Vázquez
Form : Barcelona W5 D3 L2 : Valladolid : W3 D2 L5
Prediction - 1
Osasuna - Betis
An exciting bottom of the La Liga table clash sees Real Betis travel to Osasuna in a genuine relegation six-pointer. Osasuna are two points above their opponents in an incredibly congested bottom half of the table and they go in to this match on the back of a four game unbeaten run.
It is hard to tell how Betis will respond to the two match stadium ban handed down to them by the Spanish FA for last week's bottle throwing incident that has also seen Athletic Bilbao awarded the three points from the abandoned fixture.
A repeat of last season's 2-0 win in the equivalent fixture would represent a fourth away win of the season for Betis.
Team News to follow:
Form : Betis: W4 D2 L4 : Osasuna W4 D2 L4
Prediction - 1X
Athletic Bilbao - Getafe
A buoyant Getafe travel to Athletic Bilbao hoping to continue their fantastic run. Los Azulones are undefeated in their last 11 matches - a run of form that has seen Laudrup's side climb up to eighth place in the La Liga table and also secured a place in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup as well as a second consecutive Copa del Rey final.
Athletic Bilbao's rising star Markel Susaeta sums up the mood in the Basque camp: "I hope that Getafe are still a little hung-over from their cup exploits at the Sardinero on Wednesday evening and hopefully we can take advantage of that. A win would represent a significant step in the right direction for us. We have 33 points at the moment and until we reach 40 points and are mathematically safe - nothing is certain. We are going to be strong in defence and look to take our chances when they come.
Getafe defeated Athletic 2-0 earlier this season
Team News : to follow
Form: Getafe W5 D3 L2 Athletic Bilbao W4 D2 L4
Prediction - X
Racing Santander - Recreativo Huelva
Racing, frustrated in midweek by Getafe who knocked them out of the Copa Del Rey, must bounce back against 18th placed Recreativo. A win for Marcelino's Santander outfit would augment their bid for a UEFA cup spot and could even move them up in to a Champions League position.
Recreativo are an inconsistent side who have struggled on the road this season, losing seven times already, and they will need more than the point they picked up against Racing earlier in the season if they are to haul themselves out of the relegation zone this week. They have not won at Racing in their three top flight attempts.
Racing W4 D3 L3: Recreativo W3 D2 L5
Prediction - 1X
Murcia - Espanyol
Former Espanyol boss Javier Clemente was brought in to manage Murcia with the clear taget of avoiding relegation. Murcia have only won four home games all season and their 4-2 defeat at Recreativo last weekend has done little to convince that Clemente can overcome the nine point gap that seperates them from safety and keep Murcia in the top flight. They have conceded 25 goals in their last ten La Liga fixtures.
Espanyol, after a recent dip in form, got back to winning ways with a 2-1 win over Mallorca last week, but Valverde's side have yet to rediscover their early season winning habit. Valverde has been hit with a number of injuries that has forced him to include a number of reserve team players for the trip south.
The two sides drew 0-0 when they met earlier in the season at Montjuic.
Form: Murcia W0 D1 L9 Espanyol W3 D0 L7
Prediction - X2
Espanyol: Kameni, Lafuente; Chica, David García, Jarque, Torrejón, Clemente, Valdo, Zabaleta, Luis Garcia, Riera, Ángel, Rufete, Coro, Moisés Hurtado, Tamudo, Jonathan & Jordi Gómez.
Real Zaragoza - Almeria
Zaragoza sit in 15th place in La Liga courtesy of their superior goal difference, but are level on points with 18th placed Recreativo. New coach Manuel Villanova knows exactly what his side need to do and said: "We need to begin getting some points which are obtainable against Almeria."
The home side will be confident that their impressive home record that has seen them lose just twice at the Romareda all season will be enough to see them through against an Almeria side that are in pursuit of a UEFA cup spot in La Liga. Last weekend's 2-2 draw with Barcelona exemplified all that is good about Unai Emery's side - but they are let down by their away form: they have only won 3 away matches and lost on 6 occasions.
Zaragoza's 1-0 win at Almeria in October was their only away win of the season.
Form: Zaragoza W3 D2 L5 : Almeria W5 D3 L2
Prediction - 1
Real Mallorca - Deportivo La Coruna
Mallorca's nine game unbeaten run was brought to an end at Espanyol last weekend and they now find themselves involved in a vital six pointer with Depor. As the Mallorca coach Manzano explains: " There are three points plus another one at stake against Deportivo. We are level on points (34) but because we drew with them earlier in the season, a win counts as an extra point."
Depor haven't done too badly recently and have won three of their last four fixtures. They have been boosted by the news that top goal scorer Dani Guiza has been given the all clear to play after recovering from injury.
Form: Mallorca W2 D7 L1 / Deportivo W5 D2 L3
Prediction - 1X
Mallorca (confirmed): Moyà, Lux, F. Navarro, Héctor, Ramis, Molinero, Nunes, D. Navarro, Valero, Tuni, Jonás, Scaloni, Varela, Arango, Trejo, Webo & Güiza.
Sevilla - Atletico Madrid
Sevilla host Atletico in a crunch battle for fourth place and that all important Champions league spot.
The home side, in fifth, just two points behind their fourth placed visitors could trade places with their opponents and occupy a Champions League spot for the first time all season if they win on Saturday evening. Sevilla struggled at the start of the season, but their recent form has seen them climb the table rapidly: something that the Sevilla sporting director Monchi fully appreciates. He said "Sevilla have gone from near the bottom to near the top and I would compare our trajectory with Villarreal's from last season, in that they achieved a perfect ending to the championship."
Both sides will be treating this match like a final and as Monchi explains: "I would say that it is a match worth seven points: the three that the winners gain, the three that the losers do not get and the goal average."
Atletico will be able to recall Maxi Rodriguez to a side that has just two injury absentees: Thiago Motta and Juan Valera.
Atletico beat Sevilla 4-3 at the Vicente Calderon earlier in the season.
Recent form: Sevilla W6 D1 L3 / Atletico W4 D1 L5
Prediction - 1X
Atletico squad confirmed: Abbiati,Leo Franco, Eller, Seitaridis, Pablo, Perea, Pernía, Antonio López, Raúl García, Camacho, Miguel, Maxi, Simao, Cléber, Jurado,Luis Garcia, Agüero & Forlán.
Sevilla squad confirmed: Palop,De Sanctis; Daniel, Mosquera, Crespo, Fazio, Dragutinovic, Escudé & Adriano; Renato, Duda, Keita, De Mul, Maresca, Poulsen, Diego Capel & Jesus Navas; Koné, Luis Fabiano & Kanouté.
Levante - Villarreal
Back to back defeats leave Levante thirteen points from safety, and in spite of a number of recent spirited displays, the home side are destined to go down. This is a local derby, however, and Levante will be looking to make life difficult for their visitors who are hoping to consolidate their 3rd placed position in La Liga.
Villarreal have an excellent away record this season (W8 D0 L5)form and this is a match that they should win, as Angel Lopez, the Yellow submarines' defender says: "Third place is ours and our worst enemy is ourselves."
Villarreal ran out 3-0 winners at El Madrigal earlier this season.
Form: Levante W3 D2 L5 . Villarreal W6 D3 L1