Real Madrid’s visit to Villarreal, Barcelona derby highlights of La Liga weekend

The matchday 24 in La Liga presents a Barcelona derby as well as vital games at the top and bottom of the table, all amid the return of European football in the coming week.

Sevilla get the weekend under way after three consecutive draws have seen them slip six points behind league leaders, Real Madrid. Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui has his players back from the African Nations Cup, but has a doubt over winger Lucas Ocampos and forward Papu Gomez.

On paper Sevilla should have few problems with Elche, but the visitors are looking to extend a five-game unbeaten run, which has lifted them clear of the bottom three and their confidence will be high after beating Alaves 3-1 last weekend.

Cadiz’s defeat to Mallorca last week left Sergio Gonzalez’s men five points from safety and they are obliged to win at home to Celta Vigo, who still have an outside chance of qualifying for Europe next season, a Xinhua report said.

Villarreal entertain Real Madrid in what promises to be one of Madrid’s toughest domestic games between now and the end of the season. Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will have to decide whether to rotate his squad ahead of their Champions League visit to play Paris Saint Germain, with the fitness of Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema his main worries.

Benzema is still struggling with a hamstring problem and such is his importance to the team that Ancelotti is unlikely to take risks against a rival that has won six out of their last eight league matches.

Villarreal have also got a problem in attack with the news that Spain international Gerard Moreno will miss out with a muscle problem, meaning Giovani Lo Celso could start.

Rayo Vallecano will need to get over their Copa del Rey semi-final efforts on Wednesday for their home game against Osasuna, before Saturday ends with what promises to be a tight Madrid derby as Atletico Madrid entertain Getafe.

Atletico’s 4-2 defeat in the Camp Nou has again set alarm bells ringing over their defense and lack of competitive edge this season, as they face an uphill struggle to finish in the top-four and they will be without Daniel Wass and Antoine Griezmann through injury.

Getafe make the short trip with just one defeat in 10 league games since Quique Sanchez Flores took charge and they are now seven points clear of relegation.

Alaves are deep in the relegation zone after a winless run of 11 matches and they need to improve drastically in Sunday’s home game against Valencia, who are in Cup action on Thursday night.

Bottom of the table Levante will have to improve drastically if they want to get something from third place Betis, who took a big step towards the Copa del Rey final with a 2-1 win away to Rayo on Wednesday.

A run of one win from 10 league games means Real Sociedad are in danger of slipping out of the European placings and coach Imanol Alguacil needs to see improvement at home to Granada, who are just six points clear of the bottom three.

Espanyol’s 2-1 defeat in Bilbao means they have taken just one point from the last 12, but they will have striker Raul de Tomas back for the Barcelona derby on Sunday afternoon.

Barca travel after arguably their best display of the season to beat Atletico Madrid, but they will be without the suspended Dani Alves as Xavi Hernandez’s side look for the consistency that has so far evaded them this season.

The round of matches ends on Monday as Athletic Club Bilbao look to continue their excellent recent form away to Mallorca, whose win over Cadiz last week ended a run of four consecutive defeats that had taken them too close to the bottom three for comfort.

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