La Liga Week 17 Preview: Barcelona host Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid take on Espanyol, Villareal to take advantage, Valencia and Sevilla plan comebacks

This might be the final round of matches before La Liga 2007-2008 submerges into a two week hibernation but boy, isn’t this weekend a rocking one! It’s El Clasico time mates and read that as war.

El Clasico is the biggest club fixture in the world and is played out between the two most successful teams in Spanish football, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Real are the Castilian side and represent the autocratic and historically oppressive Spanish state while Barca are the symbol of democracy and freedom of the region of Catalonia. So more than 3 points are at stake on Sunday evening when Real travel to the Camp Nou even though neither team would like to lose.

Last season the corresponding fixture was the season’s best match that resulted in a 3-3 draw and if the two teams’ forms are anything to rely upon, then goals are in galore for you. Barca have won all their homes games so far this season while Real have lost 2 of their last 5 away games.

Real are top of the Spanish tree with 38 points from 16 matches while Barca are second on 34 points. Lionel Messi, who scored a scintillating hat-trick in that stupendous 3-3 draw, will miss Sunday’s titan clash with a hamstring injury and while manager Frank Rijkaard is unsure whether to play Ronaldinho or Giovanni dos Santos, striker Samuel Eto’o is certain to start. Real Madrid’s Javier Pedro Saviola might just thread his way through to the traveling Real squad but should he be allowed to come onto the pitch at any stage, he would certainly receive some frosty reception from the 100,000 Barca fanatics locked inside the Camp Nou cathedral. Real manager Bernd Schuster is expected to start with in-form strikers Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul and the duo would be supported from the midfield by Robinho and Julio Cesar Baptista.

A Barca defeat would be hugely welcomed in Madrid, not only by the Madridistas but by Atletico Madrid as well. Atleti are third in the table and a loss for Barca and a win for them against Espanyol at home would take them level on points with Barca. But Espanyol are no pushovers. With 30 points, the other Catalan side are just 1 point and 1 place off a UEFA Champions League spot and 3 points at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Sunday would take Ernesto Valverde’s side into the top four. If recent forms of both Atletico and Espanyol are any indications, then the game would be inundated with goals.

Sandwiched between Atletico and Espanyol are Manuel Pellegrini’s Juan Roman Riquelme-less entertaining Villarreal side who are level on points with Atletico in fourth spot. Villarreal came to form last weekend with a 3-1 away victory over Getafe with Turkish striker Kahveci Nihat scoring twice. The Yellow Submarine have enough firepower to brush aside 13th placed Recreativo de Huelva who are just 2 points above safety. The match is at El Madrigal where Villarreal have won 5 of their 8 matches.

This season Racing Santander are not entangled in the cluster of clubs threatened with a free fall to the Segundo Division and cushion themselves comfortably in 7th place in the league table, 3 places and 6 points better off than Sevilla FC whom they play on Saturday. While Sevilla are out of the title race, a prized place in Europe is not entirely out of the picture.

Valencia CF in 8th are away to Real Zaragoza this weekend. Zaragoza are stationed in mid-table, level on points with Sevilla but are just 3 points beyond the yawning relegation trapdoor. Valencia have scored just1 goal in their last 8 matches and manager Ronald Koeman is feeling the heat burning the back of his neck. Valencia’s title hopes have withered to ashes and only a UEFA Cup spot is attainable.

Moving onto the darker end of the tunnel now and there are two relegation 6-pointers in La Liga this weekend. Rock bottom Levante with just 7 points from 16 matches are virtually guaranteed of dropping into the second division. This weekend they welcome the side immediately above them in the table Deportivo la Coruna at Ciudad de Valencia. Levante have picked up all their 7 points at home but have scored just 11 goals and conceded 32 so far this season while Depor have won 2 of their last 5 away games. A win for Levante would at best bleed in a vague ray of hope while 3 points for Depor could drag them out of the relegation zone should results elsewhere in La Liga this weekend favor them.

The other relegation 6-pointer is at Jose Zorrilla where 18th placed Real Betis travel to take on 17th placed Valladolid locked on 17 points with Betis. Betis beat promoted Almeria 3-1 a home last weekend and would be hoping to repeat that trick over promoted Valladolid this time too. A win for Betis would certainly pull them out of the bottom three as La Liga gets paralyzed for two weeks.

There are 3 other games in the Spanish first division this weekend at least 5 of the 6 sides involved are hovering dangerously over the relegation zone. Athletic de Bilbao might be 14th in the table and Real Murcia 15th but both have 18 points and are a solitary point above safety; a draw in their clash at San Mames on Sunday wouldn’t suffice either club.

Almeria with 19 points welcome Getafe with 18 and although Real Mallorca appear comfortable in 9th position with 21 points, the Islanders cannot afford to lose at Osasuna, who might as well get dumped into the bottom three by the end of the weekend. Osasuna are 16th in the table but only on goal difference. Osasuna, you see, have 17 points, the same number of points as Betis have in their bag.

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