As match day 18 draws nearer, it is almost the mid-way point of La Liga and some intriguing, must-see matches will take place over the course of the weekend.

League leaders Barcelona will travel to Galicia to take on a recovering Deportivo team, while rivals, Real Madrid will welcome Villarreal to the Bernabéu on Sunday evening, in what is perhaps the biggest match of the round.  The Valencian derby will take place when Valencia makes the short trip across town to take on rivals Levante.

Málaga vs Athletic Bilbao

After their shock home defeat last weekend to Deportivo, Athletic are on the road to visit a revamped Málaga team in Andalucia.  The anchovies had a very disappointing “first half” of the season and as such were very active in the winter transfer market purchasing no less than five players, all of whom are of innate quality.  Baptista, known to many Real Madrid and Arsenal fans as the Beast for his physique is just one of the names the home team managed to grab in the winter market.   Málaga also managed to sign players such as, Argentine defender Demichelis from Bayern Munich, Spanish youth internationals, Asenjo and Camacho from Atlético Madrid and former Juventus and Sevilla midfielder, Enzo Maresca to strengthen their squad for the second half of the season.  Surely, an act of this nature shows that it is not the ambition of the anchovies to finish 17th and as such it will be a tough, tight game for the visiting team.  Athletic Bilbao surprisingly fell at home to Deportivo last weekend, losing 2-1 and will be looking to bounce back with a win over the Andalucians on Saturday.  Bilbao’s last six visits to La Rosaleda have all ended in unimpressive results with the latter two ending in draws, the previous four were all losses.  Los Leones’ last win in La Rosaleda came back in September 2001 when Etxeberria and Guerrero scored in a 2-1 victory for the visitors.  However, Athletic will be looking to change that bit of fortune or lack thereof when they take on the Andalucians.  Eliseu will miss the encounter for the home side through suspension.  While, Athletic Bilbao will be without San José and Ustaritz who are both suspended.  They will also be without Susaeta, Toquero and Amorebieta who are all out with injuries.

Real Sociedad vs Sevilla

Real Sociedad are back in the Anoeta after losing their last game against Real Zaragoza on the road and will welcome Sevilla this weekend.  Sevilla managed to put an end to their 5 game losing streak last weekend when they scraped a narrow win against Osasuna last weekend and will be hoping they can continue winning and climb back up the table.  However, Real Sociedad are a tough home team and have won five of their eight home games, losing the other three to strong opponents- Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Valencia.  Sevilla’s last two trips to the Anoeta have garnered the visitors maximum points and it is a feat they will be raring to repeat on Saturday evening.  Both teams will be missing a key player through suspension as Griezmann is set to miss out for the home team while Zokora will not make the trip to San Sebastian.

Deportivo La Coruña vs Barcelona

Saturday’s final game will see Deportivo welcome Barcelona to the Riazor in a match that Deportivo will have to pull out all the stops to secure at least a point.  The home team have been on a resurgence for the past two months met on occasions with minor bumps but nevertheless have clawed themselves out of the drop and sit comfortably with an 8 point cushion over the relegation zone.  A win for the hosts could see them climb as high as 9th and that wouldn’t be a bad position for a team that had a dismal start to their season.  However, they will be faced with the task of keeping a rampant Barcelona attack at bay and considering their [Deportivo’s] goal scoring record this season, it will be a tough task for them to score if they do fall behind in this game.  Also, the away team are still undefeated and holds a perfect away record thus far.  Regardless, the home team will be seeking revenge on Barcelona for the 3-1 defeat inflicted on them during the Catalan’s last visit to the Riazor.  The visitors have had some ups and downs in the Riazor winning only 3 games of their last 10 visits to Galicia.  Juan Rodríguez will be suspended for the home team, while Urretavizcaya is still out with an injury and Rindarøy is doubtful for the encounter with an injury.  Pep Guardiola will have a full squad to select from for the trip to Galicia.

Mallorca vs Almería

Mallorca will play hosts to another team fighting against relegation this season, Almería, on Sunday evening.  Mallorca are normally very difficult hosts and this season is no different, collecting 17 points from a possible 27 in their home games with 5 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses.  On the other hand, Almería are struggling this season, sitting in 17th place and have lost their last two games.  However, Almería should still be optimistic as their only two wins this season have come on the road, the last one against Sevilla in week 15.  Almería’s last two league visits to the Island have ended in defeat for the Andalucians.  But, their last visit in the Copa del Rey this past week saw them record a 4-3 victory over the Islanders.

Osasuna vs Getafe

Osasuna are back home after losing yet another away game last Sunday when they fell 1-0 victims to Sevilla, and will welcome Getafe to the Reyno de Navarra, with the intent of earning maximum points from the game.  However, it will not be an easy game for the Pamplona side as Getafe fell 3-2 to Real Madrid in what was a very close fought game and they will be looking to bounce back and continue their climb up the table in their efforts to secure a spot in Europe for next season.  Osasuna have been fairly solid against Getafe at home and have managed to stymie the visitors in the last two games getting a draw in the last game and thrashing them 5-2 in the game prior to that.  Also, the hosts are hoping to add to their 4 point cushion over the relegation zone to further distance themselves from the drop and avoid being sucked into a battle toward the end of the season.  Soriano will be suspended for the home team, while Masoud, Nekounam and Monreal are doubtful for the encounter.  Míchel will have a full squad to select from for the visiting team.

Espanyol vs Real Zaragoza

Despite their last home match ending in a resounding 5-1 defeat against cross town rivals Barcelona, Espanyol are doing well at home and up until that point had a perfect home record.  They [Espanyol] can still boast of being one of the best home teams in the league winning 7 of their 8 games in the Cornella El Pratt.  However, they are on a current 2 game skid and are eager to end that against relegation candidates, Real Zaragoza.  The visitors are, however, on a 2 game unbeaten streak picking up their first win since match day 10 last weekend.  Although, both wins for the visitors came on home turf.  The visitors last league win against Espanyol  in Barcelona came back in February 2007, when Sergio García scored both goals in a 2-1 victory.  Forlín will be suspended for the match while David García is doubtful.  The visitors will miss Ponzio for the match as he is suspended.

Racing Santander vs Sporting Gijón

Sporting Gijón will make the trip to Santander to take on Racing on Sunday evening.  Racing have been undefeated for the last three league games earning a win and two consecutive draws while Gijón is yet to pick up a win since match day 7 when they beat Sevilla at home 2-0, a winless streak which have seen them plummet all the way to 20th in league.  And, to heap further problems onto the shoulders of Sporting Gijón, they have not beaten Racing at home since November 1986, when they recorded a 2-1 victory over the host.

Real Madrid vs Villarreal

Real Madrid welcoming Villarreal to the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday is perhaps the biggest match up this weekend and will take center stage.  Real Madrid are currently the only unbeaten home team in league and boasts a perfect record.  Also, Mourinho is still on a run of 144 home league games unbeaten streak.  However, Villarreal are in incredible form this season and find themselves in third place 8 points behind Real Madrid and will be seeking to reduce that gap.  This is a game that tends to be very entertaining and is never lacking in goals especially the past 5 games at the Bernabéu.  In their 12 seasons in La Liga, Villarreal have never beaten Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu and have only come away with a point on three occasions.  Their last visit to Madrid ended in a 6-2 thrashing and surely these are records the yellow submarines will be looking to turn around.  Pepe is injured for the home team and will miss approximately the next four weeks, while Higuaín will undergo surgery, which will keep him sidelined for another two months and Jerzy Dudek is still recovering from a fractured mandible.  Arbeloa will be suspended for the home team after being sent off on Monday evening against Getafe.  On the other side of the pitch, top scorer Nilmar will be out with an injury, as will Marchena and Senna.

Levante vs Valencia

The last game on Sunday evening sees Valencia making the trip to cross town rivals, Levante, where the hosts are coming off a wonderful mid-week 2-0 victory over Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey which wasn’t enough to take them through to the next round.  Nevertheless, it was a huge victory for the home team and coach Luis García Plaza will be hoping that his team can emulate their mid-week heroics against Valencia especially if they are to attempt to distance themselves from the relegation zone, which they are only separated from by 2 points.  Valencia on the other hand are on a 3 game unbeaten streak in league and currently sit in 4th.  Levante’s last home game in league ended in defeat at the hands of Athletic Bilbao.  Also, they have lost their last home derby against Valencia getting blitzed 5-1 back in May of 2008.  The home team will miss Nano who is suspended for the fixture, while both Caicedo and Javi Venta are doutbful.  Valencia will miss both Aduriz and Ricardo Costa through suspension while, Albelda, Tino Costa and César are doubtful with injuries.

Hércules vs Atlético Madrid

Atlético will travel to Alicante on Monday evening to take on Hércules, a team that has gone off the boiler a bit and are stuck toward the bottom of the table in 13th on 19 points with a 6 point cushion over the drop zone.  Atlético are once again the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the competition this season and are sitting in 6th on 27 points and will be looking to gain points on Valencia while rooting for Levante on Sunday to come away with at least a point.  The home team haven’t earned a victory at home against Atlético in top flight football since 1978, earning their last point in 1985.  The last first division league match between the two teams came back in 1997 which Atlético won 2-0.  Both Forlán and Assunção are looking set to return for the visitors.  While, both Drenthe and Tote are doubtful for the hosts.

Top Matches of the weekend

  • Málaga vs Athletic Bilbao: this may well be the match that Pellegrini unveils his new acquisitions and as such Bilbao will need to be careful.
  • Deportivo vs Barcelona: I am keen to see how Deportivo handles this situation.  Also, will they be able to avenge their 3-1 loss at home last season?
  • Real Madrid vs Villarreal: perhaps the biggest match of the weekend and both teams will be doing everything to ensure victory.  This is also a game that has been loaded with goals for the past 5 seasons, hence the entertainment value will be there!
  • Levante vs Valencia: It’s a derby!!! Need I say more?!