LaLiga Matchday 16: Atleti threaten Barca's precarious perch
Barcelona and Real Madrid are head and shoulders above the rest of LaLiga — though there is very little between Spain's two traditional powerhouses.
Xavi's men are only top due to their superior goal difference and will hope to maintain that advantage when they travel to face Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Los Blancos go to Estadio de la Ceramica to take on Villarreal, who are embroiled in a highly competitive fight for a Champions League place.
Real Betis are also in the hunt for European qualification and will hope to strengthen their case when they travel to Rayo Vallecano.
Betis' great city rivals Sevilla will be aiming to get out of the bottom three when they welcome Getafe to the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, while Athletic Bilbao's date with Osasuna is another European joust.
Game of the week: Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona (Sunday, 8pm)
Barcelona's trip to the Spanish capital sees them lock horns with Atleti.
And it is set to be an intense clash for the Catalan club — they dropped points last weekend against city rivals Espanyol and looked far from their best in Wednesday's Copa del Rey win at CF Intercity.
Atleti, meanwhile, backed up their 2-0 league victory against Elche with a cup triumph at Real Oviedo, their fourth win on the bounce.
Diego Simeone's men are fourth in LaLiga but could sink to seventh should they lose and other results not fall in their favour.
Villarreal vs Real Madrid (Saturday, 3.15pm)
Fresh from Tuesday's cup victory at Cartagena, Villarreal will hope home advantage will give them the edge in their battle with the mighty Real Madrid.
The Yellow Submarine are unbeaten in their last five outings and are showing signs of progress under Quique Setien, who replaced Unai Emery in October.
Setien's side won the Derbi de la Comunitat with Valencia last Saturday and sit seventh in the table but now face a Madrid side who have won back-to-back matches on their return from the World Cup break.
Carlo Ancelotti's team are in the midst of an intense title race with Barca and will hope to put pressure on their fierce rivals with victory on Saturday.
Karim Benzema bagged a late brace to earn Real all three points in last Friday's win at Real Valladolid but the reigning Ballon d'Or recipient has only scored once away to Villarreal — in a 2-2 draw in January 2019.
Rayo Vallecano v Real Betis (Sunday, 3.15pm)
Rayo Vallecano's Sunday afternoon clash with Real Betis has the potential to be the weekend's most entertaining fare — both sides are enjoying fine seasons, boast impressive talent and are supremely well-coached.
Betis are currently two points clear of Rayo in sixth but are winless in their last three league matches.
Los Verdiblancos defender Luiz Felipe was shown red in their goalless home draw with Athletic Bilbao on Matchday 15, meaning Manuel Pellegrini's men have received more red cards this term than any other side in the division (eight).
Rayo are enjoying a run of seven games without defeat in LaLiga but will look to bounce back from an extra-time loss at Sporting Gijon in Tuesday's Copa del Rey tie.
The hosts will need to keep a close eye on Betis No9 Borja Iglesias who sits behind only Benzema in the division's goalscoring charts with eight strikes to his name.
Sevilla vs Getafe (Sunday, 5.30pm)
Sevilla are in big trouble — a terrible start to the season sees them stuck in the relegation zone in 18th place, a point from safety.
Climbing out of the bottom three will be far from straightforward. They had a great opportunity last weekend when they travelled to fellow strugglers Celta Vigo, but could only secure a point.
Next up for Jorge Sampaoli's side are Getafe, who picked up a 2-0 win in their last league game against Mallorca.
Recent history favours the hosts in Sunday's encounter — the Andalucian outfit have won all of their last six meetings, keeping a clean sheet in each fixture, their best run of consecutive victories without conceding against the same opponent in LaLiga.
Athletic Bilbao vs Osasuna (Monday, 8pm)
Monday night provides an intriguing finale to Matchday 16 as Osasuna make the short trip from Pamplona to face Athletic Bilbao.
After losses to Barcelona and Real Sociedad, the visitors will be aiming to avoid three successive defeats in LaLiga for the first time since November 2021.
Athletic secured victories in both meetings with Jagoba Arrasate's team last term and could leapfrog Atletico into fourth with a third-straight win.
Chimy Avila will pose Osasuna's main goal threat — the Argentine forward has been involved in half of their last 10 league goals (four goals, one assist).
The week's other games
Elche vs Celta Vigo (Friday, 5.30pm)
Valencia vs Cadiz (Friday, 8pm)
Mallorca vs Valladolid (Saturday, 5.30pm)
Espanyol vs Girona (Saturday, 8pm)
Almeria vs Real Sociedad (Sunday, 1pm)