LaLiga Matchday 17: Real look to extend lead as Madrid derby looms
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It is only December and Real Madrid already look to be running away with the title.
Los Blancos sit eight points clear at the top but they have the smaller matter of a derby against neighbours Atletico Madrid to contend with on Sunday night.
Sevilla could narrow that gap, at least temporarily, as they travel to Athletic Bilbao 24 hours earlier while Xavi’s Barcelona will be looking to return to winning ways at Osasuna on Sunday afternoon.
Game of the week: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid (Sunday, 8pm)
Reigning champions Atleti go into the first Madrid derby of the season trailing their fierce rivals by 10 points.
It is too early to declare the title race over but Atleti clearly have ground to make up — and what a time this would be to start doing that.
But if Diego Simeone’s side are to narrow Real’s advantage, they will have to become the first team to take points off Los Blancos in any competition since late October.
Carlo Ancelotti’s men have rampaged to the top of the pile after winning their last six league games — the most recent of which was a 2-0 victory at Real Sociedad.
Real have dominated the derby in recent years too. Atleti have not come out on top in the last seven meetings in all competitions — and have failed to score on their last three trips to the Bernabeu.
Here are the other big games to watch this weekend…
Espanyol vs Levante (Saturday, 1pm)
No team in the history of LaLiga has ever gone 25 games without victory — but failure to win on Saturday would see rock-bottom Levante set that unwanted record.
Since beating Eibar in April, the visitors have drawn 11 and lost 13 of their 24 league matches.
Their sole success in that time was an 8-0 thrashing just last week — but that came against minnows Huracan Melilla in the Copa del Rey.
Espanyol, on the other hand, are sitting comfortably in mid-table and boast one of the strongest home records in the division, having won five of their last six at the RCDE Stadium. In fact, Atleti are the only team to win there this season.
There is a sense that the Periquitos have ridden their luck in defence so far, however. No side in the division has conceded fewer goals relative to their expected goals against tally (15 from 22.34 xGA).
Athletic Bilbao vs Sevilla (Saturday, 8pm)
Goals could be at a premium at San Mames where LaLiga’s meanest defences battle for supremacy on Saturday night.
That said, while both sides have conceded just 11 goals, Sevilla have scored almost twice as many (25) as Athletic (13) — so this one does not quite have 0-0 written all over it.
Two of the hosts’ last four games have finished goalless, although they were both away from home.
The Lions have only drawn a blank in one of their seven games at San Mames this term, scoring nine of their 13 overall goals there.
By contrast, Sevilla have bagged just seven (28%) of their 25 on the road — although they have spread those goals across their eight away fixtures, finding the net in six of them.
Osasuna vs Barcelona (Sunday, 3.15pm)
It has been a disappointing few days for Barcelona, who suffered their first defeat under Xavi by losing 1-0 at home to Real Betis on Matchday 16 before crashing out of the Champions League in midweek.
The Blaugrana are in need of a lift and, despite their ongoing woes, they ought to be hopeful of it against a team without a league win since mid-October.
Osasuna have drawn their last two LaLiga matches, arresting a run of three straight defeats, but Jagoba Arrasate’s outfit have slumped after a strong start to the season which saw them take 18 points from their opening 10 games.
Rojillos midfielder Roberto Torres seems to enjoy facing Barca, scoring four goals in eight LaLiga appearances against them. His team have won only one of the last 10 meetings, however.
Real Betis vs Real Sociedad (Sunday, 5.30pm)
Real Betis will look to extend their three-match winning streak against a Real Sociedad outfit who are wobbling after a fine opening to the campaign.
The visitors head to Andalusia having lost their last two games in LaLiga. They have not succumbed to three successive league defeats since this time last year.
As Betis aim to keep winning, Juanmi will aim to keep scoring — for the fourth match in a row.
With nine goals so far — more than in his previous three seasons in LaLiga combined — the 28-year-old is currently the top-scoring Spanish player in Europe’s top five leagues.
However, the visitors have proved to be something of a bogey team for Los Verdiblancos’ boss Manuel Pellegrini in recent years. The Chilean has not won any of his last six LaLiga encounters with La Real.
This weekend’s other games:
Mallorca vs Celta Vigo (Friday, 8pm)
Alaves vs Getafe (Saturday, 3.15pm)
Valencia vs Elche (Saturday, 5.30pm)
Villarreal vs Rayo Vallecano (Sunday, 1pm)
Cadiz vs Granada (Monday, 8pm)