LaLiga Matchday 17: High-flying Sociedad set for Bilbao battle
With Barcelona and Real Madrid preparing for Sunday's Supercopa de Espana final, LaLiga’s supporting cast take centre stage this weekend.
Third-placed Real Sociedad can cut the gap between them and Los Blancos down from six to three points, but face a tricky test against Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao.
Atletico Madrid will attempt to climb back into the top four when they take on Almeria, while in-form Villarreal visit Celta Vigo and struggling Sevilla face Girona.
Elsewhere, bottom side Elche are targeting their first win of the season at Cadiz, who are also bidding to escape the drop zone.
Game of the week: Real Sociedad vs Athletic Bilbao (Saturday, 8pm)
This Basque derby clash holds added importance for both sides — Sociedad are looking to secure their top-four spot, while Athletic could move into a European place with a positive result.
La Real are unbeaten in their last five home LaLiga encounters with Saturday's opponents under head coach Imanol Alguacil (three wins, two draws).
Both sides are in good form, with the hosts having won six in a row in all competitions, while Athletic are unbeaten since November 3, conceding only once in their last six outings.
The visitors will be counting on Iker Muniain to make the difference at the sharp end of the pitch by adding to his record of six goals in 21 league games against La Real — his best record against any opponent in the competition.
Almeria vs Atletico Madrid (Sunday, 3.15pm)
Atleti find themselves outside the top four and out of the title race after just 16 games — and they must find form if they are to secure Champions League football for next season.
However, history suggests their trip to Almeria will not be an easy one, having only won one of their six LaLiga away clashes against their Andalucian opponents.
Los Rojiblancos have already lost five times in the league this term — the most defeats they have ever suffered at this stage of a top-flight campaign under Diego Simeone.
They will hope that Alvaro Morata can score in his third successive meeting with Almeria, though the hosts boast Leo Baptistao, whose record against Atletico is impressive (four goals in nine games).
Celta Vigo vs Villarreal (Friday, 8pm)
One point is all that currently separates Celta Vigo from the relegation zone.
However, a visit from Villarreal rarely ends well for Los Celestes, who have won just one of their last 10 home LaLiga games (four draws, five defeats) against the Yellow Submarine.
The visitors have netted in each of their last 12 league meetings with Celta, scoring a total of 25 goals.
Dani Parejo will hope to add to that tally on Friday, having already scored eight times in 17 LaLiga clashes with the Galicians — his best record against any team in the competition.
Girona vs Sevilla (Saturday, 3.15pm)
Girona's top-flight history against Sevilla does not make for pleasant reading.
They have scored just once in their four meetings in the competition, losing three of those encounters (one win).
However, Sevilla are only one place outside of the relegation zone, while Girona are 12th and unbeaten in their last six league outings (two wins, four draws).
The struggles of Jorge Sampaoli's visitors are perhaps best encapsulated by the fact that Youssef En-Nesyri has taken 19 shots without scoring in LaLiga this term — the joint-second most among all forwards in the division.
Cadiz vs Elche (Monday, 8pm)
Few teams in Europe's top five leagues have struggled quite as badly as Elche this season.
Pablo Machin's men are bottom of the league with just four points and no wins from 16 games so far. They are currently 10 points behind 19th-placed Espanyol and 11 from safety.
Only Levante have suffered a worse winless start in LaLiga history this century, having picked up their first victory at the 20th attempt last season.
But a trip to 18th-placed Cadiz offers an excellent opportunity to end that winless streak, given Los Piratas have faced more shots than any other side in LaLiga (257) — Elche have faced the second-most (243).
The weekend's other games
Real Valladolid vs Rayo Vallecano (Saturday, 1pm)
Osasuna vs Mallorca (Saturday, 5.30pm)
Getafe vs Espanyol (Sunday, 1pm)
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