LaLiga Matchday 19: Atleti bid to avoid unwanted record
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LaLiga returns from its annual winter break with a battle for Champions League football between holders Atletico Madrid and surprise package Rayo Vallecano.
Elsewhere, leaders Real Madrid can cement their place at the top of the pile with victory over another capital side in Getafe.
Barcelona will hope to have new signing Ferran Torres available following his £55million switch from Manchester City as they head to Mallorca.
Game of the week: Atletico Madrid vs Rayo Vallecano (Sunday, 3.15pm)
Reigning champions Atleti head into this game on the back of four straight losses — their worst losing streak under Diego Simeone.
There is an unwanted piece of history on the line, too. Simeone will tie Ricardo Zamora as the Atleti coach with the most successive defeats in LaLiga history if Los Rojiblancos lose a fifth.
But the omens are good for the hosts. They have won each of their last five LaLiga games against Rayo — keeping clean sheets in their last four — and are unbeaten in their first LaLiga game of the last 12 calendar years (W8, D4).
As a coach, Simeone has lost just one of 13 games against Rayo (W10, D2) while Antoine Griezmann has scored in each of his last five outings against the Madrid outfit — his longest scoring run against a single opponent in league history.
Rayo, perched a point and a place above Atletico in fourth, have just one win in their last 18 away LaLiga fixtures (D3, L14).
Valencia vs Espanyol (Friday, 3.15pm)
There has been a remarkable turnaround in form at Valencia who are now on a three-game winning streak having won just one of their previous 11.
If Los Che make that four in a row against Espanyol, they will achieve something they have not managed since April 2018 when they won five in succession.
Espanyol could provide the perfect opponents, too. The Catalans are winless in their last 18 LaLiga away games (D5, L13) and a 19th game without victory would equal their longest winless run on the road in the 21st century.
Furthermore, Valencia have won 50 of 80 LaLiga games against Espanyol, more than any other LaLiga opponent
Getafe vs Real Madrid (Sunday, 1pm)
Perched above the relegation zone only on goal difference, a visit from league-leaders Real is not how Getafe would have wanted to start 2022.
Los Azulones have only lost more games to Barcelona (W3, D6, L24) in their LaLiga history than Real Madrid (W5, D4, L23).
If coach Quique Sanchez Flores is hoping to turn a new leaf, he will not be encouraged to know the Madrid-based side have lost their first game of the new year in each of the last four years.
In better news, Getafe are unbeaten in their last five LaLiga games (W2, D3) — their longest unbeaten run since December 2019 when they went seven without defeat.
Stopping Karim Benzema will be key to extending that run. The Frenchman has been involved in seven goals in his last 10 LaLiga trips to Getafe, though none in his last three trips to the Coliseum.
Real Betis vs Celta Vigo (Sunday, 5.30pm)
Flying high in third, Real Betis will look to start 2022 on a high by overcoming mid-table Celta Vigo.
Unbeaten in their last six LaLiga games (W4, D2) against the Galicians, Betis have never avoided defeat in seven consecutive matches against Celta.
Andalusia is not a profitable region of Spain for Celta, who have failed to win on any of their last 14 trips since beating Granada 3-0 in April 2017.
Betis, meanwhile, have collected 15 points from the last 18 on offer at home (W5, L1) — a stark contrast to their first three home games of the season which yielded just two points.
Willian Jose has scored six in 12 LaLiga appearances against Celta, making Los Celestes his second-favourite opponent.
Similarly, Celta talisman Iago Aspas has six in his last seven outings against Betis.
Mallorca vs Barcelona (Sunday, 8pm)
Mallorca provide the perfect opponents for Barcelona boss Xavi to start 2022 in style.
The island outfit have lost their last seven clashes against the Catalans, failing to score in five while conceding an average of four goals per game.
In total, Barca have won 11 of their last 12 trips to Mallorca with their last defeat coming in May 2009.
But if that run is ever likely to end, it is now. The Blaugrana won just seven of 18 games in the first half of the season (D7, L4), their lowest win tally at this stage of a campaign since the 2003-04 season (W6, D6, L6).
It is little wonder when Barcelona have scored fewer goals (29) than their expected tally (33) suggests they should have for the first time since this data became available in 2010.
The weekend’s other games:
Elche vs Granada (Sunday, 3.15pm)
Deportivo Alaves vs Real Sociedad (Sunday, 5.30pm)
Villarreal vs Levante (Monday, 6pm)
Osasuna vs Athletic Bilbao (Monday, 8pm)
Cadiz vs Sevilla (Monday, 8.15pm)