LaLiga Matchday 24: Real bid to bounce back in Betis battle
Real Madrid remain seven points off the pace in LaLiga and will be severely tested by a buoyant Real Betis this weekend.
Los Blancos dropped points in their derby draw with Atletico Madrid last Saturday before losing the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final to Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
The Blaugrana will be determined to build on that result when they host lowly Valencia on Matchday 24, while fellow strugglers Cadiz could move further clear of the drop zone with a result against Real Sociedad tonight.
Elsewhere, top-four hopefuls Atletico Madrid take on inconsistent Sevilla, before Rayo Vallecano and Athletic Bilbao battle for supremacy in the race for European qualification.
Game of the week: Real Betis vs Real Madrid (Sunday, 8pm)
Real need to start closing the gap on Barcelona if they are to stand a chance of retaining their LaLiga title but Betis will be just as desperate for victory at the Estadio Benito Villamarin.
Los Verdiblancos are within touching distance of the top four and could move ahead of Atleti with the right set of results.
That will be easier said than done, of course. Betis have not won any of their last five league games against Los Blancos (two draws, three defeats) and you have to go back to March 2020 for the last time the visitors lost in Andalusia.
But Carlo Ancelotti's outfit have not been consistent on the road of late, winning four and losing three of their most recent LaLiga away matches.
Nonetheless, it is essential that Real bounce back in this encounter after suffering the ignominy of losing at home to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey last night — despite the Catalans missing star trio Robert Lewandowski, Pedri and Ousmane Dembele.
Barcelona vs Valencia (Sunday, 3.15pm)
Barca endured a few days to forget last week, as they followed up a Europa League exit with defeat to relegation-battlers Almeria but Thursday's Clasico victory will have been the perfect palate cleanser for LaLiga's table-toppers.
Xavi's team face another struggling side in Valencia this weekend, though Los Che did end a six-game losing run in all competitions when they beat Real Sociedad on Matchday 23.
Despite needing a late winner from Lewandowski earlier this season, Barca have claimed maximum points from their previous four meetings with the men from Mestalla, scoring at least three goals in three of those encounters.
Barcelona have scored 98% of their league goals from inside the box in 2022-23 (44 out of 45), which is only matched by Napoli in Europe's top five leagues.
Real Sociedad vs Cadiz (Friday, 8pm)
There is plenty to play for at the Reale Arena tonight, as Sociedad and Cadiz battle it out for three much-needed points in San Sebastian.
Sociedad are clinging onto their spot in the top four after some inconsistent form of late, while the visitors are perched precariously above the drop zone.
The omens are clearly in La Real's favour, though.
They have won their last five league games against Cadiz — keeping a clean sheet in four of those matches — and are unbeaten in 14 home encounters with the Yellow Submarine in the competition (12 wins, two draws).
Cadiz's defence will undoubtedly be paying close attention to Mikel Oyarzabal. He has struck four times in three meetings with the Andalusians, netting two braces in those fixtures.
Atletico Madrid vs Sevilla (Saturday, 8pm)
Struggling Sevilla will be dreading their trip to the Metropolitano Stadium this Saturday — Jorge Sampaoli's men have failed to win any of their last 13 away games against Atleti (seven draws, six defeats).
In fact, Los Nervionenses are winless in their previous five visits to the capital (three draws, two defeats), last picking up all three points at Getafe in August 2021.
But this Atleti side are not as strong at home as in previous campaigns. They have only won five such fixtures this term (three draws, three defeats), which is their lowest tally at this stage of the campaign since 2009-10.
Youssef En-Nesyri's recent form will have boosted confidence in Sevilla's ranks after he struck four goals in his last five LaLiga games — as many as in his previous 36 league appearances.
Rayo Vallecano vs Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 2.30pm)
Bilbao are bidding to bounce back from a 1-0 Copa del Rey defeat to Osasuna in midweek and can leapfrog hosts Vallecano with a victory.
Ernesto Valverde's men will want to make a fast start on Sunday, with Rayo leaking a remarkable 68% of their goals conceded in the first half of matches (17 out of 25).
Athletic's recent record against Los Vallecanos certainly makes for pleasant reading.
Los Leones have won six of their last eight games against the capital club (one draw, one defeat), though Andoni Iraola's unit are a much stronger side this season.
That is reflected in Rayo's home form, having only lost two of their previous 10 games at Vallecas (five wins, three draws).
The weekend's other games
Getafe vs Girona (Saturday, 1pm)
Almeria vs Villarreal (Saturday, 3.15pm)
Mallorca vs Elche (Saturday, 5.30pm)
Real Valladolid vs Espanyol (Sunday, 1pm)
Osasuna vs Celta Vigo (Monday, 8pm)
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