LaLiga Matchday 38: Barca battle could decide Villarreal's European fate
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European qualification and top-flight survival are on the line as LaLiga reaches its conclusion this weekend.
Villarreal head to Barcelona in the standout clash of Matchday 38, where they will aim to seal a spot in next season's Europa Conference League.
Elsewhere, champions Real Madrid entertain Real Betis, while Cadiz, Mallorca and Granada are all battling to avoid relegation to Spain's second tier.
Game of the week: Barcelona vs Villarreal (Sunday, 9pm)
Villarreal take on Barcelona needing a win to guarantee Europa Conference League qualification — but the Yellow Submarine have lost their last 10 league games at the Camp Nou.
That is their worst away streak against a single opponent in LaLiga, while the Blaugrana could make it six wins in a row against Villarreal for the very first time on Sunday.
The visitors are currently just two strikes away from registering 100 in all competitions this season. They have only achieved that feat twice before as a top-flight outfit.
Barca, meanwhile, have scored 16 headed goals this term — more than any other team in the league and their most since 2014-15 (also 16).
Late efforts from Memphis Depay and Philippe Coutinho secured a 3-1 win for the Catalans in November's reverse fixture.
Here are the other big games to keep an eye on this weekend…
Real Madrid vs Real Betis (Friday, 8pm)
Real Betis will be dreading Friday's trip to the capital — Los Verdiblancos are winless in 10 league visits to the Madrid region, failing to score in nine of those fixtures.
With the title wrapped up weeks ago, the hosts can go out on a high with a 14th home LaLiga win of the season. They could also keep four consecutive top-flight clean sheets at the Bernabeu for the first time since July 2020.
Betis boss Manuel Pellegrini will hope to exorcise his personal hoodoo against Real. He has faced them more times on the road without winning (nine) than any other team as a LaLiga manager.
Meanwhile, Los Blancos No9 Karim Benzema is set to become the first French player in LaLiga history to finish the season as top scorer. The 34-year-old has enjoyed a stunning campaign, netting 27 league goals.
These teams last met way back in August, with Dani Carvajal's second-half volley clinching three points for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
Alaves vs Cadiz (Sunday, 7pm)
Currently occupying the last relegation spot due to their inferior head-to-head record, Cadiz will be aiming to put pressure on Mallorca in the battle to avoid the drop.
They are chasing a fourth win from six league trips to the Basque Country — and will be buoyed by the fact that relegated Alaves have only beaten them once in five encounters.
But boss Sergio Gonzalez has lost four of his six top-flight games against the hosts as a manager, with his side failing to score in any of those defeats.
While he was unable to save his team from the drop, 14-goal frontman Joselu will end the campaign as Alaves' highest scorer in a single LaLiga season since Javi Moreno (22) in 2000-01. He has also found the net four times in three top-flight appearances against Cadiz.
Those strikes included a brace to secure a 2-0 triumph for the Babazorros in this term's previous meeting.
Osasuna vs Mallorca (Sunday, 7pm)
Mallorca's task is a simple one, at least on paper — beat Osasuna and they will stay up. However, they travel to El Sadar having not won in 10 away outings.
And the hosts will want to wrap up the season by ending a five-match winless run. Three points would guarantee them a ninth-placed finish, which would be their best performance since coming seventh a decade ago.
Relegation for Mallorca would be the club's second in three years and represent the fifth time they have gone straight back down after being promoted from the second tier.
Los Rojillos' boss Jagoba Arrasate will be trying to make it four league wins from four against his opposite number Javier Aguirre. If he does, Osasuna will do the double over Mallorca for the first time since 2005-06.
The previous meeting between these two produced a 3-2 thriller, with Javi Martinez poking home an 88th-minute winner.
Granada vs Espanyol (Sunday, 7pm)
Requiring a victory to make sure of safety, Granada take on a team they have only beaten twice in their last 11 encounters.
But more promisingly for the hosts, Espanyol have won just once on their travels all season. Only Alaves (six) have picked up fewer away points than the Periquitos (eight).
And there is further cause for optimism. Of Granada's five relegations from LaLiga to date, none have come after they started the final round of games outside of the bottom three.
Keep an eye out for some impressive long-range strikes from the hosts in this match — the Andalucians have scored 12 goals from outside the box this season, representing a league-high 27% of their goals.
The reverse fixture finished 2-0 to Espanyol, with Adria Pedrosa and Raul de Tomas on the scoresheet.
The weekend's other games
Rayo Vallecano vs Levante (Friday, 8pm)
Valencia vs Celta Vigo (Saturday, 4.30pm)
Elche vs Getafe (Sunday, 4.30pm)
Real Sociedad vs Atletico Madrid (Sunday, 9pm)
Sevilla vs Athletic Bilbao (Sunday, 9pm)
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