Matchday 22 sees Real Madrid and FC Barcelona both travel to the north of Spain in a weekend which should once again be filled with drama; here are four things to look out for.
1) Will Iniesta and Busquets breathe new life into Barca in Cup dry run?
FC Barcelona’s trip to face Alaves in the Mendizorroza Stadium is a prelude to this season’s King’s Cup final after both sides progressed from their semi-finals this week. However, while Alaves went through with a gutsy display to book their first ever Cup-final appearance, Barca were forced to cling on for dear life with nine men as Atletico Madrid took the game to them in the Camp Nou Stadium.
It was another rocky Barcelona display, but coach Luis Enrique will hope that after his substitute’s appearance on Tuesday, Sergio Busquets will be able to provide some much-needed stability in central midfield, while Andres Iniesta can inject some moments of fantasy in their play.
Alaves have shown themselves to be a fantastically well-drilled side and nobody should forget their 2-1 win in the Camp Nou is the shock result of the season to date, Barca will need their attacking trident of Messi, Suarez and Neymar to be at their best and with Busquets and Iniesta to pull the strings in order to beat them.
2) Crunch time in Leganes
Although the game between Leganes and Sporting Gijon is perhaps the least glamorous tie of the weekend, in many ways it could be the most important as the result in the Butarque Stadium will go a long way towards deciding who is relegated at the end of the season.
Sporting travel south third from bottom of the table, without a win in 7 games and on the back of a morale crushing 4-2 home defeat at home to Alaves, while Leganes, who have a five-point cushion over their rivals, last won on Nov. 21.
This marks the run of a series of winnable games at home for Leganes, who would put eight points between themselves and Sporting with a win, virtually assuring their rivals will go down at the end of the season. However, if Sporting are able to come to the south of Madrid and get a positive result their survival hopes will stay intact and Leganes will have plenty to worry about.
3) Another crisis at Valencia?
With just 19 points from 21 matches it is only the worse form of the sides below them that is keeping Valencia safe from the drop.
Impressive consecutive wins over Espanyol and Villarreal seemed to indicate that the return of Voro Gonzalez to the dugout had brought the necessary reaction to save their season, but the wheels have since come off big style with a 3-1 defeat away to Las Palmas and a 4-0 humiliation at home to Eibar.
Saturday sees Valencia travel to face Betis, who are unbeaten at home since Victor Sanchez became their coach and whose last home game saw them give FC Barcelona the runaround.
Valencia will be without talented youngster Carlos Soler for the game, but welcome Dani Parejo and Nani back after suspension for 90 minutes that will determine if they can start looking above them in the table, or whether they will once again have to look over their shoulders.
4) Does a week off mean well-rested or lacking rhythm?
Real Madrid complained long and loud about the cancellation of last weekend’s scheduled match away to Celta Vigo as winds of 130km/h damaged the roof of Celta’s Balaidos Stadium.
There should be no such problem when Madrid visit Pamplona on Saturday to face an Osasuna side with just 10 points and no home win all season.
It should be a relatively straightforward game for Zinedine Zidane’s men as they look to maintain their lead at the top of the table, the only question will be whether or not a side that has been more effective than fluent with their football will travel to Pamplona rested and in top shape, or lacking the competitive edge playing every week gives you.
Osasuna have improved of late and will look to make life hard for Madrid with a high-energy approach, Zidane will be insisting to his player that they need to focus from the very start to avoid being pushed onto the back foot.