LALIGA WEEKEND PREVIEW: Real Madrid and Barcelona face each other in the second Clasico of the season
It could all come down to this. The second Clasico of the season plays a crucial role in who this season is crowned champion of LaLiga.
The pendulum of the title race swung back in favor of Barcelona last weekend after Real Madrid lost a 1-0 shock to Levante.
Lionel Messi was at his best when he beat four of Barca’s five past Eibar in an emphatic win to regain the Catalan giants their place at the top of the table.
Real Madrid and Barcelona will close for the second time this Sunday evening in El Clasico
Friday, February 28
Real Sociedad v Valladolid (20:00)
Saturday, February 29
Eibar v Levante (12pm)
Valencia v Real Betis (fifteen)
Leganes v Alaves (5.30 p.m.)
Granada against Celta Vigo (8 p.m.)
Sunday, March 1
Seville v Osasuna (11 am)
Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal (13:00)
Espanyol v Atletico Madrid (fifteen)
Mallorca v Getafe (5.30 pm)
Real Madrid v Barcelona (8 p.m.)
Barcelona’s surprise Martin Braithwaite signed for Quique Setien and played a part in the win, while it was more bad news for Real, as they lost Eden Hazard to injury.
This weekend’s round of matches may also prove to be one of the most crucial at both ends of the table with Champions League seats up for grabs, while those in the relegation zone continue to turn it off.
Atletico Madrid and Sevilla are locked up in a battle for third place with every session at 43 points, while Getafe – who lost 3-0 to Sevilla last weekend – is only one point behind in fifth place.
But what can we expect from this weekend’s matches?
Here, Sportsmail looks at all the action for a busy weekend in the top flight of Spain and there is plenty to look forward to before El Clasico.
Real Sociedad vs Real Valladolid – Friday 8 p.m.
The action starts in the Basque Country, where Real Sociedad welcomes the 15th place Valladolid in the Anoeta stadium.
La Real is currently in and around the Europa League-places and is only three points drifting from third place Atletico.
The hosts are in the middle of a great series after winning four consecutive victories, including a remarkable victory by Copa del Rey over Real Madrid.
In the meantime, Valladolid is not looking so good. Although they are seven points free from the drop zone and only three points from the tenth place, they can get further into trouble due to a bad run.
The visitors managed to walk away last week with a 2-1 win over Espanyol, but their shape has been somewhat erratic lately.
Valladolid boss Sergio hopes that his party can climb from the bottom half with a win, but they face a tough task against an in-shape Sociedad side on Friday night.
Real Sociedad has been in good shape lately and is currently sixth in the Europa League places
Valencia vs Real Betis – Saturday, 3 PM
Valencia is currently in a five-game winless run in all competitions, which can give Real Betis some confidence during the collision on Saturday afternoon in the Mestalla.
Although Valencia has struggled to get going, they have not failed because they are currently unbeaten in the league this season after having won seven and six.
Betis will have to be wary of this weekend’s hosts in the second half, which is where the men of Albert Celades have been the most dangerous and make four half-time draws in full-time victories at home.
Betis boss Rubi also hopes that his players can keep their heads in this weekend’s match. In their last four away games in La Liga, Betis gave up three penalties and also received three red cards for their problems, which made them fall to 13th place in the table.
If Valladolid runs away with a win over the Anoeta, then Valencia can move to the Europa League-places with their own win, leaving them just one point behind Getafe who are fifth.
Espanyol vs Atletico Madrid – Sunday, 3 PM
Because Sevilla plays Osasuna earlier in the day, Atletico will have to match the result of Julen Lopetegui if they want to keep the third.
Although they are in a dogfight for a Champions League place, Diego Simeone will comfort in the knowledge that Sunday’s opponents are having a hard time this season.
Espanyol has not left the relegation zone since mid-September and has been at the bottom of the table since the beginning of December.
The Catalan club flirts dangerously with relegation but remains five points drifting from Celta Vigo, who is just above the drop zone.
Atletico Madrid is continuing its push to secure Champions League football next season
A victory for Espanyol could be the turning point in their season and it is not entirely impossible to come up with such a scenario.
In Atletico’s last visit to RCDE Stadium, the men of Simeone were convincingly beaten 3-0 last May, while the men of Abelardo Fernandez won three of the last five league encounters with Atleti.
The rankings suggest that it will be a comfortable victory for Atletico, but stranger things have happened in La Liga this season.
Real Madrid vs Barcelona – Sunday 8 p.m.
La Liga has saved the best until last. The second Clasico of the season takes place in Bernabeu and there is everything to play for.
A delightful top-of-the-table clash puts the two fierce rivals against each other again and it will certainly be a long way to decide where the trophy will end in May.
After the hype about the first Clasico that was postponed due to political unrest in Catalonia, Real Madrid left the Nou Camp with a draw that could help them in the mutual battle if they won on Sunday.
The first Clasico of the season ended scoreless in the Nou Camp in December
Their 0-0 tie at the Nou Camp in December was the first Clasico with no goals since 2002 and given the current shape of each team, you can certainly expect another cagey affair.
Both Real and Barca have looked messy this season and injuries cause great damage to the game.
It will be Quique Setien’s first Clasico as Barcelona boss, while Zidane hopes his experience will endure him in the day.
The visitors miss their first choice full-backs, with Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba injured, but Gerard Pique should be fit to play after limping late in his 1-1 draw with Napoli in the Champions League with an ankle injury on Tuesday.
Middlesbrough maverick Braithwaite could appear with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele are unlikely to return this season due to serious injury.
The hosts, on the other hand, are located in rocky surroundings.
A defusing 2-1 loss against Manchester City on Wednesday, in which Sergio Ramos was eliminated, is their third defeat in five games in all competitions, while Barca managed to win three out of five.
Lionel Messi was back to his best when he finished his small goal dry with four against Eibar
Real Madrid winger Eden Hazard is set for another long period on the sidelines with injury
Hazard is also excluded from the meeting after picking up another injury last week.
Due to the poor results, the men of Zinedine Zidane also saw a two-point cushion on the top of La Liga and they now follow the same Barca.
Two of the best goal scorers of the season this season, Messi and Karim Benzema, will certainly be in the starting line-up, but there are still questions about how the two sides will prepare tactically. Will Zidane and Setien be cautious in their approach or fully attack?
It is one of the most exciting title races in years and fans can certainly expect fireworks at the end of another action-packed weekend.
There is plenty of action at the bottom of the table, with Celta Vigo and Leganes both in action on Saturday and the both to stay away from relegation.
Celta have a tough job on their travels in Granada, while Leganes hosts Alaves.
Athletic Bilbao welcomes Villarreal to San Mames on Sunday during the kick-off, while Champions League hopeful Seville and Getafe both have the chance to prove their top-four references while competing against Osasuna and Mallorca respectively.
Eibar hopes to shake off Barca’s 5-0 dismantling last weekend when they welcome Levante for their Saturday afternoon kick-off.
Watch LaLiga Santander live on LaLigaTV this weekend