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La Liga Preview – Enticing Clash Between Barcelona and Valencia

Barca welcome Los Che and Madrid take on Malaga in this weekend’s La Liga action.

 

The Bats Invade the Nou Camp

Depending on who you talk to — and which day of the week you do so — Barcelona are either in-form or in-crisis. It’s mostly nonsensical: media bloodsuckers overreacting to a dreaded “scoreless draw” or Lionel Messi missing a spotkick. Luckily, for the betterment of Catalan hearts everywhere, this week happens to be an in-form week (though last week was an in-crisis one. You get it.) Barca emphatically defeated Paris St. Germain in midweek Champions League action — thanks to a complete team effort and some black magic from Luis Suarez — and, in the process, alleviated heaps of pressure from this current treacherous run of fixtures. With three away goals lodged ahead of next week’s second-leg visit of PSG, La Liga can now stand front-and-center for Luis Enrique’s men.

Of course, a weekend visit from fourth-place Valencia always presents a stack of potential pitfalls for any club. Los Che haven’t lost a league match since the beginning of February, managing to acquire 24 out of a possible 30 points in that time. They key to their newfound success has undoubtedly been their defense — the second-best in the Primera behind Barca — particularly their central partnership of Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi. In fact, their stonewalling unit has been so staunch that, since their 3-2 win over Almeria in mid-January, Valencia haven’t conceded more than one goal in any single game.

SOCCER: MAR 22 La Liga - Real Madrid at Barcelona

Suarez, Neymar and Messi have been a load for Barcelona.

 

But if there’s any set of attacking players on planet Earth who’d be most likely to shatter that fantastic defensive record, it’s Barca’s front-three. With each passing week, the forward trio of Messi, Suarez, and Neymar continue to introduce new wrinkles of amazing that nobody knew existed. And what’s perhaps most intriguing is that it’s never quite clear who will have the monster afternoon, though you can be sure it’s one of them. Whenever one of Suarez or Neymar is meant to be out-of-form or “disillusioned,” they seem to produce the antithesis of that critique, as if to spite those perpetrators. And Messi? Well, nobody should ever assume that the little Flea isn’t in the mood.

This is a tantalizing match with massive title and top-four implications. It seldom gets any better.

Real Still Reveling

Nevermind the midweek draw at their neighbors’ rowdy palace. Sure, they were once again unable to beat Diego Simeone’s pesky Colchoneros of Atletico Madrid, and that’s at least a little worrisome. But forget all of that, because Real Madrid have kind of been on a tear lately. Well, ever since their loss to Barcelona last month, that is. Since they fell to the Catalans on March 22nd, Madrid have beaten each of their Liga opponents with an aggregate of 14-1. In one of those games, Cristiano Ronaldo put up Gretzky-like numbers, scoring a personal-high five goals.

SOCCER: APR 14 Champions League - Real Madrid at Atletico Madrid

They may have gotten sent home with blaugrana-shaded scowls by Barca and gotten the door shut in their faces by Atleti, but make no mistake, Los Blancos are styling right now.

On Saturday, Real Madrid will face Malaga at the Bernabeu with the title now graspable. Should Valencia pick up three point against Barcelona earlier in the day — a distinct possibility — Real will have the opportunity to go top of the league with a victory over the Boquerones. Should that happen, March’s Clasico will essentially be null and void with the control swinging back to the Merengues.

Malaga will hardly show up to the capital with a white flag in tow, however. Locked quite tightly in seventh place, Javi Gracia’s side have struggle in recent weeks to replicate the lively form they showed back in October when they fired off five league victories in-a-row. And at this point, slim hopes of catching up to Villarreal, who sit five point ahead of them in sixth place, is all Malaga have to play for, so to speak. But if last week’s 2-2 draw with Atletico Madrid proved anything, it’s that this team is hungry, regardless of what number is next to their club’s name. There will be no rolling over from the Albicelestes.

 

Battling at the Bottom

There’s usually always one undisturbed side anchoring a league table at the bottom. They’re undisturbed because they’re simply too far below the teams ahead of them — usually places 19 and above — in points. They’re going to be relegated — that much is certain — and their only quests for pride lie in (1) how long they can stave off numerical relegation — any team  “officially” relegated before May must be a real stinker — and (2) attempting to play spoiler to the bigger and cooler kids at the top of the mountain. This year, Cordoba has played this role to perfection. They’ve won the fewest amount of games and lost the most; usually a surefire recipe for the drop. Rooted to 20th place and five points from safety, the Califas match on Sunday won’t mean much for them; nor their opponents Villarreal, for that matter. While Cordoba will be playing Segunda football next season, the Yellow Submarine may or may not be playing European football depending on their next month of results.

But forget about Cordoba. Granada are the ones in the most interesting place logistically in the La Liga table. As the “second worst” side in the league, the 19th place Nazaries sit on 24 points, four points from safety. The three sides above them (Deportivo, Almeria, and Levante) all have 28 points.

Granada’s position is such that every single game they play carries barrels of intensity within it, typifying the notions of relegation scraps and dogfights. It’s the association football format at its absolute best, because the risk/reward is so pronounced.

Although a couple of wins could catapult Granada up three places, it still must be said that, well, they’re pretty awful. In addition to owning the league’s worst goal-differential (-36), the Andalusians have scored the least amount of goals (20) and allowed the third-most goals (56). On Sunday, they’ll welcome piping-hot Sevilla, who are undefeated in their last eight Primera games. They’re not the kind of team you want to face if you’re Granada, however, a desperate wounded animal probably isn’t who Sevilla feel like locking up with either.

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