Week 26 in La Liga saw Real Madrid lose top spot for the first time since Week 10 with Barcelona benefitting from Los Blancos’ slip-up. A devastating loss to Athletic Bilbao combined with Barcelona's 6-1 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano ultimately made the change atop the standings. Lionel Messi scored three goals while Luis Suarez found the back of the net twice. That was Messi's 24th career La Liga hat trick, breaking Cristiano Ronaldo's record and also equalling the Portuguese’s thirty goals in La Liga this season.
Friday 13 March
Fifth-place Valencia will host a struggling Deportivo in this week’s Friday night fixture. On paper this looks like a straightforward task for Valencia to claim another home win. Valencia are coming off an excellent point earned away to Atletico Madrid, holding the champions to a 1-1 draw to stay within one point of them. They have won eleven of their thirteen home games - losing to only Barcelona - and have got maximum points in all of their last six matches at the Mestalla. Deportivo are coming off a 4-3 home loss to Sevilla, which marked their third loss in four games, having drawn once. They have been poor on the road with just two victories all season, four draws and six losses. They have managed just six goals in their twelve travels, 23 less than what Valencia have banged in at home in thirteen games. Deportivo shocked Valencia by beating them 3-0 in the first round but Valencia should get their revenge in similar style.
Saturday 14 March
Atletico Madrid 21/20
Atletico Madrid blew their chance of making ground on rivals Real Madrid as they gained only a point at home to Valencia last weekend, drawing 1-1. This weekend they travel to Barcelona to face Espanyol who they beat 2-0 in the reverse fixture. Espanyol lost for the fourth time in six matches last weekend, going down 1-0 away to Real Sociedad. Atletico have won just once from their last five matches in all competitions, drawing twice. After two league draws they should get their title aspirations back on track with a win here.
Eibar are now just three points off the relegation zone after losing their seventh straight game at Levante last weekend. Eibar took the lead but two goals in two minutes saw Levante earn a comeback victory. Barcelona took full advantage of Real Madrid's defeat by Athletic Bilbao to move to the top of the table with an emphatic 6-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano. Luis Suarez fired the hosts ahead and Gerard Pique forced in the second before Messi netted three in twelve minutes. He scored a twice-taken penalty, tapped in the fourth and added a classy fifth before Suarez wrapped it up after an Alberto Bueno penalty for Rayo. Messi now has thirty league goals, the same total as Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, whose tally of 23 La Liga hat-tricks now trails Messi by one. The 27-year-old Argentine now also holds the record as the most prolific hat-trick scorer in Spanish football, with his 32 in all competitions eclipsing the total he previously shared with Telmo Zarra, who played most of his football for Athletic Bilbao from 1940-55. Eibar have scored just two goals in their seven losses and I expect Barca to be the only team to score here using the Which Team to Score market, available at 7/10.
Rayo Vallecano 19/20
Rayo Vallecano will be eager to move on from their 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Granada boosted their hopes of escaping from the relegation zone by taking the honours in the Andaluz Clasico against Malaga at home, but despite dominating, they needed an own goal to get the 1-0 victory. Granada have been dreadful on the road losing nine of their thirteen travels, winning just once. Vallecano have won the last two matches against Granada, both coming on the road without conceding. Vallecano’s form line from their last five matches reads: away loss, home win, away loss, home win, away loss. Follow that trend and back the home win.
Celta Vigo 11/10
Athletic Bilbao 26/10
Celta Vigo will be looking to bounce back after failing to win their last two matches with a home draw against Elche followed by a 4-1 annihilation at Villarreal last weekend. They have a tough task at hand as they host an Athletic Bilbao side who are high on confidence. Bilbao built on their impressive form by shocking Real Madrid 1-0 at home. They have now won their last three league games and secured their third Copa del Rey final in six years, where they will be looking to upset Barcelona. The reverse fixture was drawn 1-1 with the two sides also meeting in the Copa del Rey and each leg was won by the away team. The draw is tipped.
Sunday 15 March
Almeria were deserved losers last weekend away to Elche, losing 1-0. The loss pulled Almeria into the relegation zone and the fixture list hasn’t done them any favours as they prepare to face a buoyant Villarreal side on Sunday. Villarreal overcame Celta Vigo to win 4-1 and record an eighth straight home win in the league. Their last away game ended in a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid. They won this fixture 3-2 last season and also won the first round meeting 2-0 back in October. The away win is tipped.
Seventh-place Malaga suffered a 1-0 loss at Granada last weekend but should get back to winning ways when they host bottom of the table Cordoba. The newly promoted side lost 2-1 at home to Getafe on Monday night, which was their seventh consecutive loss. Malaga won the reverse fixture 2-1 and are firm favourites to pull the double over Cordoba at home.
Sevilla conquered their demons away from home by coming from behind to win 4-3 at struggling Deportivo. Sevilla had lost their last four away games in the league and seven in total from twelve. The win kept them fifth on the table and cut their gap on fourth-placed Valencia to just three points. Elche are coming off a good 1-0 home win against Almeria where the scoreline could have been more if they had not been wasteful in front of goal. Sevilla are firm favourites here. They are unbeaten at home with nine wins and four draws while Elche have lost six of their twelve travels and won just thrice. Elche have never beaten Sevilla in their seven meetings, with Sevilla winning four times including the last two encounters. The home win looks a banker bet.
Real Madrid 1/12
Real Madrid suffered a huge blow to their La Liga title bid as they were beaten 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao and dropped down to second on the table, a point behind rivals Barcelona. It was the second match in a row that the the European champions dropped points following their 1-1 draw with Villarreal. They will play Madrid neighbours Levante who have been dreadful on the road and sit a place above the relegation zone. Madrid won the reverse fixture 5-0 and should annihilate Levante once more. With Madrid’s poor league form I’m tipping them to come out firing here with the first-half to be the Highest Scoring Half at a valuable 18/10.
Monday 16 March
Real Sociedad 22/10
Getafe moved five points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-1 away win over Cordoba on Friday night. Real Sociedad claimed another home win, beating Espanyol 1-0 and will now look to break their poor away run this season. David Moyes’ Sociedad are the only La Liga team yet to win on the road. The first round meeting ended in a 2-1 away win for Getafe and one would think Sociedad have little chance on the road. However, Getafe have been far from convincing at home and Sociedad were going through a bad patch at the beginning of the season when they lost the reverse fixture. With six wins and six losses on the road, it’s only a matter of time before Sociedad claim their first away win and they should be backed to do so here at 22/10.