MADRID (Xinhua) – Matchday 16 of the Liga Santander should see league leaders FC Barcelona and second-placed Real Madrid take three points from what on paper look to be relatively straightforward home games.
Barcelona return to the Camp Nou to entertain Mallorca following their 1-0 win away to Atletico Madrid with a display that will have done much to restore confidence to the side after Leo Messi’s late goal gave them all three points.
Messi picked up his sixth Balon d’Or award on Monday and with Sergio Busquets back from suspension, the only problems coach Ernesto Valverde has to deal with are the hamstring injury suffered by Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann’s ongoing issues in adapting to the club.
Junior is likely to continue at left-back despite struggling against Atletico, while Gerard Pique should be able to play after limping out last weekend after a nasty collision with Vitolo.
Real Madrid will also expect an easy ride when they entertain Espanyol in the Santiago Bernabeu.
Espanyol traditionally struggle against Real Madrid, although this season has seen them struggle against virtually everyone and they are second from bottom of the table with just nine points. Last weekend’s 4-2 defeat at home to 10-man Osasuna saw coach Pablo Machin publically question the attitude of some of his players and unless there is a great improvement on Saturday they could be in for a hiding.
Eden Hazard is still out for Real Madrid and it will be interesting to see if Gareth Bale starts after disappointing performance against Alaves last weekend.
Atletico Madrid get the ball rolling on the round of games when they travel to face a Villarreal side that has slipped badly with a run of four defeats and a draw from their last five games.
Neither side can afford to lose in the Estadio de la Ceramica, although anything but a win for Atletico would just about end their title hopes.
Granada has also lost four games from the last five as they prepare to face Alaves, who have strikers Joselu and Lucas Perez in fine form.
Saturday also sees a Valencia city derby as Valencia makes the short trip to face Levante in the Ciudad de Valencia Stadium where Levante has beaten Mallorca and Barca in their last home games.
Eibar entertain Getafe on Sunday lunchtime needing to end a run of results which have taken them to just above the relegation zone.
Meanwhile, the Benito Villamarin Stadium sees a duel between two in-form sides as Betis look to stretch their winning run to three matches against Athletic Club Bilbao, who are looking for win number four, but who will be without the suspended Raul Garcia.
Fourth place Real Sociedad have a difficult trip to play Valladolid but have strikers Willian Jose, Mikel Oyarzabal and Martin Odegaard in fine form.
Expect drama in Butarque as the bottom of the table Leganes entertain third-bottom Celta Vigo. Both sides have improved since changing coaches, but need to start turning improved displays into wins or run the risk of being cut further adrift in the battle for survival.
The round of matches ends with third-placed Sevilla traveling to Pamplona where Osasuna has lost just one of their last 32 home games – although that defeat was in their last outing at home to Athletic Club.