This La Liga weekend will again test the title credentials of La Liga’s top three, which will all miss key players in their respective line-ups.
While log leaders Atletico will miss their main striker Diego Costa as well as Arda Turan in midfield, second-placed Barcelona have to replace Gerard Pique and also miss their first-choice goalkeeper, Victor Valdes.
Despite arguably the most difficult fixture this weekend, Real Madrid coach, Carlo Ancelotti, has decided to leave his superstar, Cristiano Ronaldo, at home and also has to replace left-back, Marcelo.
Atletico enter the game week in pole-position and will hope to defend the lead when seventh-placed Villareal arrives at Vicent Calderon. His side’s great season will give Diego Simeone a few selection headaches.
The log leaders have to find the right balance between resting players for the Champions League return leg against Barcelona and featuring a strong line-up to defend their La Liga lead.
Atletico are undefeated in their last 17 home matches and have won their last five successive La Liga games, while Villareal have only won one in their last six outings. Without Turan and Costa side-lined, this could be another tricky game for Simeone’s side, but I’m predicting a 1-0 home victory.
Second-placed Barcelona have a comparable easier task, probably the easiest amongst the top three, when they host bottom side, Real Betis Sevilla.
However, it wasn’t an easy week for the Catalan giants. They were only able to draw 1-1 in the Champions League first leg against Atletico and lost Gerard Pique for at least three weeks. Later in the week, FIFA banned them from the transfer market until summer 2015.
Despite their troubles, which are extended through Victor Valdes’ long-term injury, recent La Liga performances have been impressive. Messi returned to scoring goals whenever he wants, Neymar started to be influential and Andres Iniesta is in top form.
Barcelona have won 29 out of their last 30 games at Camp Nou and won their last five home games against Real Betis, scoring 19 goals. Everything else, but a clear victory would be very surprising – my prediction is a 4-1 for Barcelona.
Real Madrid travel to Anoeta and Carlo Ancelotti has decided to rest Cristiano Ronaldo following his recent knee problems. Angel Di Maria is also likely to start the game on bench, which puts more responsibility on Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.
Real Sociedad recently beat Barcelona at home and Real need to be at their best to stop the hosts dangerous wing-play. The Los Blancos have won nine out of their last 10 games against Sociedad, but the hosts have a strong home record this season, having won nine out of their last 11 games at Anoeta.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side have bounced back from their two successive defeats against Barcelona and Sevilla by winning two games and simply cannot afford to drop any more points – my prediction is a 3-2 victory for Real.
Will any of the top three slip up this weekend? Share your predictions in the comment section below.