After the top three teams did what they were expected to last week, Barcelona (49 points) remains comfortably atop the La Liga table ahead of Atlético Madrid (44 points) and Real Madrid (39 points). Those teams’ positions are unlikely to change this weekend, as all three are substantial favorites.
The real marquee match-up is set for Matchday 23, when Real Madrid travels to Atlético on February 9. For this weekend, we’ll focus on Real Madrid vs. Alavés, then quickly look at Barcelona vs. Valencia.
Real Madrid vs. Alavés Preview
|Real Madrid-460||Draw +500||Valencia +950|
Real Madrid will host Alavés, a vastly improved team sitting fifth in La Liga after finishing the ’17-18 season in 14th place, Sunday at the Santiago Bernabéu at 2:45 p.m. EST. Real is coming off a dominant performance against Espanyol in which it scored in the 4th and 15th en route to a 3-1 halftime lead and eventual 4-2 victory. Alavés heads to Madrid on the heels of a disappointing 1-0 loss to 17th-place Rayo Vallecano.
The star of the Espanyol game was Karim Benzema, who finished with a brace. The 31-year-old Frenchman showed how dangerous he can be in another performance that showcased how he’s a better player now that he’s out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sizable preening shadow. In addition to his scoring, his passing was instrumental throughout the match. Though he did not tally any assists, he helped set up Gareth Bale for the team’s final goal of the night (listen to the announcer ecstatically tout Benzema) and orchestrated the attack throughout the game.
Another bright spot in recent weeks for Real Madrid has been 18-year-old Vinicius Jr., who’s beginning to make an impact at a club where few players his age see much success. Against Espanyol, the Brazilian set up one of Benzema’s goals with a deft backheel touch.
Benzema now has 15 goals in 33 games this season, including nine in La Liga. If he can prove consistent throughout the rest of the campaign — and it’s a big if, considering his history — Real Madrid has a chance to make yet another run in the Champions League. The problem for Los Blancos is that in their domestic league, they’re going to need Barcelona to slip up several times to have a chance to close the gap.
In the first match-up of the season between Real Madrid and Alavés, then-Manager Julen Lopetegui’s team was dealt a stunning 1-0 loss on October 6. Alavés’ game-winning goal came on a last-second header by Manu García off a corner kick in the 95th. That defeat capped a stretch in which Real Madrid won just once in five La Liga matches as the club started the season missing Ronaldo even more than anyone could have expected. It was one of a number of disappointing performances that led to Lopetegui being sacked in late October after a 5-1 drubbing by Barcelona left the club in ninth place in the league.
Real Madrid’s recent form, and the fact they’ll be seeking to avenge what happened the last time these teams met, make them a safe bet to avoid another upset.
Barcelona vs. Valencia Preview
|Barcelona -350||Draw +500||Valencia +700|
Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern at Camp Nou, Barcelona will be expected to keep rolling against seventh-place Valencia. The Catalan club has won its last four La Liga matches by a combined score of 10-2 and its last loss in league play came on Nov. 11.
It’s worth noting that Barcelona needed a tremendous goal from Lionel Messi in the 23rd (seen in the below vid) to come away with a draw at Valencia on Oct. 7. In that match, the hosts’ Ezequiel Garay provided an early lead when he found the net thanks to Barcelona’s poor defense of a corner in the 2nd. Messi equalized 20 minutes later on a one-two with Luis Suárez, ripping a perfect low shot past Valencia keeper Neto.
Valencia enters this weekend having won three of its last five in La Liga, including a 3-0 victory over Villarreal in its last game, but it’s hard to imagine them pulling the upset at Camp Nou.