From this Saturday through Sunday, March 1, fans of Spanish soccer are in for a treat.
It starts with a Matchday 24 slate this weekend featuring three games with major implications for the six teams competing for the all-important third and fourth place spots in the table. As of now, just five points separate the cluster of squads between third-place Getafe (42 points) and eighth-place Real Sociedad (37 points).
Next week, as we all know, Barcelona travels to Napoli on Tuesday before Real Madrid hosts Manchester City in the Champions League.
And the cherry on top to conclude the best eight days you could ask for in La Liga? A highly-anticipated battle between second-place Barcelona (52 points) and Real Madrid (53 points) at the Bernabéu on March 1 at 3 p.m. Eastern.
But first things first …
Will Atleti (-150) prove against Villarreal (+475) that it has rediscovered its swagger? Doubt it. (Sunday, 3 p.m.)
As it turns out, Diego Simeone and fourth-place Atlético Madrid (40 points) still have some life! Regardless of how you feel about their chances at Anfield in a few weeks, their effort for 90 minutes on Tuesday was incredible.
But Sunday’s home clash with high-scoring Villarreal (38 points) will tell us a lot about whether we should expect a strong finish to the season from Los Rojiblancos.
Villarreal is getting little respect from oddsmakers. The payout for anyone confident in Villarreal winning this contrast of styles is more than enough to justify a flier.
For one thing, the visitors boast a better goal differential than Atlético (+10 to +8). Through 24 games, Atleti has scored 25 and conceded 17, while Villarreal has the third-most goals in Spain (42), but is shaky defensively (32 goals allowed).
It’s also worth noting that of the teams vying for a ’20-21 UCL spot, Villarreal is in the best form besides Getafe, as they’re 3-1-1 in their last five.
Atlético’s performance against Liverpool has (rightfully) gotten plenty of love, but let’s not forget that Atleti is 1-2-2 in its last five in La Liga. That stretch includes a shutout loss at Eibar and a 0-0 home draw vs. Leganés.
Whether you expect a hangover and/or fatigue for Atleti following a game like Tuesday’s – and I don’t know how you dismiss that factor – or not, Villarreal at +475 is excellent value.
Can Getafe (+130) bounce back at home vs. Sevilla (+230)? (Sunday, 12:30 p.m.)
These teams, particularly Getafe, have their hands full going into Sunday.
Schedule-wise, Getafe is in a much tougher spot here after facing Barcelona and Ajax. The UEL “team to go through” odds reflect that Getafe (+150) is facing an Ajax (-182) team that should probably still be in the Champions League.
Stay tuned for a few thousand words on that battle here on High Press Soccer — kidding, or are we??
Sevilla (-560) should smoke CFR Cluj (+400).
As for how they match up, these are two teams trending in very different directions domestically. Getafe lost last weekend to Barcelona, but pushed the Catalans at Camp Nou, and are 4-0-1 in their last five.
In that time, Sevilla is just 1-2-2 and would not be in next year’s Champions League if the season ended today. Sevilla, coming off several poor results against weak opposition, is not going to get right on the road vs. José Bordalás’ team.
Real Sociedad (-134), Valencia (+310) look to stay in the mix (Saturday, 12:30 p.m.)
The loser of this one, assuming someone it doesn’t end in a draw, could suddenly be looking at an uphill climb to a Champions League position. Real Sociedad has won just two of its last five in La Liga, but anyone who saw what Alexander Isak and Martin Odegaard did to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey on February 6 knows why this team is heavily favored here.
Valencia is still in the Champions League, but looked awful in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to Atalanta – so bad, in fact, that I’d advise staying away from them here, even at +310. Expect a Real Sociedad W, but do yourself a favor and tune into this one for a live look at Isak and Odegaard if you haven’t checked them out yet.
*Note: Wondering why we barely mentioned RM and Barca here this week? Look no further than the lines in their games: Barcelona (-500) at Camp Nou against Eibar (+1,200); Los Blancos (-220) on the road at Levante (+550).