A final round in La Liga before a short winter break could see the title race getting even closer as well as spell trouble for a struggling Valencia side
Barça want to finish 2018 in pole position
In what should come as a surprise to nobody if they are paying close attention to the way the season is developing, Barça are only a couple of steps away from becoming Winter Champions in probably the closest title race in years. For that, they will need to beat a Celta de Vigo side which is currently the only top-flight team that has not lost against against the Blaugranas in the last two showdowns between them.
Barça have seemingly hit their stride at the right moment, just when their best player and spiritual leader is performing at his peak. With Leo Messi at the top of his game and a newcomer (Jeison Murillo) who won’t be able to play this last game of the year, another victory would nicely cap off twelve months where they were nigh-invincible before the summer and, inversely, have stumbled in the current campaign.
1️⃣8️⃣players picked for #BarçaCelta
First training session for @JeisonMurillo19
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 22, 2018
Can Leganés stop a mighty Sevilla in their tracks?
If Barça have been unable to generate a bigger gap with chasing teams, we should thank Sevilla and Atlético for that. The Sevillista effort is particularly impressive. Not only they have shown the world they’re up to the task of proving themselves as a real alternative to the establishment, but they have done it while succeeding and moving on to further rounds of both the Copa del Rey and Europa League.
Nevertheless, Pablo Machín should be wary of this last 2018 fixture: visiting Butarque usually spells trouble top sides this season. Mauricio Pellegrino’s Leganés have become incredibly proficient at annoying, bothering and pestering La Liga’s heavy-hitters on their home ground. To date they’ve pulled off upsets versus Barça and Alavés, and a hard-fought draw against Atlético. Sevilla won’t have a quiet Sunday evening in the south of Madrid.
Atleti want to pull ahead of Real Madrid (for a few days, at least)
Taking advantage of Real Madrid’s momentary absence in the competition (they will play against Villarreal in the first days of 2019), and leaving Sevilla aside, Atlético de Madrid have an excellent shot of piling pressure on Barça if they do their job properly on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Cholo Simeone, discussion pre-match has somehow turned into a plebiscite revolving around Lucas Hernández and the keen interest shown by Bayern Munich in signing the Colchonero defender. The 80 million euro buyout clause seems a pretty flimsy deterrent factor when talking about one of Germany’s most powerful teams.
Lucas or not, Cholo tries to keep his squad focused on the prize: after all, beating Espanyol on Saturday means catching up with Barça in the standings (at least for a few hours) while pulling five points ahead Real Madrid, albeit with one more game under their belt.
In 2018, our team has earned 47 points (14W, 5D) at the Wanda @Metropolitano in @LaLigaEN, more than any other side at their stadium. #AúpaAtleti #AtletiEspanyol pic.twitter.com/TaKjqh9WMo
— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) December 22, 2018
Marcelino: do or die against Huesca
Okay, maybe we’re exaggerating… or maybe not. Even though the owner Peter Lim seems to back him, even though the board have stated their full support in the last few days, it would be a good idea for Marcelino García Toral to not push his luck and win this weekend against Huesca.
As incredible as it might seem, Valencia are in real danger of shooting themselves in the foot. Currently four points above the relegation spots, their continuous and annoying tradition of drawing almost every single La Liga game they play has distanced themselves from the European spots. So much, in fact, that losing against a weak Huesca would be the last straw for a fanbase who have withstood quite a lot of pain up to this point.