The second half of La Liga returns with Barcelona in limbo over their Copa del Rey future, Villarreal in trouble and Valencia hoping not to draw again

Barça defend their advantage with the Copa del Rey scandal still warm

Thursday’s relatively easy win against Levante (3-0) in a last-16, second-leg Copa del Rey tie was overshadowed by the huge fuss generated thanks to Chumi’s line-up in the first tie against the Granotas.

Levante have reported Barça’s potential illegal line-up (Chumi was supposed to be banned for one game after being booked for the fifth time in a previous match with the B-team) to the Spanish Federation, so there’s the chance that Barça will be kicked out of the competition.

Not the best atmosphere to tackle an always difficult Leganés side at home. The Pepineros, knocked out of Copa del Rey by Real Madrid, surely gave Los Blancos a run for their money and would’ve had a fair chance of defeating them in the aggregate if Keylor Navas hadn’t been spectacular throughout the night. Lega have been specialists this season in causing trouble when playing against ‘big’ sides, but exhaustion and fatigue might wear them down.

Lackluster Villarreal host a very in-form Athletic Club

Talk about the impact of sacking a manager. Athletic Club were in a shambles once ‘Toto’ Berizzo was kicked out in the first days of December. In a miraculous twist of fate, Gaizka Garitano’s current run is almost perfection: no defeats in over a month in La Liga, three wins and two draws which have propelled the Lions out of the relegation zone (22 points), three points clear from danger.

Villarreal’s luck, unfortunately for them, hasn’t been as impressive. They also sacked Javier Calleja and brought in Luis Garcia but, even though the team has improved, the wins still resist trickling in.

Their defensive problems are penalizing the team immensely, and even after some impressive showcases (against Real Madrid, for example), they always fall a bit short. And that’s why a club with such good players is holding, with 17 points, the second worst record in the competition.

Celta can end the weekend in relegation spots if they don’t beat a Valencia in need

Now this is where things get interesting. Celta’s start to the season was more than disappointing, and their need for points caused the first sacking on their bench after ‘Turco’ Mohamed was fired in November.

In came Portuguese coach Miguel Cardoso but, although they seemed to improve in the first few matches under him, their current slump Is reflected by a run of just two wins out of their last nine fixtures.

Already out of Copa del Rey and only two points away from relegation, Iago Aspas will still be out of the team due to injury against a Valencia side which also desperately needs the points.

Marcelino’s position as the manager was this close to be toppled once and for all a few days ago, but again, Valencia’s owner Peter Lim has backed his guy and it doesn’t seem like his job is at risk even if the Bats don’t win at Balaidos. Again, confidence is such a volatile element that such a status quo might change with a few bad results once again.

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Eibar v Espanyol: the scrap between ‘equipos revelación’

If you, dear La Liga fan, used to watch the competition in the first few weeks, surely you pumped your first in the air when humble sides such as Espanyol or Eibar dominated the opposition, won a few games in a row and placed themselves amongst the league’s elite. That, however, is no longer the case: after their astonishing initial run this season, both clubs are a mere shadow of their former selves.

After their win a fortnight ago against Leganés (1-0), Espanyol managed to break a negative streak of six straight games losing. A similar run is taking place at Eibar, where they haven’t won since November 24th (a 3-0 thrashing of Real Madrid). With 22 and 24 points respectively, they have suddenly found themselves in the lower half of the standings and only two games away from the relegation spots.

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