Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano - Sunday 11.00 GMT
Barcelona have slipped up quite regularly this season against ‘smaller’ teams - dropping points to Malaga, Celta Vigo, Getafe and Real Sociedad already.
But it is hard to see Rayo Vallecano pulling off the type of clever tactical heist that Malaga managed two weeks ago at the Camp Nou. Paco Jemez’s brave [or suicidal] tactics in previous meetings against Barca have seen his team lose their last six meetings with an aggregate score of 27-1.
A pointer towards Rayo’s attitude were the fifth bookings picked up last weekend by midfielder Raul Baena and centre-back Ze Castro, who seemed happy enough to miss this game rather than more winnable fixtures to come. Attacker Alberto Bueno, who scored all four goals in last Sunday’s 4-2 home win over Levante, missed training with flu during the week but should be okay to start.
Blaugrana coach Luis Enrique has a selection poser in deep midfield - after Sergio Busquets picked up a potentially serious ankle injury in Wednesday’s 3-1 Copa del Rey semi-final second leg win at Villarreal. The most likely solution looks a run now for Javier Mascherano in his preferred central midfield position.
Pedro Rodriguez is set to replace the suspended Neymar in attack, alongside Lionel Messi, and an increasingly confident looking Luis Suarez - who has now scored four times in his last three games. You’d imagine the latter two especially will fancy filling their boots in this one.
Predicted result: Barca 4-0 Rayo Vallecano at 7.50
Best bet: Barca to win and keep clean sheet at 1.71
Atletico Madrid v Valencia - Sunday 20.00 GMT
For the second weekend running Atletico face into a difficult fixture against a team they view as a direct opponent in the top four race.
Diego Simeone’s side were happy to get a 0-0 at Sevilla last Sunday night, remaining in third and keeping a gap to the fifth-placed Andalusians. Another blank in front of goal however means Atletico have now only scored in one of their last four outings. An extra complication was bookings for 14 La Liga goal Antoine Griezmann and centre-back Miranda, meaning both are suspended for Valencia’s visit to the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Veteran Fernando Torres should replace Griezmann in attack, with either 20-year-old Jose Maria Gimenez or 19-year-old youth teamer Lucas in central-defence. Better news is that key midfielder Koke, whose ability on the ball has been badly missed in recent weeks, will return to the starting XI.
Valencia’s home results have been excellent all season, but better recent away form means they’ve climbed to within a point of Atletico with five wins from their last six La Liga games. Their major injury worry is over super impressive centre-back Nicolas Otamendi, who faces a late fitness test on an ankle injury. In-form Argentine winger Pablo Piatti should keep his place, with one-time Atletico target Alvaro Negredo getting the nod up front.
Los Che have lost on their last four visits to the Calderon, but this season’s team look made of sterner stuff. Nuno’s side ambushed Atletico when the sides met at Mestalla last October - rushing into a 3-0 lead inside 13 minutes, and eventually winning 3-1 in a performance which announced the arrival of a new tougher.
Atletico’s players and fans will remember that result, and be out for revenge. Simeone’s men generally rise to the big occasion, and could just about come out on top of a tight battle here.
Predicted result: Atletico Madrid 2-1 Valencia at 9.00
Best bet: Half-time draw at 2.16