Cordoba V Atletico Madrid - Sat 17.00 GMT
Atletico Madrid have not been doing well on the road lately. Diego Simeone’s side have not actually won away from their Estadio Vicente Calderon since January, and failed to score in their last three away trips in La Liga - at Celta Vigo, Sevilla and Espanyol.
That run has seen the defending La Liga champions drop to fourth place in the table, and they’re now set to battle to the finish with Valencia and Sevilla for two Champions League qualification spots.
At Friday’s pre-game press conference, Simeone said his team had “10 finals remaining, starting tomorrow” and gave out his starting XI 24 hours early. That team had top scorer Mario Mandzukic returning up front, despite Fernando Torres having scored in the 2-0 home win over Getafe immediately before the international break. Arda Turan misses out with his latest muscle niggle however, so fit again Saul Niguez starts in midfield.
Slovenian international Jan Oblak, yet to concede two appearances since first choice Miguel Angel Moya picked up a hamstring injury, continues in goal. Youngster Jose Maria Gimenez starts again at centre-back, as Brazil centre-back Miranda is still suspended.
So Atletico are not in great form, but Cordoba’s situation is much more desperate. La Liga’s bottom side have lost their last nine La Liga games on the bounce, and are now five points behind 19th placed Granada, and seven points from safety.
New coach Jose Antonio Romero, who became the team’s third boss of the season when Miroslav Djukic was sacked last month, will be hoping for a boost in his first home game in charge. But those hopes are not helped by regular starters Aleksandar Pantic, Inigo Lopez and Dani Pinillos all being suspended having been sent off in the 3-1 defeat at Real Sociedad last time out.
Cordoba have lost 2-1 in each of their last four home matches in La Liga - running Real Madrid and in-form Valencia close, before ending with nothing. Something similar looks likely against Atletico.
Predicted result: Cordoba 1-2 Atletico Madrid at 9.50
Best bet: A draw in the market starting 1-0 to Cordoba [i.e. Atletico win by one goal] at 3.35.
Real Madrid V Granada - Sun 11.00 GMT
Real Madrid’s first game since the 2-1 Clasico defeat at Barcelona before the international break brings a chance to get three points against a probably distracted Granada side.
Often after the international break the Madrid fans and pundits bemoan new injuries for key players, but this time around the ‘FIFA virus’ might even have some positive benefits - with Gareth Bale having impressed hugely for Wales, and squad players including Javier Hernandez, Fabio Coentrao and Sami Khedira having either scored or got useful playing time last week.
Another boost is 80 million euro galactico James Rodriguez, missing with a broken foot since early February, is also now set to return to action. The flipside of that argument though is a thigh injury for Pepe which sees the Portugal centre-half missing this weekend.
Granada travel to the capital with just one serious injury issue - forward Adrian Colunga definitely out with a torn calf muscle. They have however one just once away all season, and are stuck in 19th and right in the relegation battle. So coach Abel Resino could well rotate his team, to keep some players fresh for more winnable games at home to Celta Vigo on Wednesday and then at fellow strugglers Almeria next weekend.
The super early kick-off time for Sunday’s game means a family friendly hour, which can lead to decent upbeat atmosphere. This would make a change from recent games, when coach Carlo Ancelotti, captain Iker Casillas, Bale and even Cristiano Ronaldo have been whistled by their own fans.
Even in losing the Clasico however there were signs Madrid were getting some form back.
James inspired Los Blancos to a 4-0 win in the reverse fixture last November - and his return might help boost something similar here.
Predicted result: Madrid 3-0 Granada at 6.50
Best bet: home team to win both halves at 1.69
Celta Vigo V Barcelona - Sun 20.00 GMT
Barcelona got to spend the last fortnight four points clear at the top of the La Liga table, but return to action with a potentially tricky trip to Celta Vigo on Sunday night.
There was a scare for blaugrana fans and pundits when Lionel Messi missed both Argentina’s games last week with a bruised right foot, but the in-form talisman looks sure to be fit enough to start at Balaidos. Fellow attackers Neymar [despite Gary Medel’s stamp] and Luis Suarez have also come through the international break unscathed.
Jordi Alba was not so fortunate however, straining an adductor muscle with Spain. Barca boss Luis Enrique’s team selections can be difficult to predict, but Adriano Correia is most likely to deputise at left-back. Elsewhere in the XI, holding midfielder Sergio Busquets’ return to full fitness is well timed given Javier Mascherano is suspended.
The game is a special one for Luis Enrique, who impressed a lot at in charge at Balaidos last season. This season’s Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo also impressed when guiding his side to a shock 1-0 win at the Camp Nou in November’s reverse fixture. That was the high point of an up and down campaign for Berrizo’s side, but a 2-1 win at Levante last time out has them nicely comfortable in mid-table.
Celta’s ex-Barca contingent Nolito and Andreu Fontas have been talking up the chances of another upset against their old team, and Berizzo’s team easily beat Atletico 2-0 at home last month. But assuming Messi starts and is not hampered by the foot problem, the La Liga leaders should do enough to get the three points in a potentially tight enough game.
Predicted result: Celta 0-2 Barca at 8.50
Best bet: under 2.5 goals at 2.60