Real Madrid v Sevilla Saturday, 15:15 Live on Betfair Live Video
Every club has a bad season every now and then: that much is par for the course. But Real Madrid's campaign is in very real danger of edging from 'disappointing' to 'catastrophic', with each passing week bringing more ignominy. Los Merengues scraped a fortunate win over Real Betis at the weekend, but were brought back to earth with a bump in midweek, losing to Leganés in the cup.
"The performance was weak," lamented Santiago Solari, pointedly. He had rotated his starting, most significantly handing Isco a rare start, but was left underwhelmed. His assessment of those who came in? "They all needed to get playing time, and they got it." Hardly a ringing endorsement, and with a fairly extensive injury list, it looks like Madrid will continue to limp through the next few weeks. Karim Benzema's expected return this weekend will help, but is not a silver bullet.
Even Madrid's victories have been underwhelming in the last couple of months, and they'll be well aware that they face a tricky challenge here. Sevilla are above Madrid in the standings at the start of Jornada 20 and won the reverse fixture 3-0 back in September - a victory that set the tone for what has been a fine season so far.
Admittedly, Pablo Machín's men have lost a little momentum in the last few weeks: they've won just one of their last five in all competitions. They also tend to struggle at the Bernabéu, where they have lost on each of their last nine visits in the league. But we expect them to raise their game here, and the sheer incompetence of their hosts must be taken into account.
Sevilla could be backed outright or on the Asian handicap, but we prefer a safer play using the Same Game Multi tool on the Sportsbook. We can back Sevilla +2 (meaning this leg of the bet comes in if they win, draw, or lose by one), plus under 3.5 goals at 1.99. Sevilla's last 10 league games have gone under that goal line, as have 15 of 19 Madrid matches in La Liga.
Athletic can maintain momentum
Villarreal v Athletic Club Sunday, 15:15 Live on Eleven Sports 2 and Betfair Live Video
At no point during Toto Berizzo's torrid reign at San Mamés would we have been even tempted to trust Athletic Club with our money. The Basques were deeply unreliableunder the Argentine, failing to adapt to his style of football, and it was no great surprise when he was handed his P45 in December.
At that point, Athletic were staring a first ever relegation in the face. But Berizzo's replacement, Gaizka Garitano, has steadied the ship in admirable fashion: the five league games since have yielded 11 points - as many has they had accumulated in the previous 14 matches. They stunned Sevilla at the weekend courtesy of an Iñaki Williams masterclass and popped a cherry on top by beating them again in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, even if they were unable to overturn a two-goal deficit from the first leg.
Athletic's tails are up, then, which cannot really be said about Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine are 19th, and last won a league game back in November. There has been a minimal improvement since Luis García took charge, but they're still prone to lapses at the back and have kept just one clean sheet in 13 games in La Liga. Against rejuvenated opponents, this could be another nail in their coffin.
Leganés won't be overwhelmed in Catalonia
Barcelona v Leganés Sunday, 19:45 Live on Eleven Sports 2 and Betfair Live Video
Barcelona made light work of Eibar last weekend, and the 3-0 scoreline wasn't the only slice of good news for Ernesto Valverde. He must have been delighted to see Philippe Coutinho - something of a spare part in recent weeks - click nicely with Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, not least for Barça's majestic opener. With Ousmane Dembélé also in the groove, attacking options look plentiful ahead of a busy period in the calendar.
Pleasingly for Valverde, the defence has also tightened up significantly: they've now managed five clean sheets in their last six league games, after a run of 11 matches without one. That could be a big factor this weekend against Leganés, who are hardly an unstoppable attacking force: they are the joint lowest scorers in the division, with 17 goals in 19 games.
It is testament to Mauricio Pellegrino's ability to organise a defence that that record hasn't held them back. Los Pepineros are sitting pretty in 13th and have been especially impressive since the start of November, losing just one of their last nine league games. They beat Barça at home earlier in the season, too, so will have no inferiority complex when they travel to the Camp Nou.
Will they win this? Probably not, but they are unlikely to be overwhelmed. They have conceded just 14 goals in their last 16 league games, and never more than two in a game in that run, and should keep this respectable despite Barcelona's quality.
2pts Sevilla to avoid defeat by two goals or more against Real Madrid and under 3.5 goals at 1.99 (Sportsbook)
Lay Villarreal against Athletic Club at 2.38
Back Barcelona to beat Leganés and under 3.5 goals at 2.14 (Sportsbook)