LA LIGA

Preview: Regional rivalries and battle for European places set to light up MD31

La Liga matchday 31 promises to be a captivating one, with several interesting fixtures slated for this weekend.

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The weekend starts with back-to-back Andalusian derbies before Real Madrid have a regional rivalry too and FC Barcelona pay a visit to a stadium where they’ve often struggled.

There’s also a direct duel for European qualification between Villarreal CF and Athletic Club, so a thrilling few days of football are in store.

To begin the round, there are two Andalusian derbies and the first takes place on Friday night between Sevilla FC and Granada CF. With Julen Lopetegui’s side having failed to win any of their past four league matches, they will be desperate to get back that winning feeling again and against a regional rival.

Then, in the first of Saturday’s fixtures, there is another all-Andalusia clash as Cádiz CF host Real Betis, a match the locals have had marked on the calendars ever since the fixture list was announced.

The rest of Saturday's matches involve the three Spanish teams who are currently in the middle of their Champions League quarter-final ties. But, with crucial La Liga Santander points on offer, they’ll have to be at their best and Atlético de Madrid know that their Saturday opponents RCD Mallorca are not to be taken lightly, with the islanders having won in the capital when these sides met earlier this season.

Samuel Chukwueze's Villarreal and Athletic Club will play out a hugely important match on Saturday evening, with European qualification on the line. The Yellow Submarine are currently seventh on 45 points and the Basques eighth on 44 points, so this could end up being a decisive duel in the pursuit of the final ticket to the continent.

On Saturday night, Real Madrid will host neighbours Getafe CF at the Bernabéu. Given that the Azulones defeated the league leaders earlier in the campaign, Carlo Ancelotti knows that this could be a tricky game and that, in Enes Ünal, Getafe CF have the joint-second-top goalscorer in the division.

Four more games follow on Sunday, the first will see Julio Velázquez debut as Deportivo Alavés coach after coming in as the replacement for the sacked José Luis Mendilibar. With the Basque side now bottom of the table, their short trip to take on CA Osasuna in Pamplona is a crucial one.

RCD Espanyol vs RC Celta is next in a mid-table battle between two teams currently level on 36 points. It should, therefore, be an evenly matched contest at the RCDE Stadium.

Another even game should be expected with Elche CF vs Real Sociedad, as these are two sides who rarely win by more than one when they win and who rarely lose by more than one when they lose.

In Sunday night’s kick-off, it’s second-bottom Levante UD vs second-top FC Barcelona, which might seem like a mismatch on paper. However, Barça have only won on one of their past five visits to the Estadi Ciutat de València, with Levante UD proving time and time again that they thrive on the big occasions.

The Granotas have already taken points off Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid at home this season and will aim to do so against Xavi’s side on Sunday, needing every point they can muster as they fight to avoid relegation.

Rayo Vallecano need some points too as they are still searching for their first LaLiga Santander victory of 2022, which they’ll hope to secure on Monday night when they host Valencia CF in the final match of the round. The team from Vallecas are slipping towards the drop zone and must be careful as the relegation battle heats up.

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