LaLiga Santander Matchday 16 preview: Tough trips for the top two as Real Madrid visit Villarreal CF and Barça play away at Atlético de Madrid

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Matchday 16 could prove to be a decisive one in the 2022/23 LaLiga Santander season, as the two main title challengers Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have to travel to two of the most difficult stadiums in all of Spanish football. Los Blancos and Los Azulgranas are tied at the top of the table, so every point is vital, but it won’t be easy for Carlo Ancelotti’s men when they take on Villarreal CF on Saturday, while Xavi’s side should also find it tough as they play away at Atlético de Madrid on Sunday.

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The round begins in the Valencian Community as two matches take place on Spain’s east coast on Friday, which is a national holiday in Spain. First off, it’s Elche CF vs RC Celta, with the home side believing that they can finally earn their first league victory of the season against the fourth-bottom team. Then, later on Friday, there’s a match at Mestalla as Valencia CF take on Cádiz CF. Although there were no goals in either of their league meetings last season, they did play out a thrilling cup game at Mestalla this time last year, which Valencia CF edged 2-1.

LaLiga Santander then stays in the Valencian Community for the first game of Saturday, which is Villarreal CF vs Real Madrid at El Submarino Amarillo’s newly redeveloped Estadio de la Cerámica at 16:15 CET. Quique Setién’s side have already tasted victory there, as they defeated Valencia CF last weekend, and the home fans will pack into the state-of-the-art venue hoping to take points off the champions, something they’ve done in each of the past five seasons, as Los Blancos’ last five visits there have all ended as draws.

Later on Saturday, RCD Mallorca play their first home game since the World Cup break as they take on Real Valladolid, with both teams keen to bounce back from Matchday 15 defeats. Then, there is another Catalan derby on Saturday night, with Girona FC making the short trip to take on RCD Espanyol in Barcelona in a game that should produce an excellent atmosphere.

Sunday’s slate of fixtures has four games for fans to enjoy, starting with UD Almería vs Real Sociedad. Although La Real are in third place and in good form, buoyed further by the return from injury of their attacking leader Mikel Oyarzabal, it should be kept in mind that UD Almería are in brilliant form at the Power Horse Stadium, having won four consecutive LaLiga Santander games there.

On Sunday afternoon, the action moves to Vallecas, where there is great anticipation for the return of Raúl de Tomás. The striker is back with Rayo Vallecano and could make his re-debut this Sunday in their clash with Real Betis.

Sevilla FC vs Getafe CF is next on the schedule and it’s yet another vital game for the Andalusian side as they look to turn their situation around. Jorge Sampaoli’s squad are still inside the relegation zone, but a win over Getafe CF could pull them out of the bottom three. They’ll be looking to Youssef En-Nesyri to lead the line and to fire the team to what would be a first home LaLiga Santander victory of the season.

There is then a huge match at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano at 21:00 CET, as Atlético de Madrid welcome FC Barcelona. These two giants have produced some pulsating matches in recent years and it should be another thriller, with talents such as Jan Oblak, Antoine Griezmann and João Félix going up against the likes of Marc-André ter Stegen, Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé. By the time this game kicks off, Barça might be behind Real Madrid in the standings, so can’t afford to drop points, even at a tough away venue like this one.

On Monday night, the 10th and final fixture of the round is taking place in Bilbao, as CA Osasuna pay a visit to Athletic Club. Just two points separate these northern neighbours in the table, so it promises to be a very closely contested game at San Mamés.

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