LaLiga Santander Matchday 23 preview: The Madrid Derby is one several big games this weekend

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The headline game of Matchday 23 is the Madrid Derby that will take place at the Bernabéu on Saturday evening between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, but there are several other high-profile matches taking place this weekend too, including another huge test for relegation-threatened Valencia CF, as well as FC Barcelona’s first visit to UD Almería since 2014.

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The first of the weekend’s matches sees Real Betis travel to Elche CF, with Manuel Pellegrini’s side aware that they need to take the three points off the division’s bottom-placed club if they’re to seriously put the pressure on fourth-placed Atlético de Madrid in the race for Champions League qualification. Having comfortably beaten Elche CF 3-0 on the opening matchday of the season, Los Verdiblancos will feel confident as they visit Spain’s east coast for the Friday night game.

There are four fixtures on Saturday, with the first two being hosted by teams who are very much in the relegation battle. The first is RCD Espanyol vs RCD Mallorca, with the Catalan side doing a good job of dealing with an injury to star man Joselu, as others such as Sergi Darder have stepped up in his absence. They’ll hope the midfielder can lead them to a second win in a row.

Then, the action moves to the opposite side of the country, where there will be a carnival atmosphere, and even a special carnival home strip, for Cádiz CF vs Rayo Vallecano. Andoni Iralola’s side are in good form, though, and won’t hesitate to spoil the party if they can.

Then, at 18:30 CET on Saturday, it’s the second LaLiga Santander Madrid Derby of the season, and the third meeting between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid overall this term. The neighbours met just under a month ago in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals at this same stadium and Los Blancos ran out 3-1 winners after extra time. But, it was a very close game and Atleti are in great form just now, having taken more LaLiga Santander points than Real Madrid have since the World Cup. Diego Simeone would love nothing more than to deal Real Madrid a blow in their pursuit of the title, making this Madrid Derby a must-watch.

The last of Saturday’s matches is also a huge one, as struggling Valencia CF host Real Sociedad. This will be a homecoming for new coach and Los Che legend Rubén Baraja, but he’ll be focusing exclusively on achieving a result, something his side couldn’t do when they lost at Getafe CF in his debut to leave this giant of Spanish football second-bottom.

Bilbao hosts the first of Sunday’s matches, with Athletic Club taking on a Girona FC side that scored six goals in a thrashing of UD Almería last matchday. The Catalan club are now the third-top scorers in all of LaLiga Santander and Athletic Club have absences in central defence that Taty Castellanos and co. will look to exploit.

RC Celta vs Real Valladolid is up next and that promises to be a very even game, given that both clubs are currently level on 24 points in the standings. Plus, they both come into this match with identical runs of form, of two wins each, two losses each and one draw each from their past five.

League leaders FC Barcelona then return to action exactly 24 hours after the Madrid Derby. No matter the result at the Bernabéu, Xavi will set his side out to win when they take on UD Almería, visiting the Power Horse Stadium for the first time since 2014. Barça’s last nine meetings with the Andalusians have all ended in victory for the Blaugrana, but this UD Almería team can be dangerous when they play at home.

Sunday’s slate of fixtures then concludes with Sevilla FC vs CA Osasuna. Jorge Sampaoli’s team have improved a lot of late, especially at home, and will be looking for a fifth consecutive LaLiga Santander victory at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.

The Monday night game that concludes this matchday promises to be a fascinating one, as there will be a real clash of styles when Villarreal CF and Getafe CF meet. Quique Setién’s side are known for their possession football, while Getafe CF have the lowest possession numbers in all of LaLiga Santander. That could make for a truly tactical tussle at the Estadio de la Cerámica.

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