Weekend La Liga preview: Cristiano Ronaldo to run riot as Gareth Bale returns?
By Tim Clement
Last Updated: 18/02/17 1:49pm
The top four may all be short odds to triumph in La Liga but there are sub-plots aplenty as Barcelona look to bounce back while Real Madrid's Gareth Bale has been cleared for an early comeback.
Luis Enrique's future has dominated the headlines in Spain following a humiliating 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and an emphatic response will be demanded when lowly Leganes visit the Nou Camp.
Rivals Real Madrid look unlikely to ease the pressure when they host Espanyol while Sevilla and Atletico Madrid will also be expected to keep pace this weekend.
Starting with the top-four's clashes, here's a look at this weekend's action in a bit more depth...
Sporting Gijon v Atletico Madrid (Saturday 12pm, Sky Sports 1)
Sporting gained a vital shot in the arm for their survival hopes last time out but face a far tougher task in hosting Diego Simeone's side.
The 2-0 victory at fourth-bottom Leganes reduced the gap to two points and ended an eight-match winless streak in the process.
With Leganes heading to Barcelona on Sunday evening, Sporting should have the opportunity to climb out of the bottom three this weekend, although they have to significantly improve on the 5-0 thumping from the reverse fixture.
However, hope can be taken from the fact that Atletico have taken just two points from their last four trips to El Molinon, losing 2-1 last season.
With goalkeeper Jan Oblak's return expected to come in midweek and Juanfran and Diego Godin picking up injuries, Atletico are still far from the miserly defence force that Simeone has built his success around.
They had to salvage a late 3-2 victory over Celta and while they've dropped just four points from their last seven games, none of those have been against top-six sides.
Real Madrid v Espanyol (Saturday, 3.15pm)
Gareth Bale looks set for a return to the bench at least after being included in the squad for this weekend, a month ahead of schedule.
However, it is Cristiano Ronaldo who the visitors will be really fearing, with the Portuguese superstar scoring a remarkable 11 goals in their last three meetings.
Ronaldo was absent for Madrid's 2-0 victory in the reverse fixture and is actually yet to hit a treble at the Bernabeu this season, although Sky Bet's odds of 3/1 suggest he's due one here.
However, Quique Sanchez Flores' men have been a tough side to beat on the road this season, with four wins and just three losses helping them to a position in the top half of the table.
We were burnt by Real Madrid last weekend as they 'only' beat bottom side Osasuna 3-1 but with Bale back expect Ronaldo to be out to prove he is still the main man against his favourite foes.
Sevilla v Eibar (Saturday 7.45pm, Sky Sports 5)
The season's two big overachievers go head to head at the Sanchez Pizjuan, with Sevilla looking to keep pace as the top two enjoy more favourable fixtures.
Jorge Sampaoli's men have been a phenomenal force at home this season, dropping points for just the second time a fortnight ago against Villarreal.
Having also lost at Espanyol, they responded from that mini blip by becoming the only side to win at Las Palmas in the league this season last weekend.
Eibar deserve even greater recognition for their form, climbing to seventh in the table on the back of narrowly avoiding relegation last season and escaping it due to Elche's administration the one before.
With Jose Luis Mendilibar's men having scored 11 times in three straight wins, the one thing that does look guaranteed is goals, especially when you consider Sevilla conceded in seven successive home games before their Villarreal stalemate.
Barcelona v Leganes (Sunday 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports 3)
While the post-mortem over their Champions League debacle in Paris will continue regardless, Barca have the perfect opportunity to bounce back when they host struggling Leganes.
Leganes, who are without a win in 10 matches, were dragged right into the relegation mix with a 2-0 home loss to third-bottom Sporting Gijon last weekend and were battered 5-1 in the reverse fixture.
Barca put six past Alaves last weekend, although they are surely regretting playing Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez for the full 90 minutes rather than saving their legs for the trip to France
With a week's rest before a crucial trip to Atletico next weekend, Luis Enrique knows his team need to produce an emphatic response and it could be a long 90 minutes for the league's lowest scores, who have failed to score in five of their last seven away trips.
Deportivo v Alaves (Saturday 5.30pm, Sky Sports 5 red button)
The La Coruna natives will be getting nervous heading into the weekend with their sitting just three points clear of the drop-zone having collected just three points from their last five fixtures.
The pair have already drawn three times this season and, with Copa del Rey finalists Alaves' priority surely being their defence after being hit for six at the weekend, both sides would probably settle for another stalemate.
Real Sociedad v Villarreal (Sunday 11am, live on Sky Sports 2)
Villarreal will be looking to boost their European qualification chances after having this season's continental campaign all but ended with a 4-0 home loss to Roma on Thursday night.
However, tasks don't come much tougher than visiting the league's dark horses Sociedad, who head into the weekend just a point outside the top four following back-to-back wins.
Both Barcelona and Atletico have failed to win at El Madrigal, although Sevilla did romp to a 4-0 win there last month, but the Yellow Submarine have struggled on the road this season, winning just twice and scoring only eight times in 10 trips.
Valencia v Athletic Bilbao (Sunday 3.15pm, live on Sky Sports Mix)
Bilbao are another side who have struggled to replicate their home form on the road, while Valencia have predominantly struggled regardless of their destination.
Goals have been the one certainty during Los Che's season until last weekend's 0-0 draw with Betis, which was just one of five occasions where both teams have not scored.
With three or more in Bilbao's last five, it looks like the perfect fixture to sit back and cheer on the goals.
Celta Viga v Osasuna (Sunday 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports 3)
Celta have the rare honour of being considered 'bankers' this weekend when they host bottom side Osasuna.
The west-coast team have won seven of their last eight La Liga home matches and host a side which is winless in 14, conceding three or more in six of their last 10.