El Clasico takes centre stage in Spain this weekend — and the stakes could not be higher.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are level on points at LaLiga’s summit, with only goal difference separating the division’s fiercest rivals.
Elsewhere, top-four contenders Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid go head-to-head, with fellow European hopefuls Real Betis and Valencia in action against Almeria and Elche respectively.
At the opposite end of the table, struggling Sevilla will be desperate to get their season up and running when they travel to Mallorca on Saturday.
Game of the week: Real Madrid vs Barcelona (Sunday, 3.15pm)
Barcelona’s Champions League hopes are hanging by a thread after their midweek draw with Inter Milan — but they remain top of the pile in LaLiga.
Real will fancy their chances of leapfrogging the Catalans though, having won five of their last six meetings in all competitions.
However, their previous encounter saw Barca secure a sensational 4-0 victory, so Blaugrana supporters will be hoping for consecutive Clasico triumphs for the first time since March 2019.
Both teams’ centre forwards could have a decisive impact on this match.
Karim Benzema has scored 20 times in 38 appearances for Los Blancos against Barcelona, while Robert Lewandowski has netted six times in eight games against the Madrid outfit.
Athletic Bilbao vs Atletico Madrid (Saturday, 8pm)
LaLiga’s top-four battle is fiercer than ever, so Athletic and Atleti will be desperate for all three points at San Mames.
But the visitors have a tough task on their hands this Saturday. Bilbao are unbeaten at home in 2022-23 and have only lost one game all season — that is their lowest number of defeats at this stage of the campaign in the 21st century.
Despite that impressive record, the omens could be in Atleti’s favour. Current Los Leones boss Ernesto Valverde has suffered six defeats when facing opposite number Diego Simeone — his second-worst record against any manager.
Colchoneros striker Antoine Griezmann has also been a constant thorn in the hosts’ side, having been directly involved in 15 LaLiga goals against Bilbao (nine goals, six assists).
Mallorca vs Sevilla (Saturday, 5.30pm)
Sevilla’s startling decline saw Jorge Sampaoli replace Julen Lopetegui in the dugout earlier this month — and he will be targeting a first victory in Mallorca.
However, a point apiece is the more likely outcome if history is anything to go by, with these sides playing out a remarkable 19 LaLiga draws.
Mallorca have failed to win in their last four encounters with Los Nervionenses (drawn two, lost two), though Sevilla are considerably weaker than in previous campaigns.
This is just the second time this century that the visitors have only won a solitary match from their first eight league fixtures.
Valencia vs Elche (Saturday, 3.15pm)
Valencia’s upcoming game against Elche will have repercussions at both ends of the table.
Los Che are firmly in the hunt for European football next season, while their opponents are propping up the division with just two points on the board.
And the hosts’ record against Los Franjiverdes is exemplary, having won their last three encounters and only lost once in 23 home meetings (won 16, drawn six).
Elche’s hopes of success may rest with forward Roger Marti, who has previously scored six times in eight LaLiga appearances against Valencia — more than any other side he has faced.
Real Betis vs Almeria (Sunday, 8pm)
Betis are only outside of the top four on goal difference — but will need to get back to winning ways after dropping points in their last two matches.
Los Verdiblancos seem to have misplaced their shooting boots in recent LaLiga fixtures. After netting seven times from their first 13 shots on target this season, they have scored just three from their last 16.
Luckily for Betis, they are facing an Almeria side who have allowed 118 shots against them — the third most in the division.
Manuel Pellegrini has also never lost any of his home meetings with La Union across his managerial career (won three, drawn one), so will be full of confidence ahead of Sunday evening’s match-up.
The weekend’s other games
Rayo Vallecano vs Getafe (Friday, 8pm)
Girona vs Cadiz (Saturday, 1pm)
Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad (Sunday, 1pm)
Espanyol vs Real Valladolid (Sunday, 5.30pm)
Villarreal vs Osasuna (Monday, 8pm)