Matchday 17 of La Liga 2020/21 was the first of the new year, and it proved to be another matchday full of memorable moments. Luis Suarez’s 89th minute goal at Mendizorrotza was arguably most noteworthy as it saw Atletico de Madrid record a vital 2-1 away win against Deportivo Alaves, taking them two points clear at the top of the standings. This proved especially vital given Real Madrid’s comfortable 2-0 home victory against Celta de Vigo just a day earlier. Will the seemingly exclusive Madrid title tussle continue along into Matchday 18? Here is La Jornada que Viene for Matchday 18.
Spanish football’s “super Saturday”
If one’s interest in Spanish football is solely formed by the events at the top of the standings, then Jornada 18 should see attention focused on events on Saturday 9th January. On this day, the two current title favourites are in action alongside the two other teams still capable of staying in the chase.
Current leaders, Atletico, return home for a clash against Athletic Club at CET 16:15. With a two-point lead and, more crucially, two matches in hand over their hated rivals, Los Colchoneros find themselves perfectly positioned at the near-halfway point in the season.
Nonetheless, they should be weary on Saturday. Matchday 18 will be Athletic Club’s first game under new manager, Marcelino Garcia Toral. Despite sitting 9th in La Liga after their home 1-0 victory over Elche CF, Los Leones opted to fire Gaizka Garitano immediately afterwards. Will a new manager bounce at Athletic Club derail Atleti’s aspirations?
Later on at 21:00 CET, Real Madrid, who could, at that point, be 5 points behind Atleti, travel to Pamplona to face Osasuna. While their previous match against in-form Celta de Vigo at home looked like a tough task, Los Blancos blew away the Galicians, recording a 2-0 victory courtesy of goals from Lucas Vasquez and Marco Asensio.
Despite their rivals being second bottom of the standings, Osasuna’s last three results have seen three draws against Elche, Alaves and Real Sociedad. The pressure could be on Real going into their clash in Navarre, a win essential to keep up the pressure on Atleti.
“Super Saturday” in La Liga is rounded off with matches involving two other clubs who, despite being quite a way behind the two capital city giants, could still make an unlikely title challenge, should they put together a strong run of form. FC Barcelona are in action at 18:30 CET travelling to Andalucia to face 7th placed Granada CF. The Southern outfit are in a mixed run of form at present with 3 wins and 2 defeats coming from their last five La Liga matches. Nonetheless, Diego Martinez’s troops could prove a dangerous opponent for Blaugrana and Barca only need to look at last season’s 2-0 away loss to Granada at Nuevo Los Carmenes as evidence of this.
Starting off the day at 14:00 CET is the second such team, Sevilla FC, who face off against 3rd place Real Sociedad. Rojiblancos will be desperate at home to make up for a poor performance in their Matchday 17 away 1-1 draw against city rivals Real Betis in El Gran Derbi.
Celta vs Villarreal could see a Fun Friday fixture
When one picks out a Matchday’s fixtures, the Friday & Monday night games are oft-cited as those to avoid. However, in the case of the former, Friday night’s contest between Celta de Vigo and Villarreal may just buck the trend and could be worth settling down to watch.
Despite an impressive run of form going into their clash against defending champions Real on Matchday 17, Celta and recently appointed manager, Eduardo Coudet, were given a dose of reality when going down 2-0 to Los Blancos. However, back on home soil, Celestes will look to get back on track. Unai Emery’s Villarreal will prove tricky opponents as they opened up the La Liga fixtures for 2021 by defeating Valencian rivals Levante UD 2-1 last Saturday. Villarreal’s young academy graduate striker Fernando Nino scoring the first La Liga goal of 2021 in a crucial win for El Submarino Amarillo as they chase a top four finish.
Other Fixtures & Talking Points to watch
If Saturday’s fixtures feature the title race, Sunday’s games on La Liga Matchday 18 see the relegation dogfight in focus. Huge matches include 18th placed Elche facing off at home against 16th placed Getafe, and 15th placed Real Valladolid square off against 17th placed Valencia CF. The 2001/02 and 2003/04 league champions firmly involved in a relegation scrap after a disappointing 1-1 home draw versus Cadiz on Matchday 17.
One other team watch on Matchday 18 is Real Betis. Positioned 10th in La Liga, Manuel Pellegrini’s troops go into their away game on Monday night against SD Huesca with a renewed sense of optimism after their performance in the 1-1 draw against Sevilla. It was widely accepted Betis were the better side throughout, with Sergio Canales and Diego Lainez in particular impressing. Can Betis now finally start getting some consistent results and put themselves into contention to qualify for European competition in 2021/22?