This is without doubt the game of the weekend in La Liga as third-placed Sevilla take on league leaders Barcelona, creating an ironic opportunity for Jolen Lopetegui to strike a crucial blow in the title race for Real Madrid, the club that sacked him after just 14 games in 2018. And Lopetegui's side come into this game in decent form – unbeaten in eight games in all competitions, though with half of those maches ending all square, that points to a lack of cutting edge for the Andalusians.
Barcelona are only three unbeaten, following their 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in March, but subsequent wins over Real Sociedad, Mallorca and Malaga have all involved clean sheets. Now Luis Suarez is back to boost the attack, the signs are very encouraging for the Blaugrana at the moment. They also have every reason to be confident facing Sevilla. In their last 14 meetings with the Rojiblancos, Barcelona have won 13 by an aggregate score of 41-11.
Post-lockdown, teams have found it tougher to win at home, and tougher to contain elite teams who can make better use of their bigger, more talented squads. With the notoriously raucous Sanchez-Pizjuan missing home fans, this game seems all set to follow suit.
Between December 8 and February 23, Bilbao failed to win a league game and saw hopes of a top four, then a top six, finish fade. The last four matches of that run were all defeats and it's fair to say confidence evaporated for Gaizka Garitano's side. However, they are now unbeaten in four although both wins in that run came before lockdown. Bilbao have definitely turned a corner but they are yet to win since the restart.
Betis have won just once away from home in La Liga all season, and have failed to even score in three of their last five, something they have also failed to do on their last two trips to the San Mames. Memories of recent victories at the Bernabeu and Nou Camp under Quique Setien have faded quickly – Rubi's Betis is quite simply a side that doesn't travel well. Although Bilbao are without now retired legend Aritz Arduriz, three goals in two post-lockdown matches suggest they're still creating and taking a reasonable amount of chances. Back Bilbao to edge Betis in this one.
It's already been a good week for Atletico. Last week, Real Sociedad's 1-1 draw with Osasuna created the opportunity for Diego Simeone's side to finally get back in the top four – an opportunity they grasped with both hands as they travelled to Osasuna themselves and emerged with a thrilling 5-0 win.
Marcos Llorente was man of the match in that fixture despite coming on as a second-half substitute – a feat he also managed away to Liverpool in the Champions League. The youngster has three goals and three assists in his last two appearances as a substitute.
As for Ronaldo-owned Valladolid, their post-restart form has been encouraging. Four points from games against Levante and Celta have opened up an eight-point gap between them and Mallorca in 18th-place. A couple more good results will surely see Valladolid's La Liga status secured, but a trip to the Metropolitano to face a confident Atleti with their top four status in their own hands at last is surely not the time for that.
Celta's days of threatening the La Liga top six are long gone. After just about staying up in 17th place last season, they find themselves 17th again. Whereas they survived by four points last season, this year the gap is just two points. Worse still, the Celestes have now gone four straight games without scoring, but this week, they received a boost on that front.
La Liga's curious out-of-window transfer regulations have permitted Celta to bring in their former winger Nolito who arrives on a free transfer from Sevilla. Nolito hit double figures in each of his three seasons in Galicia so he will immediately address goal-scoring issues. Alaves should be a good opponent to put that to the test given how bad their away record currently is. In total, the Basque side have collected just nine points from a possible 42 away from home. With Nolito on board, back Celta to rack up a precious win.
After being pegged back very late on at home to Levante, Valencia put in a strong performance for an hour at Real Madrid. Sure, Madrid fired in three goals in the final half an hour, but Albert Celades shouldn't be too downhearted, his side were just on the wrong end of an irresistible attacking performance. Nevertheless, one point from two games is not the boost Valencia needed to keep their European hopes alive.
A win against Osasuna is imperative and recent history would suggest that's comfortably within Valencia's grasp. In Los Rojillos' last 11 trips to the Mestalla, they've lost 10 and drawn one. Valencia have managed to score at least three in six of the last eight. Also, Osasuna were just tonked 5-0 by Atletico Madrid. Valencia will once again rely on star striker Rodrigo who could have had two straight opening goals had pesky VAR not intervened versus Real. Back Rodrigo to fire Valencia to the win they need to get back on track.
If Sevilla (3rd) versus Barcelona (1st) is the game of the weekend in La Liga, Real Sociedad (5th) versus Real Madrid (2nd) won't be far behind. By Sunday evening, Real will either be five points behind Barca in desperate need of a win, or they will be within striking distance of top spot albeit with a win that helps Atletico's top four chances. Sociedad remain in Champions League contention – a win on Sunday would equal last year's points haul with nine games remaining.
They have cause for optimism having not only beaten Real 4-3 at the Bernabeu in the Copa del Rey this season, but outplaying them. Real loanee Martin Ødegaard – who can feature in this game – was outstanding that night, as was Alexander Isak who bagged two. If Madrid fail to learn from their February defeat, their title bid will falter. On the other hand, Los Blancos have emerged from lockdown in fine fettle, swatting Eibar and Valencia aside with just a single consolation goal conceded.
Karim Benzema has hit the ground running, Eden Hazard has started impressively, and with Marco Asensio scoring a screamer with his first touch on Thursday, the likelihood of restricting Madrid's attack is minimal. Granted the Onoeta is normally one of the toughest grounds to play in in Spain, but these aren't normal times and it won't be the same. The biggest clubs have benefited most from atmosphereless, extra subs, post-lockdown football world – expect that to just about continue on Sunday.