Puyol and Thiago against Racing Santander / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB

Poor home form haunts Rayo

Rayo Vallecano have won five of their seven games since Christmas – including the last three
– and can actually boast a better record on the road this season than Barça, with 18 points.
The problem this weekend is that they are playing at home, where unfortunately they’ve been
awful, with only Sporting and Zaragoza having a worse record, what’s more they are up against
a Real Madrid team who’ve dropped just 4 points away from home and have won their last
seven matches away from the Bernabeu. Mourinho will be without the injured Lass, Benzema
and Di Maria.

Six-pointer derby

The weekend kicks off with two of the bottom three facing each other in Santander, where
Racing, on 23 points, entertain Sporting Gijon, on 20. The hosts have improved markedly
since changing their manager at Christmas and taken 9 points, with last week’s defeat at the
Bernabeu only the second this year. Sporting’s record of one win in seven played a big part in
the sacking of Manolo Preciado, but his replacement Javier Clemente made a positive start last
weekend with a point against Atletico Madrid and ahead of this game claimed: “this is as near
to a derby game as we get and a draw isn’t going to be of any use to either of us”.

Zaragoza’s hopes fading

The only team below Racing and Sporting is Zaragoza, whose defeat last week was a real body
blow and left them a massive 11 points from safety, causing boss Manolo Jimenez to admit: “it
gets harder and harder as every week goes by to work and motivate” and on Saturday they
travel to Malaga, who know that a win would take them into the top four – if only for a couple
of hours, as Espanyol take on Levante immediately after the game down on the Costa del
Sol. Although Pochettino has said that the Champions League is a realistic goal for his team,
he also admitted this week that the pitch at Cornella” doesn’t suit our style and we don’t
feel comfortable on it at times”. That shouldn’t matter too much against the fading Levante
though, who after their excellent early form have gone seven games without a win since
Christmas, shipping 9 goals in their last two games.

Revitalised Granada and improving Villarreal

Whilst the form book seems to make Espanyol and Malaga favourites to take the points this
weekend, the games involving Bilbao and Osasuna are much harder to call. The Pamplona
outfit have enjoyed great home form, with the win against Barça a great boost, but on Sunday
they face a Granada team who seem to have been revitalised by the arrival of Abel Resino,
who’s guided them to three wins out of four since he joined at the end of January. Bilbao

would also normally fancy their chances against a team lying fourth from bottom, but Villarreal
have improved over recent weeks with three wins and a draw against Barça before last week’s
slip up in Mallorca and with Bilbao perhaps feeling the effects of their herculean efforts against
Lokomotiv on Thursday, Bielsa’s men might find it a step too far to take the three points.

“Best of the rest”

In the weekend’s other big game, Valencia- who joined Atletico Madrid and Bilbao in the last
16 of the Europa League with their win over Stoke City in midweek –are at home to Seville.
Michel will be looking to build on last weekend’s win against Osasuna, but he admitted it will
be a difficult job against what he called: “the best of the rest” after Real Madrid and Barça.
Real Sociedad and Mallorca and Betis and Getafe complete the weekend’s fixtures with only
two points between the four of them, sitting just above the relegation spots and just out of the
running for Europe.