Week 33 of the 2013-14 La Liga season is upon us, and with six matches left to be played, both the race for the league title and the battle to avoid the drop are wide open.
Only three points separate the three remaining title contenders, with Atletico Madrid holding the slightest edge over Barcelona and Real Madrid. All three clubs will be playing against struggling sides this week, and none of them can afford to drop any points at this stage of the competition.
Those strugglers have everything to play for, as the difference between relegation-threatened Getafe and 12th-placed Rayo Vallecano is only five points. With the battle at the bottom of the table as close as the one at the top, look for every team to at least put up a fight during Week 33.
|When (BST/ET)||Home||Away||Prediction||Live stream|
|April 11, 8 p.m./3 p.m.||Osasuna||Valladolid||1-1||beIN Sports Play|
|April 12, 3 p.m./10 a.m.||Celta Vigo||Real Sociedad||1-3||beIN Sports Play|
|April 12, 5 p.m./12 p.m.||Villareal||Levante||2-0||beIN Sports Play|
|April 12, 7 p.m./2 p.m.||Granada||Barcelona||0-4||Sky Go app|
|April 12, 9 p.m./4 p.m.||Real Madrid||Almeria||3-0||Sky Go app|
|April 13, 11 a.m./6 a.m.||Real Betis||Sevilla||1-2||beIN Sports Play|
|April 13, 4 p.m./10 a.m.||Valencia||Elche||2-1||beIN Sports Play|
|April 13, 6 p.m./1 p.m.||Getafe||Atletico||0-2||Sky Go app|
|April 13, 8 p.m./3 p.m.||Espanyol||Rayo Vallecano||1-1||Sky Go app|
|April 14, 9 p.m./4 p.m.||Athletic Bilbao||Malaga||2-0||beIn Sports Play|
Where's The Match?
La Liga has been all about the Big Three this season and in particular the figures of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa, three of the best players in the world at this particular moment.
Life at the top isn't always easy though. Just ask Messi, who was heavily criticised following his team's exit from the UEFA Champions League for his alleged lack of effort, evidenced by the fact the Argentinian forward barely outran his own goalkeeper, Jose Manuel Pinto, as shared by SPORT Humour:
Lionel Messi ran just 6.8km in last night's match. Barcelona Goalkeeper Jose Pinto ran 5.3...— SPORTHumour (@SportHumour) April 10, 2014
BBC's Andy West joined the party:
Whatever the reason - tactical, lack of effort, lack of fitness - Messi was simply poor. No influence on game flow & missed two good chances— Andy West (@andywest01) April 9, 2014
Messi has been criticised fiercely at times since the start of the New Year, and one could ask whether said criticism is fair. Per WhoScored.com, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner has 28 club goals and nine assists in 2014, the kind of numbers any player would dream of.
The Barcelona man has raised the bar to such an incredible level that fans will be disappointed every time he doesn't score, but given his track record in big games and his bulging trophy case, perhaps some perspective is in order.
Unless something is very wrong with Messi (form-wise or health-wise), the chances are all of this week's drama will fuel the forward on his way to another monster performance to remind everyone exactly how gifted he truly is. If you're Granada, that's not something to relish.
Messi will have a chance to answer all of his critics next week when Barcelona take on Real in the final of the Copa del Rey, and as reported by AS, Los Blancos will be without star winger Ronaldo:
BREAKING: Cristiano will miss Wednesday's Copa del Rey final after suffering a thigh muscle tear. He faces 15 days on the sidelines.— AS English (@English_AS) April 10, 2014
The Portuguese star reportedly suffered a tear of his thigh muscle and could be out for several weeks, which explains why the player didn't enter the pitch with his team struggling in their Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund.
Ronaldo has contributed to 31 percent of Real's goals, per WhoScored, the second-highest mark in the league, so losing the winger for any extended amount of time would be devastating for his club with the season nearing its conclusion.
Real Madrid TV's Phil Kitromilides wanted to emphasise the club is yet to confirm the length of time he will be sidelined for:
Nothing has been officially confirmed. Nothing. #Cristiano— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) April 10, 2014
Almeria are hardly word-beaters and have conceded 60 league goals this season, one of the worst marks in La Liga. So the loss of Ronaldo shouldn't have too much of an impact there, with Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale both providing enough of a goalscoring threat and Angel di Maria a worthy replacement.
La Liga's third star forward missed his club's Champions League clash with Barcelona in midweek, and as shared by ESPN's Janusz Michallik, Atletico looked just fine:
No Diego Costa, no Arda Turan. Atleti fully deserving. Congrats to the mattress-makers.— Janusz Michallik (@JanuszESPN) April 9, 2014
Diego Simeone has done a phenomenal job coaching the Atleti, and this win was perhaps his greatest performance. Costa has scored a ridiculous 36 percent of the team's goals, and replacing such production is near impossible.
But a sturdy, organised defence and the brilliance of Thibaut Courtois ensure the team don't have to worry about conceding all that much, turning the attack into a collective effort as opposed to working around a single striker to provide the goals.
A match against Getafe shouldn't pose too much of an issue for the league leaders, even without Costa. The safer option would be to continue resting the star striker to ensure his health for the all-important matches in the Champions League and the clash with Barcelona on La Liga's final matchday.
Given the strong displays by the likes of Diego Ribas and Adrian, the risk in resting Diego wouldn't be so great, so expect to see the star forward in street clothes just a little longer.