Euro contenders dominate La Liga round
Sevilla have the chance to further push their bid for a European berth this weekend when they take on stuttering Athletic Bilbao, whose own hopes of a top-six finish are in danger after a dramatic recent reversal of form.
Sevilla are looking to salvage something from a largely disappointing season by claiming, at least, a Europa League berth and a seven-point haul from their three games has put them on the fringes of the European spots.
They are now level on 38 points with sixth-placed Athletic, and with the Basque side having lost their last four successive games - having previously won four on the trot - Sevilla will hope to improve their lot at San Mames on Sunday.
Last season's Copa del Rey winners are also still not giving up on their hope of getting back into the Champions League places, although with fourth-placed Villarreal 12 points in front, Sevilla defender Julien Escude is not looking too far ahead.
"There are still enough games to think about our objective (UEFA Champions League), but we have to take it step by step. We`ve lost a lot of matches and points since the start of the season and now it`s difficult," said Escude, who helped Sevilla down Sporting Gijon 3-0 on Tuesday.
"But, after the last few games, things are looking better, and for this I think that the game in Bilbao is going to be important to build on our good result at home. We need to continue in this form and not think that the Sevilla of old have returned or that we are the best. There are a lot of games remaining, difficult games like Sunday`s."
Atletico Madrid are in a similar situation to Sevilla as they welcome Villarreal to the Vicente Calderon on Saturday. The Rojiblancos won the UEFA Europa League and reached the Copa del Rey final last season but they have struggled this term and are hoping for a good season finale in order to get back into Europe. Atletico are currently eighth in the standings, three points behind Sevilla.
Defender Diego Godin, the former Villarreal player, said: "It's difficult to get into the Champions League, but we can still get into the Europa League. We are only thinking about winning and do it as well as possible against Villarreal."
At the top of the table, Barcelona will look to move a step closer to their third successive LA Liga title when they host Real Zaragoza, although they could be without coach Pep Guardiola on the bench for that game. Guardiola, who has been suffering from lower back pain for the last few weeks, was admitted to hospital earlier today where he was diagnosed with a herniated disc.
On Sunday, second-placed Real Madrid make the potentially difficult trip to Racing Santander, who have been one of La Liga's most improved sides over the last few weeks. The has coincided with the arrival of new Racing owner Ahsan Ali Syed, the Indian businessman who said earlier this week: "It`s possible to win any game. It would not surprise me if my team beat Real Madrid."
Also this weekend, third-placed Valencia will look to bounce back from last night`s 1-0 home defeat to Barcelona - their first loss in 12 league games - when they go to Real Mallorca, while Sporting host Getafe.
Rival strugglers Hercules and Almeria meet in Alicante, Osasuna go to Malaga still looking for their first away win of the season, and Levante meet fifth-placed Espanyol. On Monday night, Deportivo La Coruna are at home to Real Sociedad.