Relentess Real Sociedad to continue their drive
Valencia will go down fighting at the Bernabéu
Sevilla to take much needed win in El Gran Derbi
To make this one pretty simple from the off: Almería are in the biggest rut of any side in LaLiga and Real Sociedad look like a team who simply cannot wait for their next game. After their win over Benfica in the Champions League midweek - in what was an historic European night at Reale Arena - their confidence in what they're doing could barely be higher right now.
Coming off a huge effort in Europe in midweek, you'd usually tend to factor in an element of fatigue for a team in Real Sociedad's case. And make no mistake, Imanol Alguacil's side really do empty the tank in every game. But with the way they're playing at the moment, and with the degree to which they can see their work paying off, Alguacil's players will have no thoughts of taking their foot off the gas.
After their defeat against Barcelona last weekend - one in which they were unanimously the better side - Alguacil was very clear to dismiss any thoughts of fatigue. "A lot of those players have played three games a week in the last few years, and nobody mentioned any tiredness when we were winning," he said prior to the Benfica game. They were 3-0 up after 21 minutes the following day.
For Almería, their survival is very much on the line already. La Liga's bottom side are six points adrift, haven't won any of their 12 matches, and have lost their first three league games under new boss Gaizka Garitano. What's more, their best centre forward Luis Suárez is injured and Sergio Arribas - the only player to match his goal tally (4) this term - hasn't scored since September.
Almería will react at some point - they're better than what they're showing - but against a Real Sociedad team who are playing some of the best football in Europe on current form, I can't look past the strength of Imanol Alguacil's side. Even with some rotation on the cards, they should be too strong for the home side.
Real Madrid v Valencia - Sat, 20:00
Real Madrid have had a pretty comfortable week so far, thanks to a 3-0 win over Braga in which Carlo Ancelotti was able to rest some legs. Even their relentless superstar and driver of results - Jude Bellingham - took a night off to watch the game from the bench.
The evergreen Ancelotti knows how to manage his squad just about as well as anyone, and he'll have also been aware not to underestimate the last challenge for them ahead of the international break. Valencia are young, hungry, and they've already stung Real Madrid once this year. They won 1-0 at Mestalla back in May, in what was the first meeting between Ancelotti and Valencia boss Rubén Baraja.
Real Madrid's weekend opponents have only conceded 13 goals in 12 games in LaLiga this season, and it's a record which is very much merited. Only the three sides who occupied the top three last season - Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid - have a lower xG against per game than Los Che (1.04) in the current campaign.
Baraja's side might be young, but they're streetwise and know how to hang around in games.
In fact, there are parallels between this Valencia side and the Rayo Vallecano one who Real Madrid could only draw 0-0 against last weekend. Both sides are quick on the break, play with abundant energy, and are comfortable defending deep in 4-4-2 blocks when the game calls for it. As always, it'll require the underdog to have their day and the home side to have an off day, but Valencia have the ingredients to make it tough - just as Rayo did.
With Real Madrid sparing some legs, and getting much needed goals for both Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo in midweek, they come into this game in decent shape physically and emotionally. I expect they'll have the edge come the final whistle, but I'm backing Valencia to make them earn it at the Bernabéu.
Sevilla v Real Betis - Sun, 17:30
Things haven't gotten off to the best start for Sevilla under Diego Alonso. He's picked up just one win in his opening six games in charge of the club (D3 L2), and that lone victory came in the Copa del Rey first round against Quintanar.
It wouldn't be fair to judge him on what his record says alone, however. If we dig into the fixtures, Alonso has only managed two of the six at their Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán home, and those were against a couple of Europe's best teams in the form of Real Madrid (1-1) and Arsenal (1-2). Sevilla were plenty competitive in both of those games, firing in as many shots themselves as they faced across the two (28), and only being outscored by a single goal.
Their Copa del Rey game against lower league opposition aside, this has been a tough run of fixtures for Alonso to get going on. And while their displays on the road over the last few weeks haven't overly convinced, the prospect of returning to their home ground for a game against their eternal rivals is one I expect to bring a shift in Sevilla's levels.
Real Betis, for their part, haven't won in this fixture in La Liga since September 2018, and this will be the 10th time they've faced each other in the competition since that last win (D3 L6). Indeed, Sevilla have had four different managers take charge of at least one game during this run, while Betis boss Manuel Pellegrini is winless in six in this league fixture (D3 L3).
The table says it's Real Betis who are the stronger side coming into this one, but I can't look past the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán factor for Sevilla. The fiery atmosphere they'll benefit from aligns exactly with how Diego Alonso wants to play, in terms of front foot attacking and aggression to press from the front. And we've already seen them stand up firmly to Real Madrid in that type of scenario in La Liga.