Jack Lang previews the weekend's games, all of which are available on Betfair Live Video...
"These sides produced one of the games of the season in November, Betis edging a seven-goal slugfest. And there's good reason to think this could be a fun encounter, too"
Celta ideal opponents for Zizou return
Real Madrid v Celta Vigo
Live on Betfair Live Video
There was a real turn-up for the books at Real Madrid this week, and not just at the bottom of Zinedine Zidane's skinny jeans. The Frenchman is back in the Bernabéu hotseat just months after leaving it, in what now looks like the best-timed mini-sabbatical in human history. He returns on bigger wages, his reputation higher than ever, and something close to carte blanche when it comes to stopping the rot that has set in over the last year.
It won't be an easy task, and you imagine Brazilian defender Éder Militão - signed swiftly after the Zidane deal was announced - will not be the only new face to arrive during the next few months. This is a squad that needs renewing, with growing doubts over even the most established players, like Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Luka Modrić.
Before that comes the task of trudging to the end of the season without a whole swathe of players. Dani Carvajal, Lucas Vázquez, Vinícius Júnior, Bale and Marcos Llorente are all sidelined, while Casemiro also serves a suspension here. That leaves Zidane with little wiggle room, but that could be good news for one player at least: Isco, who has been largely exiled this season, may come back into the fold.
The good news this weekend is that they face a side in even worse shape than they are. Celta Vigo have had a nightmarish few months, burning through two coaches and tumbling down the standings. They sit 18th and while Fran Escribá has only been in the job for a couple of weeks, he will be under no illusions that rapid improvement is needed. But with Iago Aspas still out injured, it's hard to see where the spark will come from.
Celta last won an away game in early December. They shipped four goals against Rayo Vallecano and three against Getafe. Madrid are in flux, but they should win this comfortably if there's any kind of new-manager bounce.
Tired Sevilla could be in for more trouble
Espanyol v Sevilla
Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
Question: what's worse than a midweek schlep to the Czech Republic when you're struggling in the battle for the Champions League places. Answer: a midweek schlep to the Czech Republic for a match that goes to extra time and eventually results in you getting knocked out of your favourite competition.
So it was for Sevilla, whose Europa League campaign ground to a halt against unfancied Slavia Prague on Thursday night. Los Rojiblancos could count themselves unlucky not to have established a first-leg lead last week, but only had themselves to blame for not putting the tie to bed in the return. Pablo Machín looked horrified when Slavia snatched a late goal, and for good reason - his side were out of the competition and by this morning he was out of a job
sevilla's thoughts now return to the league, which hasn't been going well. Yes, they won a thriller against Real Sociedad last weekend, but that was only their second win in 11. They've allowed Getafe to build a five-point lead in the race for fourth, and their record on the road is terrible: it's five defeats on the spin, with their last victory coming at Eibar, way back in September.
Espanyol aren't a great side by any means, and are muddling along without a host of senior players (David López, Óscar Duarte, Pablo Piatti, Sergio García, Víctor Sánchez). But they have settled down after a shaky run, and are unbeaten in six. They will be well rested and have a solid enough record at home (W8 D1 L4), and so we like their chances of shading this one.
Goals could flow at Benito Villamarín
Real Betis v Barcelona
Live on ITV4, Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
The nerves jangled for a spell, but Barcelona switched on the afterburners to cut Lyon down to size in midweek, setting up a Champions League quarter-final with Manchester United. And the result wasn't the only positive: Luis Suárez looked sharper than he has for some time, and Philippe Coutinho grasped the opportunity handed to him by Ernesto Valverde, playing with poise.
It would be hugely handy to Barça were the Brazilian to hit a vein of form, not least because his main competition for starts is now sidelined. Ousmane Dembélé has picked up a hamstring injury, which is likely to keep him out for a month. Coutinho will now have the chance to build up some much-needed rhythm ahead of the run-in.
Next up for the Blaugrana is Real Betis, whose own form continues to oscillate wildly. All the talent is there (well, perhaps they could do with a proper marksman to finish off chances), but consistency is an issue: Quique Setién's men haven't won back-to-back league games since early December, which explains why they remain in the no man's land of eighth.
These sides produced one of the games of the season in November, Betis edging a seven-goal slugfest. And there's good reason to think this could be a fun encounter, too: Barça have scored three times or more in four of their last five games (disregarding the Catalonia Super Cup), while Betis have scored in 19 of their 22 matches at the Benito Villamarín (all competitions).
Jack Lang's La Liga P/L, 2018/19
Back Real Madrid -2.0 against Celta at [1.88]
Back Espanyol +0 against Sevilla at [1.88]
Over 3.5 goals in Betis v Barcelona at [2.1]