Jack Lang previews the weekend's Spanish games, all of which are available on Betfair Live Video...
"The Frenchman has seven goals in his last seven outings, and has enjoyed playing Girona this term: he has scored five times across the three meetings in league and cup"
Rayo can pierce Atleti defences
Rayo Vallecano v Atlético Madrid
Live on Betfair Live Video
It hasn't been a happy 2019 so far for Atlético Madrid, who have won just three of eight games (all competitions), crashed out of the Copa del Rey, and seen city rivals Real leapfrog them in the league. Last week's derby display was fairly limp by their recent standards, and Diego Simeone would be forgiven for feeling slightly concerned ahead of the Champions League double bill with Juventus.
That kicks off on Wednesday, but Atleti have another tricky-looking hurdle to clear before then. It's just a short trip across town to face Rayo Vallecano, but the consequences could be far-reaching as far as their season goes; fail to win here, and their title hopes will be close to extinguished.
Rayo are in the relegation zone, having lost the last two, but there is reason for them to be optimistic about their survival hopes. Only eight sides in the division have scored more than them, meaning a small improvement at the back would go a long way, and they are starting to turn Vallecas into a fortress: after a dodgy start, they've now lost just one of six at home.
Los Franjirrojos may not take all three points here, but they should contribute to a decent contest. They have scored in every home game so far, and, in Raúl de Tomás, have a forward capable of conjuring something from nothing. Atleti have kept one clean sheet in their last seven away assignments, and will have half an eye on Juve, so we like Rayo's chances of getting on the score sheet.
Valladolid lacking firepower
Barcelona v Real Valladolid
Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
Normally, this game might look like a minor annoyance for Barcelona. With their Champions League campaign resuming against in midweek - they travel to Lyon on Tuesday night - the priority may have been resting key men and escaping without any injuries. Circumstances have changed over the last fortnight, however, and Saturday's game is now a chance to right the ship after a mini domestic crisis.
The C word must be taken with a pinch of salt, of course: Barça are still six points clear in La Liga and still in the Copa del Rey. But a run of three games without a win will always raise eyebrows at the Camp Nou, and the possibility of Real Madrid sneaking up on them doesn't look quite as far-fetched as it did at the turn of the year. They'll probably be fine, but a nerve-settling win wouldn't go amiss.
Real Valladolid look like ideal opponents. Barça have beaten them in nine of the last 10 league meetings, and the Pucela were abject in their last away game, going down 4-0 to bottom club Huesca. Sergio González's men are in credit for the season - a relegation dogfight was expected - but the feeling is that they could be running out of gas.
Their cause won't be helped by a suspension for Óscar Plano, one of their main attacking outlets. The 28-year-old has been directly involved in three of his side's last four league goals (two goals and one assist), and will be big miss here. Given Vallodolid have failed to score in 11 games this term (including in the reverse fixture, and in games against Real Madrid and Sevilla), a businesslike Barça win should be in order.
Benzema can maintain hot streak
Real Madrid v Girona
Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
It is probably slightly early to hail the rebirth of Real Madrid, but there are certainly signs of life there. Up to second in league after kneecapping Atleti last weekend, Los Merengues were in classically villainous form in the Champions League in midweek. Were they completely outplayed by Ajax? Yes. Did they also place one foot firmly in the quarter-finals? Also yes. Throw in a slice of controversy from Darth Ramos, and you'd have to say it was vintage stuff.
Madrid have a chance to ride the wave further on Sunday, against opponents low on confidence. Girona haven't won in 13 games (all competitions) and have been getting progressively worse in recent weeks. They were brushed aside by Eibar in their last away game, and followed that up with a home defeat to Huesca last week - a result that really set alarm bells ringing.
They were also beaten home and away in the cup by Madrid, and were hammered in the reverse league fixture. In fact, they have shipped 17 goals in the last four meetings between the sides, and the absence of centre-back Bernardo Espinosa (suspended) is hardly going to help them tighten up this time out.
Madrid should really be winning this, then, but odds of [1.21] don't hold any great appeal. The best play is to couple the home victory with a goal for Karim Benzema, using the Same Game Multi tool on the Sportsbook. The Frenchman has seven goals in his last seven outings, and has enjoyed playing Girona this term: he has scored five times across the three meetings in league and cup.
Jack Lang's La Liga P/L, 2018/19
Both teams to score in Rayo Vallecano v Atlético Madrid at [2.2]
Back Barcelona to beat Real Valladolid to nil at [1.9]
Back Real Madrid to beat Girona and Karim Benzema to score at [1.82] (Sportsbook)