Barcelona title rivals to lose ground

La Liga gets back into the swing of things this weekend after its winter break, with the list of games for round 18 headlined by the battle for second.

Sevilla play host to Atletico Madrid, who are currently Barcelona’s closest challengers, sitting just two points off the reigning champions. Atletico went in to the festive interlude on a 13-match unbeaten run, but that record will be put to the test at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, where Sevilla have been imperious this season.

Atletico to test fortress Sevilla’s defenses

Pablo Machin’s men have won 12 out of 14 on their own patch this term, a shock defeat to Getafe in September and a goalless draw with Villarreal the only blots on that copybook. The Andalusians won their last four home games before the winter break to nil, but will find it tricky to extend that record against an Atletico side who have only failed to score once in their last 17 matches.

Antoine Griezmann was just getting into his stride before the season was called to a temporary halt, having a hand in five of Atletico’s last six goals. With Sevilla having the second best attacking record in the division, both teams to score at 1.86 appeals.

Despite their excellent home record, Sevilla start as slight underdogs at 2.85, while Los Rojiblancos are 2.75. Diego Simeone’s men haven’t always been at their best on the road, winning just two out of eight away league matches, but they will be determined to take something from this game.

Atleti’s record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan is decent as well, winning 5-2 on their last visit, and they can put a stop to Sevilla’s winning run, with the draw at 3.15.

Barca face Getafe battle

Barcelona will hope to pull clear of their title rivals, when they head to the suburbs of Madrid to face Getafe in the final game on Sunday. The champions had looked vulnerable away from home, but silenced their doubters with 4-0 and 5-0 victories in the lead up to Christmas.

This should be a much tougher test for Ernesto Valverde’s men, with Getafe’s physical approach continuing to serve them well under Joss Bordalas.

They have lost just one of their last 11 matches and have often made life hard for Barcelona at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez. Barca haven’t scored more than two at Getafe in the last four matches and under 2.5 total team goals for the Nou Camp outfit can be backed at 1.60.

However, for all their hard work in previous meetings at home, all Getafe have to show for it is a goalless draw in 2014. Their record against the three other members of last season’s top four also makes for grim reading, losing all three games to nil.

With Barca refreshed after the season interval, an away win to zero at 2.25 makes sense.

Sociedad no match for out-of-sorts Real

Real Madrid missed the chance to move up to third in the standings, when being held to a 2-2 draw by Villarreal on Thursday. Despite the recent break, Los Blancos looked fatigued and were dealt yet another blow on the injury front when Gareth Bale limped off during the second half.

It was yet another uninspiring performance from Santiago Solari’s men, who won their last two league matches of 2018 against struggling duo Huesca and Rayo Vallecano 1-0. They welcome a Sociedad side who were in freefall towards the end of 2018, four straight defeats leaving them looking over their shoulders at the relegation zone.

Asier Garitano, who only arrived in San Sebastian last summer, paid for the poor run with his job and Imanol Alguacil has been promoted from the B team to take charge. It looks like being a losing start for Alguacil though, Madrid having won the previous seven meetings between the two sides.

Despite failing to catch fire under Solari, they have won 11 of their 14 competitive outings with him at the helm and with Sociedad having not suffered what could be described as a heavy defeat this season, a Real win with under 2.5 goals at 4.65 offers plenty of value.