La Liga 123 Preview: Round 31 sees Huesca tackle Sporting Gijon

Martin Devlin previews all the action ahead in La Liga 123 as the top six look to get back to winning ways.

20:00  SEVILLA ATLÉTICO (22) v ALBACETE (13)

Liga 123 swings into action this weekend, as bottom side Sevilla Atlético host Albacete at the Vieja Nervión.  With their senior counterparts the talk of the football world this week, shocking Manchester United in the Champions League, some more good news would be very welcome for the Andalusians who continue to prop up the table.  They lost the regional derby 4-1 last week away at Cádiz, but they scored a fantastic goal and were actually only down by a single goal until the final few minutes where they conceded twice.

Despite lying in 13th place coming into this week’s fixtures, Albacete are only seven points off sixth position and are well-placed to make a run at the playoff bracket.  Enrique Martín Monreal’s side held Osasuna to a goalless draw at home last week and have picked up eight points from their last four outings.  They should have too much for a frail Sevilla Atlético to handle.

SATURDAY 17TH MARCH, 2018

15:00 OSASUNA (6) v REAL ZARAGOZA (7)

In what could quite possibly be one of the most important matches in the division this week, Osasuna welcome a red-hot Real Zaragoza to Pamplona.

Los Rojillos failed to find the net again last week, and goals are in short supply.  In seven previous matches, they have not scored in four of them but often Osasuna do just enough to win.  Nine of their 12 wins have been by scoring one more than their opponent.  They are tough to break down defensively, but the lack of firepower up front has been their undoing.  They will need to pull out all the stops to stifle a free-scoring Real Zaragoza.

Natxo González’s crew can do no wrong at the moment and could not be in better form approaching this match, having steamrolled all before of late while clocking up five wins in a row.  Moreover, they have found the net 11 times in this period and conceding only three, posting two shut-outs.  Top scorer, Borja Iglesias, scored against Lorca last week to climb to 13 goals for the season.

17:00 LORCA (21) v BARCELONA B (16)

Lorca are just two points better off than bottom side Sevilla Atlético and were beaten 3-1 last week by Zaragoza to hand them their third loss in five matches.  They have not tasted victory since a 2-0 away win over Gimnàstic in November, one of only four wins they have been able to muster so far.  The outlook is not good for the Murcians who are a long way from safety and look odds-on to be one of the automatically relegated sides.

This match could prove to the ideal tonic for Barcelona B, who fell apart at the seams against Numancia at home in Week 30 having built up a 2-0 lead.  They seemed to be in cruise control, but some inspired substitutions by the visitors saw both their goals in a 2-2 draw scored by replacements.  A run of three consecutive draws is not pleasing manager Gerard, who was particularly unhappy about his sides inability to close out last week’s match.

17:00 LUGO (11) v ALCÓRCON (18)

Little Lugo dropped two places in the standings following last week’s 1-0 defeat to lowly Córdoba.  They were forced to play the second half with ten men, as Fede Vico picked up his second booking a minute after the break.  The Galicians held out as long as they could, finally succumbing to the winner 11 minutes from time.  They have struggled recently, posting two wins since the turn of the year.

Alcórcon held Real Valladolid to a stalemate at home in the previous round, with Casto Espinosa and his defence holding current pichici Jaime Mata at bay to grind out a point.  With the division being as tight as it is, a win and favourable results elsewhere could catapult Julio Valázquez’s troops to a mid-table position.  However, goals have eluded the visitors with only three goals in seven matches to show for their efforts.

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19:00 CULTURAL LEONESA (19) v CÁDIZ (3)

Cultural were handed a 4-0 hiding at the hands of Sporting when they travelled to El Molinón last week, and there is no respite as they throw the gates of the Reino de León open for third-placed Cádiz.  The hosts surprised Reus the last time they were at home, winning 2-0 in Week 29.  It was the bright spot in a torrid few weeks where they lost the derby to Real Valladolid and followed that up with another three losses.  This poor form means they hover precariously over the drop zone and have a resurgent Córdoba gaining on them at a rate of knots.  This is not a fixture manager Rubén de la Barrera will have relished seeing on his calendar so soon after the demolition at Sporting.

Cádiz look to keep pace with Rayo Vallecano for the precious second automatic promotion place and are three points behind their closest rivals.  Beating Andalusian rivals Sevilla Atlético last week was a good confidence booster for them, but in truth the scoreline flattered them and was only accentuated by two late goals.  Their performances have been up and down and they must search for consistency if they are to usurp Rayo for second place.  Any slip-ups will be punished by Sporting and Granada who are hot on their heels and either one of them could leapfrog the Yellow Submarine with a win of their own.

SUNDAY 18TH MARCH, 2018

11:00 REAL VALLADOLID (10) v ALMERÍA (15)

Logic would dictate that Real Valladolid would comfortably dispatch Alcórcon last week, but there has been little logical about Pucela since the year began.  A disappointing effort in a 0-0 draw last Saturday raised more than a few eyebrows around the league, further adding fuel to the fire that burns under manager Luis César Sampedro’s seat in the dugout.  Although his tenure at the José Zorilla continued for a least another week, this is a key fixture for not just himself, but his team’s playoff hopes.  They have been guilty of dropping points against lower-placed teams and relinquishing leads, so an air of tension will accompany Sunday morning’s contest against Almería.

Lucas Alcaraz’s rojiblancos put up an admirable challenge against second-placed Rayo but ultimately fell 1-0.  This ended a run of two wins and a draw, so there is very much to be optimistic for the visitors and they could benefit from a nervy Real Valladolid who are on a downward slide.

15:00 RAYO VALLECANO (2) v REUS (14)

Rayo have looked strong since the turn of the year, losing only their first match of 2018 and have closed the gap on leaders Huesca.  They will look to further put pressure on their rivals for the championship when they host Reus at the Campo de Fútbol on Sunday afternoon.  Rayo have failed to score just once in their last 18 matches, thanks in part to Raúl de Tomás weighing in with 15 goals this season and he set up Unai López for the only goal against Almería last week.

Reus played out a goalless draw at home to Huesca in their previous match.  This is perhaps more an indication of how poorly the leaders are playing at the moment rather than significant improvement in the Catalans who have failed to make an impression against teams in the top half of the table, apart from Week 30’s stalemate.  Their most recent wins have come at home and have been against the bottom clubs in the league, 3-0 against Lorca and 2-0 versus Sevilla Atlético in February. They have won just three times on the road.

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17:00 GIMNÀSTIC (17) v CÓRDOBA (20)

Nàstic continued their fine form away from home and sprung a surprise on third-placed Granada last week, winning 1-0 courtesy of a first-half strike from Oscar Perdomo.  They have put together two wins, a draw and two losses in their last five matches.  The defeats have both come at home, so this offers Córdoba a foot in the door to get something positive from this match as they travel to the Nou Estadi in Tarrgona.

Córdoba are in a rich vein of form and if they can take advantage of this opportunity and put together their fourth win in a row, they stand a chance pulling within a point of Cultural and may find themselves out of the relegation zone within a fortnight.  This will give them added impetus to attack a Nástic side who are at their most vulnerable on their own patch.

17:00 REAL OVIEDO (8) v GRANADA (5)

The hosts did not play all that poorly on Friday night when they visited Tenerife but still were sunk 3-1 thanks to some wonderful goals from the islanders.  Due to the heavy competition in the top six, this loss dropped los azules two places to eighth as they slid out of the playoff positions.  The good news is that they are only one point away from being straight back in contention.  Their home form outweighs their away fortunes, winning almost 65% as opposed to 20%, so playing in the Carlos Tartiere will benefit them.

Granada were shocked by Gimnàstic for their second consecutive loss after four wins in a row and also dropped two places, so Jose Luis Oltra will hope to steady the ship and focus their push for second.

19:00 NUMANCIA (9) v TENERIFE (12)

The jury is still out over whether the Numantinos gained a vital point against Barcelona B at the Mini Estadi more by their own design or the hosts inability to shut the door having built up a 2-0 lead.  The bottom line is that Numancia halted a two loss skid and welcome Tenerife to Los Parajitos where they have won ten out of their 14 home matches.

Joseba Etxteberria’s side are somehow still in the playoff hunt despite being in 12th spot and are only two points behind Sunday’s opponents.  Their match against Real Oviedo last Friday was a joy to watch and produced some stunning goals, most notably from Samuele Longo but also a double from Álex Mula which earned him player of the week honours.

MONDAY 19TH MARCH, 2018

20:00 HUESCA (1) v SPORTING GIJON (4)

The most exciting match-up of Week 31 is saved for last, as Monday night sees leaders Huesca tackle Sporting Gijon at El Alcoraz.

Huesca have lost their way lately and look lacking in confidence.  They had previously lost just once in 21 matches, but since then they have only being able to summon two losses and two draws.  The latest was a drab 0-0 affair against Reus in which they never looked like threatening.  It is a definite cause of concern for all connected with the club, as these poor displays have let teams such as Rayo and Cádiz back into the hunt.  They could find themselves level on points with the former if they fail to beat Sporting and Rayo topple Reus.  Both variables have a very good chance of happening, which would blow the title race way open.

In contrast, Sporting are in irresistible form.  Three wins out of four have seen them climb to fourth place; eight points from the summit.  Rubeén Baraja’s men have not conceded during this period and have netted nice times.  They tore apart Cultural at home last week and boast 13-goal Michael Santos up top.  This is one of the most exciting matches to take place this season and could well be a turning point in the pursuit of the championship.

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