Week 34 swings into action in Liga 123 with the top three all locked on 58 points and the chasing pack hot on their heels.
Play begins on Friday night as Cádiz (4th) host Almería (18th) at the Ramón de Carranza. The hosts played out an entertaining 1-1 draw away to Rayo Vallecano last week, with David Barral equalising five minutes before the break for his fifth goal of the season.
The Gaditanos are legitimate title contenders, sitting just two points off leaders Sporting. Álvaro Garcia is their leading scorer with eight on the year so far. He will have to shoulder more of the responsibility in the middle of the park as Cádiz will again be without influential midfielder Salvi Sanchez who misses his second match in a row after exiting in the 1-1 draw against Huesca at the end of March. He joins Brian Oliván, Jose Mari and Khalifa Sankaré on the list of unavailable players for coach Álvaro Cervera.
Almería are without a win in their last four, scoring just four times in this period. After losing 3-1 at home to Sporting in their last outing, they teeter on the brink of the relegation zone and are a single place above Cultural who have a good chance to gain ground on them this week. Mandi and Fran Rodríguez are both out for the remainder of the season. Lucien Owona and powerful defender Sulayman Marreh are missing too, with the latter not expected to be fully fit until early May.
In the first of the Saturday matches, Cultural Leonesa (19th) travel to Catalonia to take on Barcelona B (17th) with only four points separating the two sides. The visitors have struggled for most of the season but there are certainly reasons to be optimistic. They turned in a terrific display against Cádiz, dominating the chances and losing only to a solitary goal courtesy of a disastrous back-pass, and held free-scoring Real Zaragoza to a 1-0 win last week. Goals are in short supply though, and they have not found the net in their last four matches. They will be without the suspended Gianni Zuiverloon for this match, following his dismissal against Real Zaragoza, and Swiss midfielder Thierry Moutinho remains sidelined.
Barcelona B have not won since mid-February and have followed up a run of four defeats with two consecutive losses. Of most concern to manager Gerard will be his team’s complete inability to handle bottom-side Sevilla Atlético last week as the Andalusians picked up their second win in a row by a score of 3-1. Ferrán Sarsanedas is still a little of being back to full training and the Catalans will also be missing Martin Hongla, Oriol Busquets and Sergi Samper.
Four losses out of five has seen Granada (5th) slip down the table and they are only a point away from falling out of the playoff positions so a win against Osasuna (9th) would be very welcome around the Nuevo Los Cármenes. Pedro Morilla’s tenure as manager began well as they beat Numancia thanks to a very late goal from Javier Espinosa but El Grana fell back into their bad habits last week when they were defeated 3-2 by lowly Lorca. History slightly favours the hosts, with four wins to three and three draws, but a loss here and other results working against them means they could be overtaken by Osasuna and potentially fall as far as 11th. Colombian forward Adrian Ramos is still unavailable with a groin injury and Darwin Machis saw red in the final moments of last week’s 2-1 loss to Real Ovideo so he is suspended.
Osasuna are the very definition of “inconsistent”; winning twice, losing twice and drawing in their last five matches. The two losses have been by a single goal. They have rarely been on what you might call a good run, yet somehow they are in ninth place and on the cusp of a playoff place. A win has the potential to plant them firmly in the hunt for promotion and, equally, a loss would suck them into mid-table anonymity. Their only question mark for Saturday is the fitness of midfielder Miguel de las Cuevas who has returned to training.
Real Zaragoza (6th) responded to their loss against bottom club Sevilla Atlético two weeks ago by beating Cultural Leonesa 1-0 away from home. It was not a vintage performance by any stretch of the imagination but it was a vital three points psychologically to get back to winning ways. A sterner test awaits them in Huesca (3rd) who, despite relinquishing their lead at the top of the table and being winless in the last six matches, are still a tricky side to negotiate.
The hosts were the form team of the league until they came unstuck against the Andalusians, but they have won seven out of eight matches and scored 14 goals in that span, conceding just five. Borja Iglesias netted his 16th of the campaign last week and he is a perennial threat. They have Simone Grippo and Julián Delmás suspended, and Oliver Buff out with a calf injury after he left early in the second half against Cultural.
Rubi’s Huesca did not play last week as their match against Albacete was postponed due to the circumstances surrounding Pelayo. They have failed to score in three out of their last five matches, a major contributory factor to their fall to third place. Top scorer Gonzalo Melero has 12 for the season so far but has not added to his tally since he found the net against Real Valladolid back in mid-February. If Huesca can win, and Sporting and Rayo fail to, the Aragonese side could find themselves back atop the pile by the close of business on Sunday night. The injury list is quite lengthy for the visitors which includes defenders Nagore, Rulo and Carlos Akapo alongside goalkeeper Ander Bardají.
Alcorcón (15th) entertain Numancia (8th) at the Santo Domingo on the back of two 1-0 wins against Gimnàstic and, more impressively, Real Oviedo . Jonathan Pereira snatched a very late winner in the latter. Midfielder Albert Dorca continues to impress, bagging seven goals during the season to top Los Alfareros scoring charts and he links up well with Pereira to provide the frontman with opportunities. Álvaro Giménez and Jon Errasti are missing for the hosts.
Numancia have endured some patchy form which has hampered their ability gain more of a foothold nearer the top of the league. They are only one point away from being in the coveted top six, and saw off Córdoba 2-1 in a potential banana-skin match last week at home. If results go their way in this round they could jump up to fifth, but they must take care of business here first against a rejuvenated Alcorcón. They will need to do so without Adrian Ripa, Luis Valcarce and Manu Del Moral who came off inside ten minutes against Tenerife three weeks ago.
Albacete (13th) take to the field for the first time since the accident involving their defender, Pelayo, who fell three floors in their team hotel prior to last week’s match against Huesca which was subsequently postponed. Prior to this, Albacete were undefeated in their last five matches but there will clearly be some mental side effect to this harrowing episode. At times like this, the football community rallies round each other and I’m sure I speak on behalf of everyone at La Liga News UK when I add our best wishes to Pelayo and wish him a speedy recovery.
Their opponents, Rayo Vallecano (2nd), were stunned by Sevilla Atlético a fortnight ago and held to a 1-1 draw at Cádiz in Week 33 which ultimately saw them overtaken by Sporting for pole position. These dropped points could be crucial in a promotion race that is exceedingly tight. Leading the line for Rayo is Raúl De Tomás who has weighed in with 18 goals this campaign and is the league’s second top-scorer. Rayo have one of the easier run-ins to finish the season out of the top four teams which will certainly work in their favour and few would count them out to regain the top spot again, even if briefly. Question marks hung over the fitness of Antonio Amaya, but he could very well make the squad for the trip to Castilla-La Mancha.
Gimnàstic (16th) looked very comfortable as they sprang a surprise 3-0 win over Lugo at the Nou Estadi last week and they will be hoping some of that good fortune at home continues for at least another week as they welcome Real Valladolid (7th) in Sunday’s early kickoff. The Catalans have won two of their last four matches but, despite boasting the league’s second best away record, they have struggled in their own patch and won just four times in 16 home appearances. This will be a major test for them as their opponents are one of only three teams unbeaten in their last five. Defender Julio Pleguezuelo is the only absentee in an otherwise full squad at Nano Rivas’s disposal.
Pucela seem to have composed themelves in recent weeks and have picked up nine points from a possible 15. They looked comfortable, if not overly-threatening, in last week’s 1-0 win over Nàstic’s near neighbours Reus in a match where Jaime Mata scored his 25th goal of the season and they will look to pick up where they left off on this trip to the east coast. Outside of Mata’s heroics, it is often difficult to see where else the goals will come from, so stifling him will give the Catalans a good shot at upsetting their opponents. Luis César Sampedro’s side are missing Deivid, who continues to rehabilitate from his thigh injury, and Kiko Olivas who was dismissed against Reus.
Lugo (12th) were surprise 3-0 victims to Gimnàstic last week which cost them the chance to end the week in the thick of the playoff chasers. They face promotion rivals Real Oviedo (10th) with a mere two points separating them in the league. The Galicians have picked up seven points from their previous five contests and have an upcoming schedule which includes trips to Numancia and Osasuna who are all vying for a playoff berth with them. Home matches against strugglers Lorca and Sevilla Atlético temper the difficulty for Francisco’s side and dropping points here would not necessarily be a hammer-blow to them and may see them approach the match in an open, attacking fashion. Five-goal attacker, Mario Barco, remains sidelined.
The visitors slipped up at home to Alcorcón and have seen their own challenge on the top six falter, as Juan Antonio Anquela’s men have one victory to show from their last five outings. Only their better form in the earlier stages of the season has meant that they have not slipped out of the race. Real Ovideo’s only injury concern is Olmes Garcia, but the Colombian should be available to return to the squad by the middle of this month.
Sporting Gijón (1st) sit atop the summit of Liga123 currently, but there is no margin for error as they are locked on points with Rayo and Huesca in second and third respectively. They will look to put some daylight between themselves and their fellow suitors for the title as they take on Reus (14th) at El Molinón. Sporting have not lost since early February, in fact they have only been beaten twice this calendar year. In this period, they have won an impressive ten out of 13 matches, scoring 25 times and allowing six (half of which were to Lugo in one match). As potent as they are up front, Sporting’s secret strength is at the back and they have seven clean sheets out of their last eight matches. Uruguayan forward Michael Santos, on loan from Malaga, is their only absentee.
Reus have found it an uphill battle in recent weeks, tasting victory just once in five previous attempts. It is not for the want of trying though and they have posted some competent displays against the upper teams in the league. They were extremely unlucky not to win a 0-0 stalemate at home to then-leaders Huesca. The following week, they ran Rayo Vallecano close and it needed a Raúl De Tomás hat-trick to out-fox them in a match that saw the hosts go top. After beating Almería, they were sunk by a single goal away in Valladolid. If they can start to find the results to match the performances, then Reus will be a force to be reckoned with. Vitor Silva was sent off last week, so misses out through suspension. Also on the sidelines are Miguel García and Ricardo Vaz.
In the drop zone, Córdoba (20th) clash with Lorca (21st) at the Estadio El Arcángel in the penultimate fixture of the week. The hosts had managed to out together a run of four wins in a row, but have come unstuck, drawing with Real Oviedo and losing to Numancia 2-1 last time out. A win on Sunday, coupled with a Cultural loss, would see los blanquiverdes move up to 18th and be within touching distance of leaving the automatic relegation places. They will be minus the services of attacker Quim Araujo and midfield compatriot Javi Lara.
Fabri’s outfit travel to Andalusia resigned to certain relegation but now face the possible indignity of being overtaken by Sevilla Atlético and dumped to the very bottom of the pile, thanks to the Sevillans recent run of good fortune. They sprang a shock on Granada last week, however, so there are signs of life from the Murcian side. Asier Villalibre picked a great time to score his first of the season as his goal five minutes from the end gave Lorca an unlikely win. French defender Didier Digard is the only player unavailable for this match.
Tenerife (11th) have been playing exceptionally well and a 2-0 loss to Numancia in mid-March is the only blemish to their record over a span of six previous matches. They have kept clean sheets in their last two attempts to compliment an impressive 17 goals in eight matches. They welcome Sevilla Atlético (22nd) to the Heliodoro Rodríguez Lopez in the last match of Week 34 without the suspended Bryan Acosta and Aitor Sanz, Filip Malbasic and Samuel Camille through injury. The Andalusians have been the surprise package of the last fortnight, firstly spectacularly dispatching the seemingly-unstoppable Real Zaragoza juggernaut and then easily beating Barcelona B 3-1. They have collected six points out of six, the first time they have out back to back wins together all season. This will be a confidence boost to the Sevillans in an otherwise dark season, bereft of any real highlights. Relegation looks a certainty, but picking up points here could lift them off the bottom of the table. Sevilla Atlético enter this match without Felipe Carballo, José Amo and Juanje all with injuries.