34-time La Liga champions Real Madrid have a chance to seal their record 35th title on matchday 34 of the 2021-22 season this weekend with four games still to play when they take on Spanish outfits Espanyol.
The 34th round of matches in Spain has several other key matches in the battle for European places as well as avoiding relegation, but the focus will be on the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where a point for Real Madrid against Espanyol will seal their title this season.
Madrid enters the game with one eye on the return leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal against Manchester City next week, after surviving a thrashing at the hands of the Premier League leaders to emerge with only a 4-3 defeat in the first leg on Tuesday.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is expected to rest key players ahead of the return leg on Wednesday, but he should still have more than enough to secure the title against a rival that has lost its last two games and has little to play for, according to Xinhua. The round of matches begins on Friday night with a game of importance for both ends of the table, as third-placed Sevilla hosts fourth-from-bottom Cadiz, who are just a point above the relegation zone.
In the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League, Sevilla is level on points with FC Barcelona and has two more than fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.
Both Europe and relegation are on the line in Saturday’s opener, which sees seventh-placed Villarreal travel to bottom-placed Alaves, who are currently six points behind Cadiz.
Alaves need striker Joselu to keep scoring to keep their slim survival hopes alive, while Villarreal coach Unai Emery will rest key players as he prepares for his team’s Champions League semifinal return leg against Liverpool on Tuesday.
Villarreal can’t afford to lose focus in La Liga, where they have a four-point lead over eighth-placed Athletic Bilbao, who play Atletico Madrid on Saturday night.
Atletico will be without central defender Stefan Savic, and the club’s preparations will be hampered by speculation about the club’s upcoming presidential elections.
Saturday also features a derby between Valencia, who were defeated in the Copa del Rey final last weekend, and Levante, who are six points from safety.
Elche now has an eight-point lead over the bottom three, and Francisco Rodriguez’s side is likely one win away from securing their La Liga status for another season, which they will hope to achieve against mid-table Osasuna on Sunday.
Granada is under pressure after dropping into the bottom three, but coach Aitor Karanka can look to build on the hard-fought point his team earned against Atletico Madrid 10 days ago when they host Celta Vigo.
Rayo Vallecano’s Vallecas stadium should be rocking after a string of victories, including a 1-0 win away to FC Barcelona, ensured their survival. Real Sociedad will be the visitors on Sunday, with the Basque side looking to maintain their top-six hopes and put pressure on the top four.
FC Barcelona must end a run of three consecutive home defeats in all competitions when they host Mallorca on Sunday night.
Depending on other results, Mallorca could be back in the bottom three by the time the game kicks off at the Camp Nou, but with Barcelona struggling in recent games against Rayo, Cadiz, and Eintracht Frankfurt, the pressure is on the hosts to respond, and Ansu Fati could play a role.
The final game is on Monday, when Getafe hosts Copa del Rey champions Real Betis.
(Inputs from IANS)