LEADERS BARCELONA FACE TRICKY TRIP TO REAL BETIS IN A LALIGA WEEKEND FULL OF NEW BEGINNINGS

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LaLiga Santander leaders Barcelona face a tricky trip to Real Betis on Sunday, with the weekend’s schedule packed with new beginnings and huge clashes at both the top and bottom of the table.

With 11 games to play Barça have a seven-point advantage at the top of the LaLiga Santander standings, having upped their form as the crunch period of the season arrives, with chasers Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid waiting to pounce on any slip-ups.

Lionel Messi and company will not have it easy at the Benito Villamarin Sunday, however, as Quique Setien’s ball-playing Betis side were the last team to defeat the blaugrana side in a thrilling 4-3 victory at the Camp Nou last November.

Second-placed Atletico may have cut the gap at the top before then, with Antoine Griezmann and his team visiting Athletic Club’s San Mames on Saturday. Although Atletico and Athletic were ‘sibling clubs’ through the first decades of their history, the Bilbao side are aiming for Europa League qualification next term and have not lost at home in LaLiga since October.

 Zinedine Zidane’s second coming as Real Madrid coach begins earlier on Saturday, with the arrival of the former ‘galactico’ and 2017/18 LaLiga title winner having lifted everyone at the Santiago Bernabeu. The visitors are a RC Celta team battling for points at the wrong end of the table, with their new coach Fran Escriba having debuted last weekend with a defeat to Betis.

 The LaLiga weekend kick-off in San Sebastian on Friday with Real Sociedad welcoming Levante in a meeting of two mid-table teams looking to get back on track after recent defeats and maintain the gap with those below them.

 Huesca may still be bottom of the LaLiga Santander standings but recent performances have given them a real chance of survival. The Aragonese side will be tested Saturday El Alcoraz though, as visitors Alaves are themselves unbeaten in five LaLiga games and still in the hunt for an unlikely Champions League qualification.

 Saturday’s game at Butarque brings together two sides who look to have leaped clear of the relegation battle in Leganes and Girona, however both coaches Mauricio Pellegrino and Eusebio Sacristan will know their players cannot relax just yet.

 Sunday’s schedule kicks off at Ipurua, with in-form Eibar aiming for a fourth home win in five LaLiga home games against a Real Valladolid team who need to improve on the road having lost each of their last four away matches.

 Sevilla’s away record is also a problem with zero points from their last five road trips, but the sixth placed Andalusians will be aiming to change that on Sunday when they visit an Espanyol team who have picked up seven points from their last three at the RCDE Stadium.

 Then comes a real relegation six pointer at the Estadio de la Ceramica with 17th placed Villarreal looking up after last week’s crucial derbi win at Levante hosting a Rayo Vallecano side who really need something to change after six straight LaLiga defeats.

 There’s also a lot on the line at Mestalla later on Sunday, with 7th placed Valencia aiming to close in on 4th placed Getafe, with a sure to be closely fought game also bringing together two of LaLiga’s most inform strikers in Rodrigo Moreno and Jaime Mata.

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