Athletic Club looking for their first win since the return of club football.
The 2022/23 LaLiga Santander season is almost at the halfway stage and it’s becoming clear which squads will be competing for the title, which teams have a chance of European qualification and which clubs are at risk of relegation. There is already so much at stake and Matchday 18, which takes place this weekend, brings up some very interesting match-ups.
The first fixture of the round takes place on Friday night, when RC Celta make their longest away trip of the season to visit RCD Mallorca 1,000km away. At the Estadi Mallorca Son Moix, it should be an interesting duel as Vedat Muriqi and Iago Aspas lead their respective teams, chasing the first three points that the weekend has to offer.
Four matches follow on Saturday, and the first of them is especially intriguing as ninth-placed Rayo Vallecano will welcome third-placed Real Sociedad to Vallecas. The Basque side are in incredible form and just won their derby against Athletic Club last weekend, but Imanol Alguacil hasn’t won in Vallecas on either of his two visits so far as coach of La Real, drawing both times. It’ll be tough once more against an intense Rayo Vallecano side, one coached by Andoni Iraola, the Athletic Club legend who’ll want to halt Real Sociedad’s winning run.
The next game is RCD Espanyol vs Real Betis, featuring two of the contenders for the Zarra Trophy, given out each season to the top-scoring Spaniard in the division. Joselu currently leads the standings with his 10 goals, but Real Betis’ Borja Iglesias is just behind on eight. Both will hope to add to their tallies at the RCDE Stadium.
The action then moves to Spain’s capital, where Atlético de Madrid will hope to kick on and re-establish some form against Real Valladolid. The last time they played against the Pucela was the day Los Colchoneros clinched the 2020/21 LaLiga Santander title with goals from Ángel Correa and Luis Suárez, but right now the priority is just to resecure Champions League football.
Sevilla FC then have a momentous match on Saturday night. Currently second-bottom of the table, Los Nervionenses take on third-bottom Cádiz CF in an Andalusian derby that is a relegation battle six-pointer. Having re-signed fan favourite Lucas Ocampos, there is fresh belief at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán, but everyone at the club knows that points need to come too.
The first two games of Sunday’s slate of LaLiga Santander fixtures both take place in the Valencian Community, starting with Villarreal CF vs Girona FC, two of the teams who play the most attractive football of the whole division. Elche CF vs CA Osasuna then follows that one, with the home side still seeking their first victory of the season, something they want to achieve before the midway point.
Then, on Sunday night, attention turns towards the title race as FC Barcelona host Getafe CF before Real Madrid play away at Athletic Club. In the first of these games, Xavi’s side will present the recently acquired Spanish Super Cup to the Spotify Camp Nou crowd ahead of kick-off, hoping that this will push the atmosphere up another couple of notches. Barça know that facing Getafe CF is far from easy, having been held 0-0 the last time these teams met.
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After full-time in Catalonia, the focus will then be on the battle in Bilbao, as Athletic Club look to secure their first league win since the return of club football when Real Madrid come to town. That will require stopping Karim Benzema, who is back to his best as he has scored in all his matches so far since the World Cup pause, but Athletic Club always believe that they have what it takes to frustrate Real Madrid. This should be a thriller under the lights at San Mamés, one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country.
Another stadium with an electric atmosphere is Mestalla, and that’s where the matchday ends, with Valencia CF vs UD Almería on Monday night. The newly promoted outfit still haven’t won away from home this LaLiga Santander season, but El Bilal Touré is in great form and they’ll make the trip to Mestalla believing that anything is possible.
Saturday, 21st Jan 1:30 A.M. Mallorca vs Celta Vigo
Saturday, 21st Jan 6:30 P.M. Rayo Vallecano vs Real Sociedad
Saturday, 21st Jan 8:45 P.M. Espanyol vs Real Betis
Saturday, 21st Jan 11:00 P.M. Atletico Madrid vs Valladolid
Sunday, 22nd Jan 1:30 A.M. Sevilla vs Cadiz
Sunday, 22nd Jan 6:30 P.M. Villarreal vs Girona
Sunday, 22nd Jan 8:45 P.M. Elche vs Osasuna
Sunday, 22nd Jan 11:00 P.M. Barcelona vs Getafe
Monday, 23rd Jan 1:30 A.M. Athletic Club vs Real Madrid
Tuesday, 24th Jan 1:30 A.M. Valencia vs Almeria
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