Real Madrid's coach Santiago Solari gestures during the Spanish La Liga football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Jan 6, 2019. (GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)
MADRID - The Liga Santander reaches its midway point this weekend with Barcelona assured of finishing the weekend as winter champions. Here are some things to look out for over the coming days in Spain.
1. Can Real Madrid overcome Betis test?
Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari recovered some of the lost credit from last weekend's 2-0 home defeat to Real Sociedad when his side beat Leganes 3-0 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night, but Sunday's trip to play 6th place Betis promises to be a bigger challenge of both players and coach.
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Madrid are without key players such as Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, Lucas Vazquez and Thibaut Courtois, but fans will look to young Brazilian winger Vinicius Jr. to give them some spark and that spark will be vital against a Betis side that likes to move the ball around.
A win in the Benito Villamarin will boost morale and restore credit, but a repeat of last weekend's performance would end Madrid's title hopes and perhaps see Solari sacked.
2. Messi and Suarez to the rescue
Sometimes FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde must think he can't win: when he plays his strongest team he is criticized for risking burnout in his players, but when he rotates his squad, as in Thursday's Copa del Rey defeat to Levante, he is criticized for resting key players.
FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi pauses during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Getafe and FC Barcelona at the Alfonso Perez stadium in Getafe, Spain, Jan 6, 2019. (MANU FERNANDEZ / AP PHOTO)
A late Phillipe Coutinho penalty gave Barca a vital away goal on Thursday and Barca will now turn their attention to an always complicated Eibar, who visit the Camp Nou on Sunday.
There is no question that Messi and Suarez will be back in the starting 11, along with Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Ivan Rakitic. With work to be done if Barca want to continue in the Cup, most of them can also expect to play next week against Levante in the return leg of the Copa.
3. Make or break for Marcelino?
Valencia's General Director Mateo Alemany spoke to the press on Thursday to assure them that coach Marcelino Garcia Toral would not lose his job whatever the result against Valladolid on Thursday in the Mestalla Stadium.
Marcelino is under pressure after kicking off 2019 with a defeat to Alaves and a loss to second tier Sporting Gijon in the Copa del Rey. It has been a tough season for Valencia, who failed to strengthen correctly after the coach led them to a fourth placed finish and qualification for this season's Champions League.
However, few grounds are as unforgiving as Mestalla, and if Valladolid keep things tight at the back, expect handkerchiefs to be waved and boos to be heard and with the relegation zone not far behind, Alemany may be forced to act despite his good intentions.
4. What difference can 4 days make in Bilbao?
Thursday saw Sevilla all but assure their place in the quarterfinal of the Cup with a 3-1 win away to Athletic Club Bilbao in a game where both teams rotated their starting 11.
Sevilla's Spanish defender Sergi Gomez (right) challenges Atletico Madrid's French midfielder Thomas Lemar (left) during the Spanish League football match between Sevilla FC and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville on Jan 6, 2019. (CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)
Sunday sees them meet again in the same ground, but with their strongest possible sides on the pitch, what difference will 4 days make?
Athletic, who have taken 8 points from 4 league games under Gaizka Garitano, will hope to defend better and be quicker in midfield than on Thursday, and the return of Ibai Gomez should boost morale and the quality of balls into the area.
Sevilla will want to see more firepower from players such as Pablo Sarabia and Wissam Ben Yedder, (who scored on Thursday), meaning this game could be tenser and tighter that Thursday's meeting.
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