MADRID, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- Matchday 24 in the Spanish Liga Santander sees the start of an intense week of domestic football with three league games, and the weekend could be decisive in the title race and relegation battle. Here are four things to look out for:
1): Can Real Madrid bounce back against misers Villarreal?
Real Madrid's 2-1 defeat to Valencia on Wednesday saw one of their two games in hand evaporate without adding to their points tally, showing that sometimes points in the bag are better than games in hand.
Now Real Madrid travel to the east coast again and their title rivals will be hoping for another slip up when they visit Villarreal's Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday night.
Villarreal have had an up and down 2017, but a 0-0 draw away to Sevilla, last week's 1-0 win away to Real Sociedad and the 0-0 draw away to Real Madrid in the first half of the season show that Fran Escriba's men are a tough side to beat. Indeed with just 16 goals conceded in 23 games they have the best defensive record in Spain.
If they are to maintain their lead at the top of the table, Madrid are going to find a way through a tight defense and a side that is not afraid to sit back and let their rivals do the work.
2): Which Barca will we see in the Calderon?
It's all very well talking about Real Madrid maybe dropping points, but in order to capitalize on that, their title rivals also have to win their matches and that is far from assured.
While Sevilla face perhaps their toughest game of the year away to local rivals Betis in a fixture which often has more in common with civil war than football, Barca return to the Vicente Calderon to play Atletico Madrid.
Although they recently knocked Atletico out of the King's Cup, now they travel on the back of a 4-0 defeat away to Paris Saint Germain and a dreadful display which saw them sneak past Leganes 2-1 thanks to a last minute Leo Messi penalty.
A repeat of those performances would probably see Barca beaten by an Atletico side who are returning to form, as shown by their 4-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday. If they are to keep their title hopes alive, Barca need to be back to their best, but is that possible?
3) Leganes or Deportivo. crisis time
Saturday's game between Leganes and Deportivo la Coruna will see one, (or perhaps both) sides condemned to suffer for the rest of the campaign and perhaps cost one of the two coaches their job.
Although Leganes are compact and hard-working and were unlucky to leave the Camp Nou empty handed a week ago, the fact is that they have not won since November 21st and lie just two points above the relegation zone where Sporting and Granada are showing signs of life.
Deportivo are just one point ahead of them and have taken just three points from their last 6 games in which decent performances have not brought their reward.
Both teams lack firepower in front of goal, but whoever wins in the Butarque Stadium will take a huge step towards their own safety, while condemning their rival to suffer.
4) A good time to visit Bilbao?
Athletic Club Bilbao's 2-0 defeat away to APOEL Nicosia on Thursday night saw them crash out of the Europa League and was perhaps their most disappointing result ever in Europe. It also served to show that the side looks flat and tired and lacking a change of pace.
Athletic fans are starting to wonder whether or not Ernesto Valderde's four-year spell in charge is drawing to an end and the European exit has a certain 'end of an era' feel to it.
Add to this situation the absence of striker Raul Garcia and Aritz Aduriz for this Sunday's game at home to Granada and the visitors may think this is the best time to visit the San Mames Stadium and take three valuable points in their battle against relegation.