La Liga preview: Top-five showdowns ahoy

The Primera Liga is set for a bumper crop of showdowns between the top five that should help to sort out the true title contenders from the also-rans in the run up to Christmas.

The quirk in the fixture list that means everyone has to play the leading clubs in succession has hit the top five.

This weekend, leaders Barcelona face third-placed Valencia at the Nou Camp and champions Real Madrid, in fourth, host fifth-placed Sevilla.

Next weekend, Real visit Barca for the "clasico".

Pep Guardiola's free-scoring Barca are four points clear, having won 10 of their last 11 league matches, and face a classic clash of styles on Saturday (2100 GMT).

Unai Emery's Valencia have built their success on a rock solid defence and the counter-attacking skills of David Villa and Juan Mata up front. They are unbeaten on their travels.

"Valencia are an awkward team that have conceded very few goals away from home (three)," Barca midfielder Xavi said. "They feel comfortable as the away team and are very dangerous on the counter-attack. It will be difficult to beat them."

Barca will be without suspended top scorer Samuel Eto'o while Valencia will be seeking to focus on matters on the pitch after a week where the financial problems facing the club were in the news.


Real Madrid need to recover from a demoralising 3-1 defeat away to Getafe, their second reverse in three league matches that left them six points behind the leaders.

Bernd Schuster's side are unbeaten at home but have up to seven players out injured, though Arjen Robben, Fabio Cannavaro and Gonzalo Higuain are set to return on Sunday (2000).

New signing Klaas Jan Huntelaar is not eligible to play for them until January.

Sevilla, beaten 3-0 at home by Barca last weekend, will be without suspended Brazil striker Luis Fabiano.

On paper, second-placed Villarreal have the easiest game of the top five at home to 12th-placed Getafe on Saturday (1900), but appearances can be deceptive.

Victor Munoz's Getafe side took a point off Barca at the Nou Camp two weeks ago and were impressive winners against Real Madrid last weekend.

Near the foot of the standings, new Espanyol coach Mane takes charge for his first game away to Real Betis on Sunday (1800).

The Barcelona-based side, 17th, have one win from their last 11 matches, have suffered four defeats on the trot and have lost talismanic captain and striker Raul Tamudo to injury for up to two months.