MADRID, Jan 22 (Reuters) - With the top three expected to win comfortably on Saturday, the weekend’s standout game in La Liga is Sunday’s clash between two ambitious teams fighting to secure a lucrative Champions League berth.
Valencia, in fifth, host fourth-placed Sevilla with only a point separating them at the halfway stage of the campaign, although the Andalusians have played one game fewer as their trip to leaders Real Madrid was switched to next month.
Sevilla, who play at Espanyol in a King’s Cup quarter-final, first leg later on Thursday, have produced some sparkling football this term under coach Unai Emery, who had a mixed spell in charge at Valencia between 2008 and 2012.
Valencia fans, meanwhile, are hoping the recent takeover of the club by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim will help them get their finances in order, complete a half-built new stadium and revive past glories.
They last won La Liga under Rafa Benitez in 2004, their sixth Spanish title, and were losing Champions League finalists in 2000 and 2001. Sevilla have won La Liga just once, in 1946.
Emery, who has also coached Almeria and Spartak Moscow, never really convinced the Valencia supporters during his stint at the club but appears to have found his niche in Seville and helped them win the Europa League last season.
Always cautious, he warned his players on Wednesday not to take anything for granted.
“The 39 points that we have (in La Liga) do not guarantee that tomorrow we will beat Espanyol, nor that we will have 78 at the end of the season,” he told a news conference.
“They show what we already have but the key to the rest lies in our ability to lift ourselves up when we are down,” added the 43-year-old.
“And that when we are at out highest point we are able to find a balance and not lose even an ounce of our energy.”
Real, dumped out of the Cup by Atletico Madrid this month, are at Cordoba on Saturday, before Barca play at Elche and champions Atletico host city neighbours Rayo Vallecano.
Real have 45 points with a game in hand, with second-placed Barca on 44 and Atletico three points further back in third.
Atletico need to pick themselves up after losing 1-0 at Barca in the Cup on Wednesday, their second defeat at the Nou Camp this month after a 3-1 reverse in La Liga. (Editing by John O‘Brien)