Matchday 16 at Villarreal, Jan. 8
If fans around Europe were sleeping on Unai Emery’s Villarreal before, then they certainly are not now. The Yellow Submarine have not been impressive in LaLiga lately, but they have always played Real Madrid tough, usually grinding out draws against the Merengue club. And in Europe, they made it to the semifinals of last season’s Champions League, having qualified for the continent’s premier competition by winning the Europa League against Manchester United in 2020/21.
Emery has been a tough manager for either Zinedine Zidane or Carlo Ancelotti to solve in LaLiga, so you can expect the Estadio de la Ceramica to be the venue for another tough battle between these two prestigious Spanish sides. Especially if Raul Albiol gets away with hitting Vinicius Jr. in the face again.
Matchday 18 at Athletic Bilbao, Jan. 22
Nobody likes taking a trip to the Lion’s Den of San Mames, and while the Merengues have usually done a good job of surviving against the hard-nosed Atheltic Club in the Basque country a winter battle against Inaki Williams and Co. is never pleasant.
Bilbao have consistently been just off the pace of the Europa League sides, but as we saw in the Copa del Rey of the 2021/22 season, they are capable of beating Real Madrid. It is never a walk in the park for Los Blancos against Bilbao, even when they do get the three points.