La Liga, Round 21 preview: The best league season in years continues amidst a grueling schedule

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

The title race is tighter than ever, the battle for European spots is wide open and relegation fight is heating up. It's a good time to be watching La Liga.

For years we've heard people bitching and moaning about how La Liga wasn't competitive enough and how the title race was always over before it ever really got started. At last this season the league is giving the critics everything the could hope for more and all anyone can talk about is how much money Barcelona spent on Neymar. That's not meant to imply that the story isn't important, but it somehow it's fitting that people have gotten completely distracted.

For the purposes of our preview, let us just stick to what's happening on the field.

Welcome to round 21 of the La Liga season! The title race remains close, closer than it has been at this point of the season in what feels like years. It's also an insanely busy time for Spanish teams due to the compressed scheduled caused by the league wanting to end early ahead of this summer's World Cup.

This round of games will be days 21 through 24 of a 31 day stretch in which there's a La Liga or Copa del Rey match every single day. That congested schedule, combined with the fact that the three teams in the title race are involved in both is probably why things are getting so tight at the top. These players are being asked to play a lot of football without much time to recover.

After last weekend's wild results that saw both Barcelona and Atlético Madrid drop points -- allowing Real Madrid to close within a point of the leaders -- it's time for everyone to do it all over again.

Barca are at home against Málaga, a team that started well but have been sinking like a stone as the weeks have gone by. Atléti travel to face relegation battlers Rayo Vallecano, while their city rivals Real Madrid are at home against 10th placed Granada.

Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao remain embroiled in a close battle for fourth place, while Real Sociedad have fallen back just a bit and now sit six points out of fourth. Sevilla are clawing their way back into the fight as well after their draw against Atléti last round.

If you can only watch one game this week, try to check out Valencia's trip to Espanyol. It's a match between the eigth (Espanyol) and ninth (Valencia) placed teams and could prove extremely important in the race for one of the final Europa League spots come the end of the season. Espanyol won the first meeting 3-1 so they have a good chance of holding the head-to-head tiebreaker baring a massive meltdown.

Here's the full schedule for round 21 in La Liga.

Friday, January 24

Celta Vigo vs. Real Betis | 3:00 p.m. ET, 9:00 p.m. CEST

Saturday, January 25

Real Madrid vs. Granada | 10:00 a.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. CEST

Real Valladolid vs. Villarreal | 12:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. CEST

Valencia vs. Espanyol | 2:00 p.m. ET, 8:00 p.m. CEST

Sevilla vs. Levante | 4:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 p.m. CEST

Sunday, January 26

Almeria vs. Getafe | 6:00 a.m. ET, 12:00 p.m. CEST

Osasuna vs. Athletic Bilbao | 11:00 a.m. ET, 5:00 p.m. CEST

Rayo Vallecano vs. Atlético Madrid | 1:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. CEST

Barcelona vs. Málaga | 3:00 p.m. ET, 9:00 p.m. CEST

Monday, January 27

Real Sociedad vs. Elche | 4:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 p.m. CEST

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