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Fantasy La Liga: Barca's crown leads to tough fantasy calls

As great as Lionel Messi is, he'll be hard-pressed to score this weekend while resting on the Barcelona bench. AFP/Getty Images

Hold up. Barcelona are underdogs against 15th-place Celta Vigo? It's true -- and a sure sign we've reached the wacky final stages of the season in La Liga.

There's an easy explanation for this. Barca clinched the league title last weekend, so technically they have nothing to play over these final three weeks. They also have a Champions League semifinal second leg against Liverpool on Tuesday, so some players will probably be rested at Balaidos on Saturday.

Lionel Messi has already been getting some extra rest and he didn't start either of Barcelona's league games last week. Even so, Messi still managed to accumulate 28.8 fantasy points in two substitute appearances, with a goal, six shots and four chances created in just 74 minutes plus stoppage time. In fact, only two Tier 1 forwards outscored Messi last week: teammate Luis Suarez (35.0), and Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann (33.5). Note that they didn't do it by much, despite playing the full 90 minutes in each of their games.

Celta-Barca is the late game on Saturday, by which time Atletico will already have played Espanyol. It's just too risky to bank on either Messi or Suarez actually getting on the field, given the circumstances. That's why I'm going with Griezmann as my Tier 1 forward and captain.

It's true that Griezmann hasn't been quite as productive as he was last season. In 2017-18, Griezmann had 19 goals and nine assists in 32 appearances. Tthis season, he has just 15 goals and nine assists, despite having already made 34 appearances. However, Griezmann's chances-created total has gone way up, from 44 to 69 and he's currently fourth in the league in that category.

Atletico don't have much to play for, either -- the title race is over, and they're nine points ahead of third-place Real Madrid. Yet, they've won six of their past seven games -- the other game was a defeat at Barcelona -- and have still been made small favorites despite being on the road. Griezmann scored the goal (a penalty) in Atletico's 1-0 win over Espanyol back in December, and has scored in two of Atletico's past three games, taking 15 shots in total.

The biggest favorites of the week are Sevilla, who'll host Leganes on Friday. Sevilla have a lot to play for as they're currently fifth in the table -- level on points with Getafe, but behind due to the head-to-head tie-breaker. They'll need to sit in fourth place to get automatic Champions League qualification for next season. Meanwhile, Leganes are in 13th place, which is not very good, but also nowhere near the relegation battle either so they're essentially playing out the string.

Pablo Sarabia was quiet in Sevilla's 1-0 loss at Girona last weekend, but had two assists in their 5-0 rout of Rayo Vallecano three days prior, and he had both a goal and an assist in his previous game, against Real Betis. Sarabia will be my Tier 1 midfielder. Munir El Haddadi was also quiet against Girona, but had two goals and an assist against Rayo, and had scored in two of his previous three games as well. Munir will be my Tier 2 forward.

Diff'rent strokes

There's plenty of sense in picking Giovani Lo Celso as your Tier 2 midfielder this week. He got an assist in Real Betis' 1-1 draw with Espanyol on Monday, and he had scored in each of his previous three games, with four goals in total. However, Betis are underdogs at Eibar on Sunday and Lo Celso had his worst game of the season against Eibar the first time around, taking zero shots in 90-plus minutes, finishing with just 1.6 points.

What's more, Betis are struggling. They're currently in 11th place, with just one win in their past eight games. It sounds like manager Quique Setien is on the way out. So, why not go with something different, from a team that desperately needs a win? That's Huesca -- a team in last place, seven points from safety, and most likely going down. However, they haven't been officially relegated yet, and are still fighting. In fact, they've gone unbeaten in their past six games, although five have been draws.

Ezequiel Ávila scored Huesca's goal in their 1-1 draw at Villarreal last weekend, taking seven shots -- and that was no fluke. The 25-year-old Argentinian is up to 10 goals on the season, despite only making 18 starts, with nine of those goals coming from February onwards. Another good sign? "Chimy" has taken 16 shots in the past three games. He is also averaging 3.87 shots per 90 minutes on the season. Among players who have made 20-plus appearances, only Messi (5.76) and Rayo Vallecano midfielder Bebe (4.07) have averaged more.

Huesca will be at home and have been made only slight underdogs against sixth-place Valencia, who could be fatigued coming off a Europa League semifinal first leg against Arsenal on Thursday. Avila won't be in many fantasy lineups, but he will be in mine.

Pass and move

I'm going to play it a bit safer in Tier 3, going with Andres Guardado of Betis because of his high floor. Guardado hasn't scored a goal this season, but is 24th in the league in passes completed, averaging 46.2 per game. In his past five games, he's averaged 64.8 passes completed, two chances created, and 10.1 points-per-game.

However, I did almost pick Pablo Fornals, based on the absolutely filthy goal he scored last week. Still, it was only Fornals' second tally of the season, and Villarreal are pretty heavy underdogs at Real Madrid.

Other picks

  • Marc Bartra, Real Betis (Tier 1 defender): Bartra is sixth in the league in passes completed, averaging 61.6 per game. Despite their poor results of late, Betis generally dominate the ball. They remain second in the league in possession (62.5 percent) behind only Barcelona (64.2).

  • Bernardo Espinosa, Girona (Tier 2 defender): He's third in the league in clearances, averaging 6.5 per game, and scored his only goal of the season against Getafe the first time around.

  • Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid (Goalkeeper): He's up to 20 clean sheets in 35 games, four more than Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen in second place. That includes five of them in the past seven games, and Oblak also shut out Espanyol the first time around. Atletico have conceded only 23 goals, eight fewer than any other team in the league!