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Fantasy La Liga: Pass on Bale and Coutinho

Carlos Sanchez Martinez/Icon Sportswire

There's already been a big game in Spain this week, even though it didn't count in terms of your La Liga fantasy team.

Barcelona and Real Madrid were drawn against each other in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey, and the first leg was on Wednesday. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Lucas Vazquez scoring for Real Madrid and Malcom equalizing for Barcelona.

But the biggest news, fantasy-wise, was the fact that Malcom was in Barca's starting lineup. That's because Lionel Messi was left on the bench, after suffering a thigh injury in their 2-2 draw with Valencia last Saturday.

Messi was brought on in the 63rd minute, and manager Ernesto Valverde said afterward that Messi is fine and they were just being cautious. If Messi starts against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, he'll be my Tier 1 forward and captain again this week. You can't look past the fact that Messi has scored at least one goal in eight straight league games, and has had a goal or assist in 16 straight league games.

Barca's match is the second-to-last game of the weekend. But if Messi doesn't start, you can switch to Luis Suarez, who's second overall in fantasy points. Though overshadowed by Messi, Suarez is having another excellent season, with 15 goals and five assists in 21 league appearances.

It's a trap!

The latest edition of El Clasico on Wednesday provided further proof that Philippe Coutinho and Gareth Bale are not the best options at Tier 1 midfielder right now.

Coutinho took three shots, but none of them were close to going in, and he was replaced by Messi in the 63rd minute. He still hasn't scored a league goal since Oct. 28.

Bale didn't even start on Wednesday, apparently now behind 18-year-old Vinicius Junior in the pecking order. He was brought on in the 64th minute, but fluffed a pretty decent chance to score when Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was out of position.

The other reason not to pick Bale this week, even if he starts, is that Real Madrid will be playing at Atletico Madrid, the team with the best defensive record in the league. It's a big game -- second versus third in the table, and city rivals of course -- but I wouldn't expect too many goals in that one.

Dani Parejo scored his sixth league goal of the season last week against Barcelona. Yes, it was a penalty kick, but Parejo also took five shots in the game, with three of them on target, and finished with 30.3 points. It was his sixth straight game in double figures, and he accumulated more than 20 points in four of those six games.

Valencia are finally gaining some momentum. They outplayed Barcelona last week (3.72 - 2.01 in terms of expected goals, with one penalty kick apiece), and had won back-to-back league games before that. And Valencia are favored this week at home against Real Sociedad.

Tier 2 talk

Guess who is third in La Liga in xG (expected goals), behind only Suarez (15.48) and Messi (13.71)? It's Rodrigo (10.94), who only has four goals on the season for Valencia, but appears to be coming into form.

He had an assist in last week's draw with Barcelona, but also took three shots in the game, with two of them on target. Four days prior, Rodrigo scored a hat trick in a Copa del Rey win over Getafe. And he had scored a goal in each of Valencia's previous two league games.

Rodrigo also scored 16 league goals last season, and I don't mind doubling up on Valencia this week. He'll be my Tier 2 forward.

Speaking of goals, Santi Cazorla scored his third of the season for Villarreal last week in their 2-2 draw with Espanyol. It was a penalty kick, and it was his only shot of the game, but Cazorla is still on a good run. He's finished in double figures in points in five of his past nine starts, just missed on two other occasions, and is averaging 15.5 points per game during that span.

Villarreal are struggling -- currently 19th in the table, five points from safety. But they still have been made slight favorites on Friday, despite playing at Real Valladolid. Cazorla has a pretty high floor fantasy-wise due to passes completed and chances created -- he's tied for fifth in the latter category with 40 on the season -- and offers some goal threat as well. He'll be my Tier 2 midfielder this week.

Other picks

William Carvalho, Real Betis (Tier 3 midfielder): He has a solid floor, thanks to being 14th in the league in passes completed (959), averaging 62.6 per 90 minutes. Plus Betis had 81.6 percent possession the first time they played Leganes. Just make sure Carvalho is in the starting lineup, because Betis may rotate, given that they have a Copa del Rey semifinal first leg against Valencia on Thursday.

Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid (Tier 1 defender): He remains the top fantasy scorer among defenders, and remains on penalties for Real Madrid. No need to make a change here, despite going up against Atletico ... Real Madrid had 65.3 percent possession against them the first time around (a scoreless draw), and Ramos had 70 passes completed and finished with 11.0 points.

David Lopez, Espanyol (Tier 2 defender): He posted 14.6 points last week, his second-highest total of the season, thanks to 59 passes completed and six clearances, among other things. Lopez also finished in double figures in two of his previous three starts, and had 60 or more passes completed in all three of those games. And Espanyol should have plenty of the ball at home against Rayo Vallecano.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona (Goalkpeer): He has six clean sheets in his past nine league games dating back to the start of December, and the only match in which he conceded more than one goal was last week against Valencia (when one of the two goals was a penalty). Ter Stegen's also averaging 2.8 saves per game during that span, which isn't too shabby given that he plays for Barcelona.