Madrid (AFP) – Barcelona and Real Madrid recommence their war of attrition on Saturday as Spanish league action returns briefly before the pair controversially head off to Saudi Arabia for next weekend’s Super Cup.
League leaders and defending champions Barcelona have an easy trip to cross town rivals Espanyol, who are floundering at the bottom of the table.
However Espanyol hired former Barca player Abelardo Fernandez in the hope of turning their fortunes around after losing to second-bottom Leganes just before the Christmas break.
Ernesto Valverde’s Barca are unbeaten in all competitions since the start of November and sit two points ahead of Real Madrid despite some below-par performances.
Madrid meanwhile return to action off the back of three straight draws before the break, including a goalless stalemate in the politically charged ‘Clasico’ in December.
They have a trickier task than Barca too, with another derby against a Getafe side showing that their fifth-placed finish last year was no fluke.
Coach Zinedine will be without the injured Eden Hazard for the clash, captain Sergio Ramos is suspended, although James Rodríguez, Brazilian Marcelo and Lucas Vázquez are all available.
Both Barca and Real may switch up their line-ups given their controversial voyage to Saudi Arabia to contest the Super Cup, alongside Atletico Madrid and Valencia, from January 8.
The decision in November hold a four-team tournament in Saudi Arabia in the European winter for the next three years has caused a storm in Spain.
Spain’s public broadcaster RTVE refused to bid for the rights to the match due to it being held in a country where “human rights are not respected”.
Barca will face Atletico and Valencia will play Real before the final on January 12, a radical revamp to what has traditionally been a the season’s curtain raiser between the league champions and Copa del Rey winners.
The tournament’s scheduling means that La Liga will take another break while the Super Cup is being played, with league action restarting on January 17.
Atletico will go to the tournament looking over their shoulder in the league.
Diego Simeone’s side were wildly inconsistent before the winter break, and have found goals hard to come by despite spending 126 million euros ($142 million) on Joao Felix in the summer.
Fourth-placed Atleti have score just 20 times in 18 matches and have Getafe, Real Sociedad, Valencia and Athletic Bilbao all snapping at their heels for the final spot in the Champions League.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Real Valladolid v Leganes (1800), Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao (2000)
Valencia v Eibar (1200), Getafe v Real Madrid (1500), Athletico Madrid v Levante (1730), Espanyol v Barcelona (2000)
Granada v Mallorca (1100), Real Sociedad v Villarreal (1300), Alaves v Real Betis (1500), Celta Vigo v Osasuna
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