MADRID, Spain, Dec 15 – Real Madrid’s Club World Cup commitments mean Barcelona, Valencia and Atletico Madrid have a huge chance to put even more distance between themselves and the European champions this weekend.
Basque rivals Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad face off at San Mames, while newly promoted Girona and Getafe have the chance to move into the top six.
Here, AFP Sports looks at five things to watch for this weekend in La Liga:
Barca’s big pre-Clasico chance
If they dispose of Deportivo la Coruna at the Camp Nou on Sunday, Barca will take a commanding 11-point lead over Real.
Next weekend, Barca travel to the Santiago Bernabeu as the Catalans and Real Madrid end their year with El Clasico.
Even with a game in hand to come, Madrid have never overcome such a deficit to win the league and to remain in the title race would realistically need to inflict Barca’s first defeat since they last visited the Bernabeu back in August to win the Spanish Super Cup.
Suarez back in business
Further aiding Barca’s bid to regain the title is Luis Suarez’s return to form after a poor start to the season.
Suarez struggled for both form and fitness after rushing back from a knee injury suffered as Barca fell to Madrid in the Super Cup.
However, the Uruguayan has scored in his last two outings against Celta Vigo and Villarreal with the latter strike in particular displaying the touch and speed of movement of Suarez at his best.
Deportivo also tend to bring the best out of the former Liverpool striker as he has netted six times in his last three meetings against the Galicians.
Bleak times in the Basque country
Athletic and Sociedad are both in need of some festive cheer in the midst of hugely disappointing campaigns so far only propped up by progress to the last 32 of the Europa League.
Both sides have just two league wins each since mid-September and were dumped out of the Copa del Rey by third tier opposition in Formentera and Lleida Esportiu.
However, with just six points separating sixth from 17th in the table, European ambitions for next season are still a realistic goal for the Basque teams if squads boasting the talents of Spanish internationals Kepa Arrizabalaga, Inaki Williams, Aritz Aduriz, Asier Illarramendi and Alvaro Odriozola start playing to their potential.
From second tier to top six
With Girona hosting Getafe before Villarreal’s trip to Celta Vigo on Sunday, a win for either side will take them into the top six for a few hours at least despite having two of the five smallest budgets in the division.
“Money isn’t everything, with humility Girona are competing very well,” said Girona boss Pablo Machin after Monday’s 1-0 win at Espanyol.
In their first ever season in the top flight, Girona’s tiny budget on paper is aided by Manchester City’s part ownership of the Catalans with five players on loan from the Premier League leaders.
After bouncing straight back after relegation, Getafe have learned from mistakes made during their 12-year stay in La Liga between 2004 and 2016 with crowds up at the Alfonso Perez Coliseum and Jose Bordalas building a side that caused even Barca and Madrid problems and inflicted Valencia’s only defeat of the season.
Alaves threaten Atletico charge
End 2017 strongly and Atletico could be very much in the title race come the new year with nearly 100 million euros of talent in Diego Costa and Vitolo finally freed up to play from January.
Victory over Alaves in their final home game of the year on Saturday will see Diego Simeone’s men sleep just three points off the top and open up a five-point lead over city rivals Real.
However, despite still languishing in the relegation zone, Alaves pose a more potent threat with Abelardo Fernandez in charge, who has masterminded two wins from two since being named the Basques’ third coach of the season.
Sevilla v Levante
Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad (8:15pm), Eibar v Valencia (8:30pm), Atletico Madrid v Alaves (10:45pm)
Girona v Getafe (2pm), Celta Vigo v Villarreal (6:15pm), Las Palmas v Espanyol (8:30pm), Barcelona v Deportivo la Coruna (10:45pm)
Malaga v Real Betis (11pm)