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Basque derby highlight of matchday 18 in Spain

English.news.cn   2014-01-02 20:24:28            

MADRID, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- The Spanish BBVA Primera Liga will kick off again on Saturday after a week off for Christmas and New Year and for once the most attractive game of the weekend fails to involve either FC Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid.

Although the top-three are all in action, the best game of the weekend without doubt is the Basque derby that takes place in the Anoeta Stadium in San Sebastian between fifth-placed Real Sociedad and fourth-placed Athletic Club Bilbao: two historic clubs looking to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Athletic have got better and better under coach Ernesto Valverde, recovering the fresshness and confidence that was lacking last season, and can expect to take around 2,000 travelling fans to San Sebastian for a game that could see them open up a seven point lead over their nearest rivals for fourth place in the league.

Real Sociedad, meanwhile will look to the firepower of forwards Carlos Vela and Antoine Griezmann to see them continue to make up ground. The side from San Sebastian failed dismally in the Champions League, but their form has improved drastically in the domestic competition and with Griezmann in form they will be tough to beat on home soil.

Atletico Madrid can go top of the table for 24 hours on Saturday if they take a point from their visit to Malaga.

Malaga have been irregular throughout the season and coach Bernd Schuster is questioned, but the side from the south coast can still pose a threat to Atletico if Diego Simeone' s side fail to start 2014 with their usual intensity.

The good news for FC Barcelona is that Leo Messi was due back in town on Thursday to resume training with his team-mates following his recovery from a thigh injury.

Messi is unlikely to take part in Sunday's game at home to an Elche side that has lost gas in recent matches, but Neymar will be back after missing the last game of 2013, while Pedro Rodriguez will be looking to carry his goalscoring form into the New Year.

With Real Madrid not playing until Monday night, Carlo Ancelotti's side have flown to Doha where they play a friendly game against Paris Saint Germain. The main doubt for Ancelotti for Monday's match at home to Celta Vigo is Gareth Bale, who is taking longer than expected to recover from the calf strain he suffered before the last match of 2013.

Other games this weekend see drama in Valladolid as Betis desperately look for points to climb off the bottom of the league table against a side that also needs a win in order to escape the danger zone.

Juan Antonio Pizzi has a Valencia derby to make his debut as Valencia coach. Levante, always a tough rival will make the short trip to the Mestalla Stadium for what promises to be a fascinating if not thrilling encounter between two local rivals.

Saturday ends with another derby as Almeria entertain a Granada side that has consistently performed better away from home than in front of its own fans this season.

Sevilla will look to get the New Year off to a flying start and put pressure on the European places at home to a Getafe still shell-shocked after taking a 2-0 lead to Barca before loosing 5-2 before Xmas, while Osasuna need points to climb out of the bottom three. Expect a physical encounter in their game at home to Espanyol.

The round of matches ends on Monday as Rayo Vallecano entertain Villarreal in a game between two teams committed to all out attacking football. Rayo are still in the relegation zone but will hope that Villarreal continue a recent slight drop in form.

Editor: Hou Qiang
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