After a short winter break, Spain’s top-flight clubs are back in action this weekend with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid jostling for position at the top of the table and a Basque derby also on the cards.
Reigning champions Barcelona and Diego Simeone’s Atletico are level on points at the top and are due to face each other in a mouthwatering fixture in Madrid next weekend.
Atletico, who have signed Argentine midfielder Jose Ernesto Sosa on loan from Metalist Kharkiv until the end of the season, will face a Malaga side who won their last two league games of 2013 to climb up into mid-table.
Both Atletico and Barcelona have enjoyed stunning starts to the campaign, winning 15 and drawing one of 17 games in La Liga, but the Catalans have not always performed convincingly since Gerardo Martino took over as coach in the summer.
Nevertheless, the champions have been boosted by the return to the squad of goalkeeper Victor Valdes after injury, while Lionel Messi is also edging closer to a comeback.
Real Madrid, who sit third in the table, five points adrift of the top two, are in action on the Monday Three Kings Day holiday with a home fixture against Celta Vigo at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The extra time to prepare for that game was used up playing in a glamour friendly against Paris Saint-Germain in Qatar on Thursday, which Carlo Ancelotti’s team won 1-0 thanks to a first-half goal from young striker Jese.
Athletic sit four points clear of their neighbours in the final UEFA Champions League qualifying position and have lost just one of their last 10 Liga games.
Meanwhile, Real, who finished fourth last season, have doubts over several players for the game, including the influential Xabi Prieto.
That is not the only derby on the cards, with Valencia entertaining city rivals Levante at the Mestalla in what will be their first game since the appointment of Argentine-born former Barcelona and Spain striker Juan Antonio Pizzi as coach.
Pizzi, who led San Lorenzo to the Argentine Torneo Inicial title last month, has replaced the sacked Miroslav Djukic in charge of Los Che, who sit level on points with Levante coming into their first game of 2014.
Spanish La Liga fixtures
Malaga v Atletico Madrid
Valladolid v Real Betis
Valencia v Levante
Almeria v Granada
Real Madrid v Celta Vigo
Rayo Vallecano v Villarreal