FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are absent from La Liga match this weekend as they compete in the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of action as Spain’s top flight moves onto its 17th round of matches.
Here are some things to look out for in the coming days:
1. A big Basque derby
This season’s first Basque derby between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao sees the two sides challenging for a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League, with Real Sociedad also looking like the only team able to get near Barca and Madrid in the race for the league’s title.
Imanol Alguacil’s team goes into the match in excellent form, with six wins in all competitions, and the connection between Brais Mendez and Alexander Sorloth in attack working to perfection.
The return of Mikel Oyarzabal also gives further options to Imanol in the attack.
Athletic have played well in both of their matches since the FIFA World Cup, but have been let down by the lack of a finishing touch. However, a defense led by Daniel Vivian and Yeray Alvarez is incredibly hard to break down, while the Williams brothers, Inaki and Nico, have the pace to cause problems for any defense in La Liga.
Add to that a packed stadium and a big game atmosphere, and this match is just as tense as anything Madrid or Barca can offer.
2. Big absences for Atletico Madrid
The big news for Atletico this week was the loan deal for Joao Felix to join Chelsea until the end of the season, with the 23-year-old signing a contract extension before his departure. The new contract is slightly misleading as it redistributes his earnings over a longer period to help the club deal with financial fair-play regulations and so doesn’t necessarily mean Atletico is desperate to keep him.
Felix’s departure could help ease tensions as his relationship with coach Diego Simeone wasn’t good, but it does leave Simeone lacking options ahead of his side’s visit to play Almeria.
Antoine Griezmann has been excellent since the World Cup, but Simeone only has Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa in support. With Atletico still involved in the Copa del Rey, any injuries would stretch his attack very thinly indeed.
Almeria will be their first test without both Felix and suspended defender Stefan Savic, reports Xinhua.
3. Big weekend in a relegation battle
This is a good weekend to focus on the battle to avoid relegation, where several sides are within a cluster of points.
Third-from-bottom Cadiz will hope to beat Elche, who are rock bottom with just four points, to climb out of the bottom three and confirm their improvement in recent matches.
Espanyol is obliged to get something from their visit to Getafe, who are too close to the bottom three for comfort. Espanyol has just two wins all season and relies too heavily on striker Joselu.
Sevilla, who got out of the bottom three last weekend, travel to Girona needing to build on their victory at home to Getafe.
It’s a weekend that could see some changes in the relegation zone, and perhaps in some dugouts.