Basque derby highlight of matchday 18 in La Liga

Madrid, Jan 2: The Spanish BBVA Primera Liga will kick off again 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, reports Xinhua.

Athletic have got improved drastically under coach Ernesto Valverde, recovering the freshness 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 in the domestic competition and with Griezmann in top form they will be tough to beat on home soil.

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

The good news for FC Barcelona is that Lionel Messi is to resume training Thursday 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 French club 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.

IANS