Barcelona begin the new year with a chance to extend an impressive 10-point lead in the Spanish league with a win against Mallorca today.
With the league resuming this weekend after its annual winter break, Barcelona should have little trouble against the 17th-placed club despite the likely absence of Lionel Messi.
The Argentina forward was one of several foreign players given an extended break by coach Pep Guardiola to travel home to see relatives, and is expected to rejoin the club this weekend.
However, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o will likely spearhead the attack after forgoing the extra three days of holiday and surprising teammates by showing up for practice on Tuesday.
Eto’o is the league’s top scorer with 15 goals after 17 rounds, with Barcelona topping the standings on 41 points.
Mallorca, meanwhile, are struggling to distance themselves from the relegation zone and is looking to find new signings in this month’s transfer window to strengthen an injury-plagued squad, which coach Gregorio Manzano described as “inferior to Barcelona’s, but not that inferior.”
Manzano has singled out Israeli goalkeeper Dudu Aouate as a transfer target, as Miguel Angel Moya has been battling injuries.
Second-placed Sevilla hope to keep pace with Barcelona when they host last-place Osasuna at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, while third-place Atletico Madrid travel to Valencia.
Atletico lead Valenica on goal difference with both teams on 30 points, one behind Sevilla.
Valencia were founded in 1919 and need a good start to its 90th year to set aside worries about recent financial struggles.
“We shall fight to achieve economic stability,” club president Vicente Soriano said.
Defending champs Real Madrid welcome Villarreal to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium where newly appointed coach Juande Ramos will face his second match in charge of the Spanish powerhouse.
“Villarreal are a dedicated team with great prospects, they have their own character and everything they have achieved is down to hard work for which they deserve the highest praise,’’ Ramos said on his Web site.
Both clubs have 29 points, with fifth-place Madrid ahead on goal difference.
With his side 12 points adrift of Barcelona in the league, Ramos has been focusing on reinforcing his squad with a view to surviving the next Champions League stage against Liverpool.
Madrid have Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mahamadou Diarra and Ruben De La Red out for the rest of the season, while Pepe, Gabriel Heinze, Sergio Ramos and Wesley Sneijder are all battling injuries.
Sports director Pedja Mijatovic has reportedly approached English club Wigan for the loan of 23 year-old Ecuadorean right-winger Luis Antonio Valencia.
Also tomorrow it’s: Recreativo vs. Numancia; Valladolid vs. Racing Santander; Malaga vs. Sporting Gijon; Almeria vs. Real Betis; Athletic vs. Espanyol and Getafe vs. Deportivo La Coruna.