Madrid derby will light up La Liga this weekend
Madrid, February 5 (IANS) Two outstanding matches light up the coming weekend in the La Liga with title-holders Atletico Madrid taking on current league leaders Real Madrid in the Madrid derby and FC Barcelona facing Athletic Club Bilbao. The Vicente Calderon stadium will get the ball rolling on Saturday as it plays host to the sixth meeting this season between the two arch-rivals from the capital city of Madrid, reports Xinhua.
Atletico have yet to lose to Real this campaign, lifting the Spanish Supercup in August and knocking them out of the King's Cup in January, also defeating them in the Santiago Bernabeu in the La Liga. However, Real Madrid go into the match with a four point lead over Barcelona at the top of the points table and a seven point advantage over Atletico.
Injury concerns for Real Madrid
Real Madrid have key players missing with both left backs, Marcelo suspended and Fabio Coentrao out injury. Forward James Rodriguez is also absent after breaking a bone in his foot against Sevilla in a league match Wednesday, while defenders Sergio Ramos and Pepe are also injured.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti will probably pair Nacho Fernandez and Rafael Varene in the central defence while Alvaro Arbeloa would fill in at left back to try and stop Atletico's in-form strikers, Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and Fernando Torres.
Torres has already scored three times against Real since returning to play in Spain at the start of the year. Since, the Madrid derbies tend to be feisty affairs, tough tackles and controversies are expected to get this weekend's proceedings going.
Neymar and Messi key players for Barcelona
Barcelona have to wait until Sunday night before their game gets underway in San Mames stadium and no doubt the Catalans will be hoping for Real drop points. It has been a difficult weeks for Barcelona, but all of the drama has come off the pitch following the indictment of club president, Josep Maria Bartomeu on charges of tax fraud related to the signing of Brazilian striker Neymar.
It remains to see how much that will affect the performance of the team, which travels to Bilbao in its best form of the season with Neymar and starman Lionel Messi scoring goals almost at will. Athletic have disappointed this season, but got back to winning ways away to Levante last weekend and their fans and players will remember last season's 1-0 win over the Catalans.
Battle for Europe and Relegation zone
Apart from the Madrid derby, this weekend features several games which affect both the battle for Europe and the relegation zone. Villarreal, who lost away to Barcelona last week, will hope to take all three points against the struggling Granada, while bottom-dwellers Levante have to beat a Malaga side which raised ambitions of playing in Europe next season after a 1-0 win over Valencia last weekend.
Finally Real Sociedad, without the injured striker Carlos Vela aim to bounce back against Celta Vigo following their 1-4 defeat against Real Madrid. Sunday kicks off with an Andalusia derby between the struggling teams, Cordoba and Almeria, before Getafe play against fourth-placed Sevilla at home as Valencia face Espanyol. Monday sees Elche play at home against Rayo Vallecano.