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Real Madrid at home to Valencia, injuries continue to bite Barcelona

 
Madrid, Jan 7 (IANS) The 20th round of matches in La Liga this weekend comes with several clubs missing players due to COVID-19, while most coaches will also have to make changes to their sides after midweek Copa del Rey matches.

The matches kick off on Friday night with Levante still searching for their first win of the season at home to Real Mallorca, who reached the last-16 of the Cup on January 5.

Levante's 5-0 thrashing away to Villarreal on January 3 looks to have ended the patience of their supporters, who have waited since August to see a team that looks increasingly doomed to the drop claim a win.

Real Sociedad progressed in the Cup, but after six league games without a win, coach Imanol needs to see an improvement on recent performances, and his options to rest players are limited after COVID badly affected the dressing room, Xinhua reports. Celta Vigo travel to San Sebastian and need to react after falling victim to third-tier Atletico Baleares in the Cup.

Barca struggled into the last 16 of the Cup away to third-tier Linares on January 5, but at the price of adding Ronald Araujo and Frenkie de Jong to their already long injury list, and despite the return of Dani Alves, coach Xavi Hernandez will once again have to look to the B-team to fill the gaps for their visit to Granada.

Granada are coached by former Barca assistant boss Robert Moreno and have seen their league form improve in recent weeks, while Moreno also has the advantage of having had all week to prepare after his side were knocked out of the Cup in the previous round.

Real Madrid and Valencia provide what promises to be the game of the weekend with Carlo Ancelotti's side aiming to bounce back from last weekend's surprise defeat to Getafe.

Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr should all be back after being rested in midweek, and Gareth Bale could be on the bench against a rival that promises to provide a physical test for the league leaders.

Rayo Vallecano defend their unbeaten home record in what should be an entertaining game against third-placed Real Betis, who travel to the Vallecas stadium after suffering consecutive league defeats.

Second-placed Sevilla entertain a Getafe side that is recovering under the guidance of Quique Sanchez Flores, while the home side will be without several key players due to injuries and the African Nations Cup, which sees goalkeeper Bono and strikers Youssef En-Neysri and Munir called up for international duty.

The Basque derby in Vitoria between Alaves and Athletic Bilbao promises to be a tight affair as new Alaves coach Jose Luis Mendilibar looks to impose his intense style on the home team, while Osasuna need to stop a worrying 10-match run without a win when they take on Cadiz in what looks to be a game without many goals.

Villarreal and Atletico Madrid is another key game as the home side, with striker Gerard Moreno fit and in top form, look to make it five consecutive league wins and continue climbing the table.

Atletico ended a four-game losing streak at home to a depleted Rayo a week ago and this will be a good test of their potential ahead of the Spanish Super Cup next week.

The round of matches ends on January 10 with Espanyol at home to Elche, who could go into the game in the bottom three depending on results elsewhere over the weekend.

--IANS

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