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La Liga Weekend Preview: Barcelona face major derby test

Spanish top-flight football is back after its World Cup break and a Catalan derby is the pick of the weekend fixtures ringing out the old year.

Espanyol make the short hop to the Nou Camp to attempt to derail Barcelona's title charge on New Year's Eve, 24 hours after Real Madrid look to go top by winning at Valladolid.

Espanyol look to exploit Lewandowski absence

What: Barcelona v Espanyol
Where: Nou Camp, Barcelona
When: 13:00, Saturday 31st December
How to watch: ITV4 & bet365 Sports Live Streaming
Odds: Barcelona 1/4, Draw 11/2, Espanyol 9/1

Glimmers of hope for out-of-form Espanyol heading up the road to rivals Barcelona look thin on the ground, but the absence of one player in particular will be a relief.

All of Barca's World Cup stars are back for La Liga's resumption - though France's Jules Kounde might not start - except for Robert Lewandowski, who is suspended.

The Pole was sent off in Barca's 2-1 win at Osasuna in their previous league match on 8th November, which means head coach Xavi needs to deploy a different frontman to replace La Liga's 13-goal top scorer. Ansu Fati seems to be the leading contender for that role.

Espanyol as a team have scored only three more goals than Lewandowski on his own so are very obviously in no great nick and not easy to fancy even at 9/1.

They have managed just two wins from 12 starts and have lost each of their last 12 league games at the Nou Camp, ten of them without scoring. It's 6/5 that Barca win and both teams fail to score.

Madrid face challenge from revitalised Valladolid

What: Valladolid v Real Madrid
Where: Estadio Jose Zorrilla, Valladolid
When: 20:30, Friday 30th December
How to watch: bet365 Sports Live Streaming
Odds: Valladolid 11/2, Draw 15/4, Real Madrid 9/20

The evening before the Catalan derby, second-placed Real Madrid have the opportunity to go back to the top of the table by winning at Valladolid.

Ordinarily, you'd think no problem for Los Blancos, who are 9/20 shots at the Jose Zorrilla.

But they failed to win two of their last three games before the break, won't be summoning World Cup stars Luka Modric, Aurelien Tchouameni or Eduardo Camavinga and Valladolid - the 11/2 hosts - have won three in a row at home in the league.

It's presumed that Karim Benzema, Real's veteran frontman who missed France's run to the World Cup final with a thigh injury, is fit. He is 13/5 to open the scoring.

But Valladolid, who are unbeaten at home since August, have their own in-form hit-man in Sergio Leon, who has scored seven in his last ten, the best streak of his long career.

Leon is 10/1 to find the net first and 10/3 to score at anytime.

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Home sides dominate Valencian derby

What: Villarreal v Valencia
Where: La Ceramica, Villarreal
When: 15:15, Saturday 31st December
How to watch: bet365 Sports Live Streaming
Odds: Villarreal 19/20, Draw 12/5, Valencia 16/5

It's also derby day in the Valencian Community with Los Che heading the short distance down the road to La Ceramica to shackle rivals Villarreal.

This is a match in which recent history screams home win - the last seven league meetings between these two sides, at either venue, have ended in home wins.

In each of the last six the winning side has scored exactly two goals, so correct scores of 2-0 or 2-1 to Villarreal are 17/2 and 15/2 respectively.

Only two points separate these neighbours in the league, though the pressure is on new Villarreal boss Quique Setien, whose team have won just one game and scored one goal in their three league matches since Unai Emery left for Aston Villa.

Osasuna to test Sociedad's top-four credentials

What: Real Sociedad v Osasuna
Where: Anoeta, San Sebastian
When: 15:15, Saturday 31st December
How to watch: bet365 Sports Live Streaming
Odds: Real Sociedad 17/20, Draw 23/10, Osasuna 15/4

Real Sociedad are in the think of the hunt for a Champions League spot after a decent start, though they'll be tested at home by fellow northerners Osasuna.

Imanol Alguacil's Europa League aces have won six of their last nine in La Liga but aren't any shorter than 17/20 for the visit of Osasuna because their guests are also enjoying a fine campaign.

Osasuna had won three in four before signing off for the World Cup with a narrow 2-1 loss to Barcelona, and found themselves in a dizzying seventh place at Christmas.

Defensively sound - they have shipped the same number of goals as Real Madrid and less than Sociedad - their problem is they struggle to score many.

Indeed, this match has a history of low scoring, with the last five duels between the sides producing the grand total of eight goals. It's 8/13 under 2.5 goals for a sixth successive fixture.

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