Football: Four things to look out for as La Liga returns to action

by IANS |

Madrid, Dec 29 (IANS) The Spanish La Liga returns to action on Thursday after a six-week break for the FIFA World Cup. Here are some things to look out for in the coming days.

1. How will Barca do after World Cup efforts?

No club provided more players to the World Cup than Barcelona, who had 17 players in Qatar, with Ousmane Dembele and Jules Kounde playing in the final with France. While most teams were able to enjoy a mid-season break, most of Barca's squad were hard at work and the lack of first-team members in Spain also complicated Xavi Hernandez's job of organising training sessions.

The effects of tiredness may not be felt straight away as Barca visit local rivals Espanyol, but they could affect Barca's form in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the club will be without Robert Lewandowski against Espanyol due to suspension but could have central defender Ronald Araujo available after two months on the sidelines.

2. World Cup also an issue for Real Madrid

Real Madrid also had a lot of players at the World Cup and French duo Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni will certainly miss Friday's visit to Real Valladolid, along with Luka Modric.

Brazilian trio Eder Militao, Vinicius Jr. and Rodrygo returned to training on Monday and should be available for the match, while Karim Benzema is fully fit after the thigh injury that saw him return to Spain before the World Cup started.

Benzema may feel he has something to prove to France coach Didier Deschamps, and that could be bad news for Valladolid.

3. Atletico need to win and convince against rock-bottom Elche

Atletico Madrid were very inconsistent before the World Cup break, mixing decent displays with disasters, such as their exit from the UEFA Champions League, which also saw them miss out on a place in the Europa League.

Coach Diego Simeone needs his side to be much sharper in attack and more reliable in defense. The second of those objectives suffered a setback on Tuesday when Jose Gimenez left the training pitch with a suspected muscle injury, while in attack, Simeone needs Joao Felix to show consistent form, and for Antoine Griezmann and Rodrigo De Paul to be the players they were for France and Argentina in the World Cup, reports Xinhua.

On Thursday, Atletico should beat Elche, who have no wins and just four points all season, but failure to do, and to do so convincingly, will really set alarm bells ringing.

4. Derbies to add post-Christmas spice

There are three derbies in the coming days, with the Barcelona derby the pick of the bunch between two local rivals who deeply dislike each other, and things may get very heated in Cornella on Saturday.

There isn't much love lost between Villarreal and Valencia, and the visitors will look to increase the pressure on home coach Quique Setien.

There is a much healthier rivalry between Real Sociedad and Osasuna, but neither side will hold back in the Reale Arena as the home side look to close the gap on the top two, while Osasuna aim to finish the year in the European places.

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