" Valencia returned to winning ways last weekend as they beat Rayo Vallecano 3-0 but will still be without suspended striker Paco Alcacer for the trip to Ipurua."
Madrid, Dec 18 - With Real Madrid not playing in the La Liga this weekend, title rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have no option but to win their respective matches or run the risk of seeing their title hopes disappear before the end of the year.

Last weekend was a magnificent one for Real, who won 4-1 away against Almeria before Barcelona drew away to Getafe and Atletico lost at home to Villarreal.

The results mean Barcelona are now four points behind Carlo Ancelotti's side, while defending champions Atletico have slipped to seven points behind Real, meaning a further error would be fatal in their title defense.

Barcelona will get the ball rolling and will be the favourites to easily beat Cordoba, who are in the relegation zone. However, Luis Enrique's side may be forced to work harder than many might think after Cordoba have improved in recent weeks, showing the sort of defensive organisation the Catalans have struggled to break down.

Atletico have an even tougher task as they travel to face Athletic Club Bilbao in the San Mames Stadium. Both sides will be without suspended players - Atletico's Koke and Mario Mandzukic and Ander Iturraspe, Aymeric Laporte and Andoni Iriola of Athletic.

The weekend kicks off Friday night when Juan Ignacio Martinez will make his league debut as Almeria coach away to a Celta Vigo side, which has failed to score in the past five matches.

As well as the Barcelona-Cordoba game, Saturday also sees Real Sociedad, who also progressed in the Cup, travel to face a much-improved Levante, while SD Eibar aim to retain their status as the best Basque side this campaign with a home game against Valencia.

Valencia returned to winning ways last weekend as they beat Rayo Vallecano 3-0 but will still be without suspended striker Paco Alcacer for the trip to Ipurua.

Rayo meanwhile will play Saturday night and will hope their cavalier style of football is enough to take all three points from Espanyol, who are yet to win away this season.


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