Barcelona host Espanyol and Real Madrid meet Real Sociedad as La Liga returns
Barcelona return to La Liga action with the derby visit of Espanyol on Sunday, while Real Madrid host Real Sociedad.
Last Updated: 04/01/13 8:07am
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes is refusing to take the title for granted as Barca prepare to face Espanyol at the Nou Camp.
Tito Vilanova's side are nine points clear at the top of the Primera Division table after 16 victories and a draw from their 17 league matches this season.
They take on an Espanyol side third from bottom, but Valdes is in no doubt how important the match against their city rivals will be.
"We have not yet finished the first lap, the reality is that we have good cushion, but not a definitive one," he told reporters.
"There is a long way to go and many points to play for. All teams deserve the same respect in a very competitive league, you cannot let up."
Underdogs Espanyol are buoyed by a 2-2 draw they registered with champions Real Madrid in December.
"The game at the Bernabeu's is a reference point," said striker Sergio Garcia. "Nobody expected anything and we got a draw we deserved."
Hector Moreno is equally positive that his side can get a result.
"What counts in the end is what we do, as the team have a good chance to get something from there," he said. "We are in a good place, working hard, and we want to continue."
Madrid's title challenge may be all but over with Jose Mourinho's side 16 points behind Barcelona, but defender Sergio Ramos is not giving up and has backed his side to beat Real Sociedad on Sunday.
"I think if you ask any fan, whether old or new, we continue to fight for every title," he said. "The league is complicated but not impossible. And what better way to start than against Real.
"It is possible the team is anxious. I do not think that's the problem, but the break was good to reflect.
"But we are on the right track and the attitude is always good."
Ramos and Pepe are both banned, although the Portuguese also faces a month off after surgery on an ankle injury, whilst Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo are both also injured.
With Raul Albiol also still suffering with an ankle injury, Raphael Varane and Ricardo Carvalho are likely to be paired together in central defence, while Nacho or Michael Essien will once again have to fill in at left-back.
Sociedad are seventh and are unbeaten since early November and midfielder David Zurutuza is confident that his side can spring a surprise when they visit the Bernabeu.
He told Diario Vasco: "Real Sociedad have a team capable of winning in any stadium. We know that it is a very difficult place to go because everyone knows the players that Real Madrid have, but if we are ambitious and they have a bad day who is to say we can't take something?"
Sunday's other matches see Celta Vigo play Real Valladolid and Real Mallorca host second-placed Atletico Madrid.
On Saturday, Athletic Bilbao travel to Levante, Granada are at home to Valencia, Deportivo host Malaga and Sevilla play Osasuna.
Monday's match is Rayo Vallecano against Getafe.