La Liga weekend preview: Lionel Messi nears Barcelona return
Lionel Messi will be back at the Nou Camp as Barcelona resume their Primera Division title quest against Elche.
Last Updated: 03/01/14 8:37am
The Argentinian is close to recovery from a thigh strain but is unlikely to play a part against the minnows with a trip to title rivals Atletico Madrid looming the following week.
Nevertheless Messi's return will provide a major boost to his team-mates, according to fellow midfielder Andres Iniesta.
Iniesta said: "We know the importance of Leo. His effectiveness and intimidation factor is one of the big things for us.
"Hopefully he will not have any more mishaps and will continue to be our number one.
"With the years we have had lately, our aim and ambition is to reach April and May with a chance to win in all competitions."
Barcelona can bring back Neymar after a one-game suspension, while goalkeeper Victor Valdes may also figure after a long injury absence.
Barcelona are likely to head into Sunday's game in second place, with rivals Atletico sitting behind on goal difference and preparing to play at Malaga on Saturday.
Diego Simeone's Atletico face a Malaga side who posted back-to-back league wins over Getafe and Elche prior to the winter shut-down.
Atletico are expected to finalise a six-month loan deal for midfielder Jose Sosa from Ukrainian club Metalist Kharkiv, though it is unlikely to be completed in time for him to figure at the Rosaleda.
Real Madrid must wait until Monday to continue their quest to haul in the league's top two, whom they could be trailing by up to six points by the time they kick off against Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu.
Real are hoping to have world record signing Gareth Bale back in action after the Welshman missed the last two games prior to the winter break due to a left leg injury.
Real Sociedad and Atletic Bilbao meet in a Basque derby which could go some way towards determining the likely qualifiers for the fourth Champions League position.
Bilbao go into the game with a four-point advantage in fourth place but Jagoba Arrasate's Sociedad men are the form side with a run of four straight Primera Division wins behind them.
Argentinian Juan Antonio Pizzi takes charge of Valencia for the first time, following the sacking of Miroslav Djukic, as his new side face city rivals Levante at the Mestalla.
Also on Saturday, bottom club Real Betis hunt their first win in 11 league games when they go to Real Valladolid, while Almeria host Granada.
On Sunday, seventh-placed Sevilla look to continue their strong recent form at home to sinking Getafe, while struggling Osasuna face Espanyol.
In the second Monday match, Villarreal look to keep pace with the Champions League chasers as they go to Rayo Vallecano.