Champions Atletico Madrid kickoff the second half of the Spanish season after the winter break on Saturday, but Fernando Torres must wait to make his return for his boyhood club.
Torres, who left eight years ago for a stellar stint at Liverpool and a disappointing one at Chelsea, is on-loan with Atletico from AC Milan but the move can’t be made official until the Italian transfer window opens on Monday.
The 30-year-old, who scored 82 goals in 214 games for Atletico, has been training with his teammates, and could play in the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid on January 7. By then, Atletico will hope to have taken three points in Saturday’s match against Levante.
That would close the gap to a point from Real at the top of the Primera Division, with the Madridistas having the chance to extend their lead again when they travel to Valencia on Sunday.
The European champions will hope to make it 23 wins on the bounce since September, but Valencia will be no easy ride after recapturing their form this season.
Valencia sit fourth, one point above Sevilla, Villarreal and Malaga.
But Los Che showed their financial advantage over the other Champions League hopefuls when new owner Peter Lim spent $30 million on Argentina midfielder Enzo Perez this week.
"I have the greatest expectations of making a good start here," Perez said as he was presented to the Valencia fans on Friday. "I hope that this new project at Valencia grows, and that 2015 will be a happy year for us all."
Perez is expected to make his Mestalla debut against a Real side who seem to have batted away suggestions that record signing Gareth Bale could leave to join Manchester United.
Bale making hay
The Welshman, who scored in his third final for Real with his 11th of the season in the Club World Cup final, has dismissed suggestions that he could leave the Spanish capital after a remarkably successful 18 months since joining from Tottenham Hotspur.
"It has been a fantastic year for me. I wanted to come to Real Madrid to win titles and work alongside the best players and that is exactly what I have done in a single year," he told the club's website.
Barcelona start the year a point adrift of Real, but having played a game more. Lionel Messi, Neymar and Dani Alves only returned to training on Friday, as they prepare to face David Moyes’ Real Sociedad.
Moyes, meanwhile, has urged his players to summon the spirit and performance levels which saw them defeat Real and Atletico Madrid at home this season before his appointment.
"We respect Barcelona because they are a very good team, but they are coming to San Sebastian and we have to show them this is not an easy place to come and win," said the Scot, whose team beat both Real and Atletico at home before his appointment.
"My players have already shown that they are capable of beating Barcelona."
Source: Al Jazeera