La Liga, Week 18: Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad battle for fourth place

David Ramos

La Liga returns after the winter break with a marquee match-up in the race for the final Champions League spot.

Spain's top division is back after a two week winter break to recharge the batteries, heal some injuries and avoid anyone getting too cold. With that out of the way the season can resume and finally get the halfway point, at least it terms of matches played.

When we last spoke Barcelona and Atlético Madrid say tied at the top of the table, with the Blaugrana in front thanks to a slightly better goal differential. Both teams are of course in action this week with Barca hosting 14th placed Elche and Atléti traveling for a bit of a tougher test against 10th placed Málaga. Lionel Messi remains sidelined for Gerardo Martino's side but he's expected to return for the team's Copa del Rey match against Getafe.

Real Madrid will likely still be missing Gareth Bale for their Monday Night Futbol match against Celta Vigo. Los Blancos traveled to Doha for a friendly against Paris Saint-Germain over the holidays, so they'll get an extra day of rest before restarting their league campaign.

The extremely tight battle for Europa League spots rolls on as well with the game of the week as 5th place Real Sociedad welcomes 4th place Athletic Bilbao to the Anoeta. While Spain's final Champions League spot won't be decided this week, the match could give one side a leg up in the chase. Athletic are currently four points clear and a La Real win could allow three teams to close within four points or less of the coveted 4th place spot.

Here's the full schedule for week 18 in La Liga.

Saturday, January 4th

Málaga vs. Atletico Madrid | 10:00 a.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. CEST
Real Valladolid vs. Real Betis | 12:00 p.m. ET, 6:00 p.m. CEST
Valencia vs. Levante | 2:00 p.m. ET, 8:00 p.m. CEST
Almeria vs. Granada | 4:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 p.m. CEST

Sunday, January 5th

Sevilla vs. Getafe | 6:00 a.m. ET, 12:00 p.m. CEST
Barcelona vs. Elche | 10:00 a.m. ET, 4:00 p.m. CEST
Osasuna vs. Espanyol | 12:00 p.m. ET, 6:00 p.m. CEST
Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao | 2:00 p.m. ET, 8:00 p.m. CEST

Monday, January 6th

Real Madrid vs. Celta Vigo | 1:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. CEST
Rayo Vallecano vs. Villarreal | 4:00 p.m. ET, 10:00 p.m. CEST

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