Key players likely to miss out as La Liga returns to action

MADRID, Dec. 27 (Xinhua) -- La Liga gets back into action after the break for the World Cup, with the 15th round of matches played from Thursday to Saturday.

(File photo: CFP)

The games kick off with Girona, one of just two sides in La Liga who had no players at the World Cup, entertaining Rayo Vallecano and looking to forget their exit from the Copa del Rey against third-tier Cacereno last week.

The next game is a key clash in the battle to play in Europe next season with sixth-placed Betis at home to fourth-placed Athletic Club Bilbao.

Athletic have everyone fit and available, although Betis have a doubt over the fitness of Argentinean World Cup winner Guido Rodriguez, who has only just returned to training.

Atletico Madrid could be without Nahuel Molina and Antoine Griezmann for their home game against bottom side Elche, and Atletico coach Diego Simeone needs a positive return after an irregular start to the campaign.

Elche are the other La Liga side with no World Cup players and sit rock bottom of the league with just four points and no wins this campaign. However, the fact they have won their two Copa del Rey ties since the arrival of Pablo Machin as their third permanent coach of the season implies they could be improving.

Friday gets underway with a mid-table match between Getafe and Mallorca, before Celta Vigo and Sevilla play a vital game.

Celta are fourth from bottom of the table, while Sevilla slipped into the bottom three before the break.

While Celta have been able to clear their injury list in the past weeks, Sevilla have Alex Telles out with an injury he suffered in Qatar, while Thomas Delaney is also missing with a knee injury.

Argentina winger Papu Gomez is also a doubt along with fellow countrymen Marcos Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel after reaching the World Cup final, while Moroccan duo of Yassine Bounou and Youssef En-Nesyri were involved in the tournament until the penultimate day.

Second from bottom Cadiz face Almeria in an Andalusia derby, with Cadiz needing to improve the worst goalscoring record in La Liga, before Friday ends with Real Madrid visiting Valladolid.

Real Madrid's Brazilian players Eder Militao, Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr returned to training on Monday and should be available, but Luka Modric and French duo Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni are still recovering from the World Cup and are unlikely to play.

FC Barcelona have striker Robert Lewandowski suspended for their short visit to play neighboring Espanyol, while French internationals Ousmane Dembele and Jules Kounde were back in training on Monday.

Barca had 17 players at the World Cup and it will be interesting to see how that affects the league leaders, who have not been able to carry out full training sessions until relatively recently.

The other two matches played on New Year's Eve are both derbies, with third place Real Sociedad, who should have Mikel Merino available but remain without Carlos Fernandez, Mikel Oyarzabal and Umar Sadiq, at home to Osasuna. Finally, Villarreal play at home to Valencia, with the home side still needing to adapt to the ultra-passing game of coach Quique Setien.