The first weekend of LaLiga Santander in 2019 will see leaders Barcelona looking to stay ahead at the top but also potential opportunities for a chasing pack including Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to make up ground.

 Barça ended 2018 three points clear after captain Lionel Messi starred in four straight LaLiga victories. However, the Catalans’ first game of the New Year on Sunday evening brings a tough challenge against a Getafe team who have conceded just once in their last four games at their Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

 Earlier on Sunday afternoon third-placed Sevilla host second placed Atletico Madrid in what will be a real test of both teams’ title credentials. Ex-Sevilla midfielder Diego Simeone masterminded a 5-2 victory on his return to the Sanchez-Pizjuán with his current side last season and will be keen to repeat but the Andalusians ended 2018 with six straight LaLiga wins in front of their own fans. This should be a good one.


 Real Madrid’s bid to get back into the title race continues on Sunday against Real Sociedad. Facing Club World Cup 2018 Golden Ball winner Gareth Bale and company is undoubtedly a tough start for the Basque side’s new coach, Imanol Alguacil, but one the club from San Sebastian will relish.

 The weekend’s action begins early Friday evening with Levante hosting Girona at the Ciutat de Valencia with both teams, who spent the winter break in the top half, aiming to ensure the holidays have not stalled their fine early season momentum.

 Later on Friday, Espanyol host Leganes at the RCDE Stadium with the home fans hoping their team has used the break to regroup and begin again, while the visitors from the capital will aim to keep up the form which saw them unbeaten in their last seven LaLiga games of 2018.

 Saturday’s programme begins at the Estadio Jose Zorilla with two teams promoted to LaLiga Santander last year. Hosts Real Valladolid have settled in to their top-flight status quicker than visitors Rayo Vallecano, but both teams will start 2019 knowing they must keep picking up points to ensure safety.

 Next up are Alaves, still unbeaten in front of their own supporters at Mendizorrotza this season, who host a Valencia side whose impressive improvement late last year included just one defeat in five on the road.

 The day’s action ends at El Alcoraz, where bottom team Huesca will be aiming to begin the year with a badly needed win against a Real Betis side who went into the winter break in sixth but will surely be aiming even higher in 2019.

 Sunday starts with Eibar against Villarreal where one of LaLiga Santander’s longest serving coaches in Jose Luis Mendilibar will welcome Luis Garcia, who returned to Spanish football late last year after adventures in the UAE [Baniyas] and China [Beijing Renhe], to replace Javi Calleja at the helm at the Estadio de la Ceramica.

 To close out the matchday, the first Monday game of 2019 sees RC Celta and Athletic Club looking to continue upswings in form started late last year under their respective new managers, Miguel Cardoso and Gaizka Garitano.