LaLiga Santander returns this weekend with a Catalan capital derby bringing together Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Espanyol’s Wu Lei plus six-pointer clashes at top and bottom elsewhere all weekend.

Chinese football’s biggest star and the world’s most iconic player meet for the first time at the Camp Nou on Saturday afternoon, with Messi having scored twice as LaLiga Santander leaders Barça won the reverse fixture 4-0 in December. Wu’s arrival in January has, however, helped Espanyol climb the table on a run of just one defeat in seven games.

Second-placed Atletico de Madrid spent the international break 10 points back, so Diego Simeone’s side really need to win on Saturday evening at D. Alaves, who have lost just once at their atmospheric Mendizorrotza stadium so far all season to sit happily in fifth spot.

Returning Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is back at the Bernabeu Sunday evening looking to continue the optimism around his return. Visitors Huesca remain bottom of the table but were unfortunate to lose just 0-1 to R. Madrid in December’s reverse fixture.

The weekend kicks off Friday evening in Catalonia, where two in-form teams meet at Montilivi. Hosts Girona and visitors Athletic Club have both taken ten points from their last five LaLiga Santander games to keep moving up the table.

Sunday lunchtime sees a derby clash in Madrid’s southern suburbs, with Getafe and Leganes facing off at the former’s Coliseum Alfonso Perez. New Spain international Jaime Mata’s goals have fired Getafe up to fourth in the current table, but local pride will ensure Leganes give everything for a first-ever LaLiga Santander victory over their neighbours.

Saturday evening sees a real relegation six pointer at Balaidos with 18th placed RC Celta hosting 17th placed Villarreal. Two straight wins mean Villarreal have the better recent form, but Celta have shown improvement under recently installed coach Fran Escriba.

Sunday’s programme starts with Eibar welcoming Levante to Ipurua. Neutrals – if not defensive coaches – will be hoping for a repeat of the 4-4 thriller from the teams’ first meeting earlier this season.

Paco Jemez’s first game back as Rayo Vallecano coach is against Quique Setien’s unpredictable Real Betis, with the 19th placed Madrid team really needing to end a run of seven straight LaLiga defeats.

Sevilla v Valencia at the Estadio Sanchez-Pizjuan is one of LaLiga’s most historic fixtures, and Sunday afternoon’s clash is key to both teams’ hopes of European football next year.

The mood at Real Valladolid was happier during the international break after their victory at Eibar last time out, and another three points against Real Sociedad Sunday evening would keep the Castilians clear of the relegation zone.

Watch LaLiga Santander this weekend on BeIN Sports.

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Messi vs Wu Lei: The world’s most iconic player and the star of Chinese football meet in the Catalan derby on Saturday afternoon at the Camp Nou.

Diego Simeone’s Atleti are gunning to close the gap on leaders Barcelona but Alaves have lost just once at home all season.

Zidane’s Real Madrid return to the Bernabeu this weekend to face bottom side Huesca fighting for their LaLiga Santander lives.

The weekend kicks off with two in-form sides – Girona and Athletic Club – vying to keep powering on up the table.

A south Madrid derby! The season’s surprise package Getafe and Leganes face off at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez.

A real relegation six-pointer! It’s 18th vs 17th as RC Celta and Villarreal meet in Vigo.

Can Eibar and Levante repeat their epic 4-4 draw from earlier this season?

Can Paco Jemez’s return save Rayo Vallecano from the drop? They entertain European hopefuls Betis on Sunday afternoon.

LaLiga heavyweights Sevilla and Valencia do battle at the Sanchez-Pizjuan on Sunday afternoon vying for European football next season.

Ronaldo Nazario’s Valladolid face Real Sociedad on the back of a heroic 90th minute win last time out as they bid to secure their top flight status.

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Damon Palmar
damon@footballnationradio.com