MADIRD, March 16 (Xinhua) -- This weekend's round of matches in the Spanish Liga Santander are the last before the international break and could be decisive when the season comes to an end in May.
League leaders Real Madrid face what many believe is their most difficult away game between now and the end of the season when they travel to face Athletic Club Bilbao in the San Mames Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Although not always playing the most convincing football at times, Athletic have turned their home into a fortress and are unbeaten in their last 19 games there in all competitions. The home side are without the suspended Mikel San Jose, while Gareth Bale returns for Madrid, who have central defenders Pepe and Rafael Varene both doubtful.
The round of matches kicks off on Friday night when sixth placed Villarreal continue their efforts to return swiftly to Europe with a trip to Las Palmas, while Eibar aim to continue their fine season at home to Espanyol on Saturday lunchtime.
Real Sociedad were shocked by Athletic Club in last weekend's Basque derby and have another derby on Saturday when they make the short trip to Vitoria to take on Alaves.
Alaves lost the first meeting between the two sides 3-0 in what was perhaps their worst display of the campaign and are aiming to put that right against a rival who appear to have lost some of the sharpness from their play in recent weeks.
Saturday ends with Betis having a great chance to assure their survival with a home game against bottom of the table Osasuna, who have just one win all season.
Sunday has two standout games as second place Barcelona entertain Valencia. Barca will hope Athletic can take something from Real Madrid and that they can then win in order to go back to the top of the table against a rival which, although virtually safe, suffers badly on the road.
The other key game at the top sees Atletico Madrid entertain Sevilla, with Atletico, who booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League on Wednesday looking to take advantage of any hangover at Sevilla, who crashed out of the tournament on Tuesday.
With Sevilla five points ahead of Atletico, a win for Diego Simeone's side would also give them a chance of finishing third and assuring an automatic place in the group stage of the Champions League next season.
There is also drama at the bottom of the table with second from bottom Sporting Gijon entertaining third bottom Granada in a match in which only a win will do for both sides in their battle to avoid the drop.
Deportivo aim to continue their unbeaten run under Pepe Mel when they play Celta Vigo in the Galicia derby, while the midday kick off sees Leganes looking for their third straight home win against a Malaga side in freefall.