Turbulent start to 2011 for Spanish football

Madrid: Spanish football will make a turbulent start to 2011 because of acrimonious confusion surrounding the 17th round of matches.

A Thursday ruling from a Madrid labour arbitration court was needed to avert a strike from the players union, which had refused to play Sunday in defence of the Christmas holiday and because of the debts of several second division clubs to their players.

Thursday`s ruling means that La Liga will restart Sunday with five matches, though with the players moaning and with little seasonal goodwill in the winter air.

The first game of 2011 will see Athletic Bilbao - still without injured Spain striker Fernando Llorente - at home to Deportivo Coruna in a mid-table clash.

Bilbao coach Joaquin Caparros is likely to rest several regulars with Wednesday`s King`s Cup showdown at home to Barcelona in mind. Bilbao battled out a 0-0 draw in the first leg, and Caparros has described the return leg as "our most important game of the season".

Later Sunday, Barca host lowly Levante. Coach Pep Guardiola will have to improvise an emergency defence because Carles Puyol and Gabriel Milito are injured and Gerard Pique suspended.

Guardiola will probably bring in youngster Albert Fontas alongside veteran Eric Abidal, with Maxwell standing in for Abidal at left-back.

"Maybe Barca will have lost something of their rythm over the Christmas holidays," said Levante midfielder Xavi Torres who is on loan from Barca.

Barca have won their last 10 league matches and are two points above Real Madrid atop La Liga.

Sunday`s other games are Sporting Gijon v Malaga, Sevilla v Osasuna and Valencia v Espanyol.

Sevilla have lost their last five games and have slipped down to 11th. Valencia, in contrast, are fourth.

The big game Monday will see Real Madrid away to Getafe, who have beaten the whites three times since coming into the top flight in 2004.

Kaka is finally fit to return for Real, but veteran defender Ricardo Carvalho is suspended.

Third-placed Villarreal take on Almeria, Atletico Madrid receive Racing Santander, Mallorca face Hercules and bottom team Zaragoza will play hosts to Real Sociedad.