Real Madrid will have a chance to lay down a 2019 marker to their La Liga rivals on Thursday night, before any other top four side has kicked a ball in 2019.
Santiago Solari’s side head to Villarreal for their first game of the calendar year, with a home game against Real Sociedad on Sunday.
The reason being that due Real’s involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup, they have played a fixture less than their rivals this season.
Real defended their world title for the third successive season, becoming the most successful side in the history of the competition in the process, and now they return to domestic action.
Solari took his full squad to the competition in the UAE, with Casemiro the only senior player not to start in both games.
The midfielder had been struggling with an injury prior to the tournament, but Solari confirmed he is fully fit for the new year, and his rest was only a precaution.
Real stuttered in the opening weeks of the campaign, leading to the departure of Julen Lopetegui, and the installation of Solari, initially as caretaker boss, and now permanent manager.
The pressure is now on the former Argentina international to ensure that Real finish as high in the La Liga table as possible, with a top four finish an absolute minimum, as well as progression in the Champions League, upon its resumption in February.
Los Blancos will be fully focused on their domestic schedule, with seven domestic fixtures before they head to Amsterdam to face Ajax on February 13th.
Home games against Sociedad, Sevilla and Alaves should yield close to maximum points, as Real look to close the gap on the top four, with Sevilla the only real banana skin after Pablo Machin’s side won the reverse fixture 3-0 earlier this season.
They also head to Real Betis and Espanyol, either side of a two legged Copa del Rey clash with Leganes, before a trip to the Wanda to face city rivals Atletico, just before that trip to the Netherlands.
Solari will be keen to get points on the board as quickly as possible, as his side faces a crunch month ahead.
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