Barcelona expect to have coach Tito Vilanova back at the helm following cancer surgery as they return to league action after the winter break with a local derby against Espanyol.
After a successful operation he has missed just one game, an away victory against Valladolid where his assistant Jordi Roura took charge and Barcelona extended their record start to the campaign to 16 wins from 17 games in La Liga.
Vilanova returned to the training ground this week where fullback Eric Abidal, who has had his own battle with cancer, is also on the comeback trail.
“Tito and Abidal are both examples of fighting spirit. They are examples to follow for all that they have been through and yet at the same time they have always been there to help the club and their teammates,” said keeper Victor Valdes.
Real Madrid have fallen 16 points behind Barcelona and will now have to field a makeshift defence against Real Sociedad with Pepe, Marcelo, Raul Albiol and Fabio Coentrao are all injured and Sergio Ramos suspended.
Atletico Madrid lead the pursuit of Barca, lying nine points behind, and they are now away to Mallorca while Malaga, in fourth, just two points off Real Madrid, are away to bottom side Deportivo La Coruna.AFP