Real Madrid opens the year at Valencia

Valencia, Spain ( - Real Madrid will open the new year in difficult fashion, heading to the Mestalla on Sunday for a clash with Valencia.

The Merengues enjoyed a banner run in 2014 that included a sweep of the UEFA Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup, as well as an emphatic 12-game winning run in La Liga action to close out the year.

Though Madrid lost out on the league title at the tail end of last season, its high-flying form in recent months has put the club atop the table with 39 points from 15 matches.

Carlo Ancelotti's men sit one point clear of second-place Barcelona and hold a game in hand over the Catalans, and while they will be aiming to continue their blinding pace, they could be in for a rude awakening against a Valencia side that regained some form before the turn of the year.

The hosts were winless in four before claiming successive victories over Rayo Vallecano and Eibar to climb to 31 points and maintain fourth place in the top flight.

Defense has been a pillar of Valencia's success of late, shipping just six goals in its last eight La Liga contests, but with Ballon d'Or favorite Cristiano Ronaldo eager to pad his incredible scoring record, Real Madrid may prove to be a bit too much for Los Che to handle.

Following Real Madrid's trip to the Mestalla on Sunday, Barcelona will head to the Anoeta to take on Real Sociedad.

The Catalans have dropped just two points over their last six league outings, but manager Luis Enrique has still come under inexplicable criticism of late.

La Real, meanwhile, has taken just two points from its last three games and is off to an inconsistent start to life under David Moyes. The club enters the weekend in 14th place with 15 points.

Espanyol and Eibar are level on 20 points apiece, meaning that both sides will be aiming to gain separation when they meet at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat on Sunday, and Rayo Vallecano will travel to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez to face a Getafe side that has drawn three straight.

Atletico Madrid will return to action on Saturday, hoping to keep the pressure on Barcelona and Real Madrid by taking maximum points from its home clash with Levante.

Celta Vigo's last goal in league play came on Nov. 1 in a 1-0 defeat of Barcelona at Camp Nou. The club has taken just one point from its subsequent six matches and will aim to halt a five-game slide on Saturday when it travels to Sevilla.

Also on Saturday, fifth-place Villarreal will test its five-game winning streak when it heads to Elche, Malaga will go for a fourth successive win when it hosts Almeria and Athletic Bilbao will be out to avoid a fourth match without a win when it faces Deportivo at the Riazor.

Monday's lone contest in the Spanish top flight will see Cordoba and Granada battle it out in a relegation "six-pointer" at the Estadio Nuevo Arcangel.