Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s England midfielder Lewis Cook will be sidelined for six to nine months with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
The 21-year-old suffered the serious knee injury during the 2-1 Premier League victory over Huddersfield on Tuesday.
Cook was assessed by the club’s medical staff after the game and further assessment and scans on Wednesday revealed the extent of the damage to his right knee.
“We are all devastated for Lewis,” Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe told the club’s official website.
“It is a huge blow to a very talented player who has been a very important part of our side over the last 18 months.
“But Lewis is a strong character who only has to look around our dressing room for inspiration of how an injury like this is merely a setback and to know that he can come back better than ever.” A defiant Lewis tweeted: “Thank you for all your kind words, I am devastated with my injury but this is just a bump in the road. I’ll be back stronger and better. The hard work starts now.”
La Liga leaders Barcelona will aim to stay ahead of a chasing pack including Sevilla, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid this weekend, as the fixture list also brings exciting historic opportunities and emotional reuniting of old friends.
Barca will be favourites for Sunday evening’s clash with Levante at Camp Nou, with blaugrana captain Lionel Messi showing ominous form with two superb free kick goals in last weekend’s derbi win at Espanyol.
However Levante themselves will be recall they beat Barca 5-4 in their most recent LaLiga meeting last season, while nine goals in their last three games have lifted Paco Lopez’s side to sixth in the table.
The weekend begins Friday evening with recently arrived Celta Vigo coach Miguel Cardoso looking for a third successive win for his team, but the visitors at Balaidos Friday night are a Leganes side who have climbed the table in recent weeks due to a five game unbeaten run.
Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Perez is the scene for Saturday’s early game, with Real Sociedad visiting suburban Madrid looking for a first LaLiga win home or away against ‘los azulones’ [the blues] in almost four years.
Valladolid then welcome Atletico Madrid to the Estadio Jose Zorrilla with the ‘Blanquivioletas’ [the white and purples] having lost just one of their last five LaLiga games at home, and ‘Los Rojiblancos’ [the red and whites] needing to improve a record of four successive draws on the road to keep up in the title race.
LaLiga then returns to the Spanish capital for a ‘derbi’ meeting, with Rayo Vallecano making the short trip to Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Rayo’s only previous victory at the stadium was back in 1996, when current coach Michel Sanchez Munoz played in midfield. In-form Madrid will not make a repeat easy however, in their final LaLiga game of 2018 due to the Club World Cup later this month.
Saturday’s late match sees Eibar looking for a third consecutive LaLiga win at home to Valencia, but Los Che will travel confident having won on their last trip to the Basque Country, at nearby Real Sociedad.
Sunday’s lunchtime game will be an emotional one for Sevilla coach Pablo Machin, who welcomes his former club Girona to the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan. Machin is already hugely popular in the Andalusian capital with his current team riding second in the table, while his hero status in Girona was confirmed by achieving the Catalan club’s first ever promotion to LaLiga in 2017.
Espanyol supporters will also welcome back their former player Pau Lopez when the goalkeeper’s current side Real Betis visit the RCDE Stadium on Sunday afternoon, while home forward Sergio Garcia will see familiar faces among the visitors having represented Betis earlier in his career.
Huesca hosting Villarreal is then a huge game at the bottom of the table, with Francisco Rodriguez’s side having played better recently without an upturn in results, and new Villarreal coach Luis Garcia aiming for a debut victory to get his side climbing the standings.
Monday evening’s game is another Basque derby, seeing Alaves aiming for a third straight LaLiga victory over Athletic Club at the Estadio de Mendizorroza, but the Bilbao side’s new coach Gaizka Garitano looking to make it two victories in his first two games in charge.
Watch Matchday 15 of LaLiga Santander this weekend on beIN Sports.
Watch Levante v Barcelona on Monday from 6.40am AEDT on beIN Sports 1
With the Asian Cup less than a month away, it’s now or never for those looking to force their way into Graham Arnold’s Socceroos squad.
While most of the team set to head to the United Arab Emirates for January’s teammates are based overseas, as always, it seems likely some A-League stars will at least come under consideration for the tournament.
With the Fox Sports Lab, we took a look at some of the Socceroos contenders and how they’re tracking stats-wise in the A-League this season.
ATTACKERS IN THE MIX
(6 points, 9th)
(15 points, 2nd)
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(8 points, 8th)
(2 points, 10th)
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(8 points, 7th)
(11 points, 3rd)
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(8 points, 6th)
(17 points, 1st)
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(11 points, 4th)
(10 points, 5th)
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With Aaron Mooy all but ruled out of the Asian Cup, there could be room for an A-League playmaker to come into the fold.
There are arguably two current standouts in the domestic competition.
One is in-form Melbourne Victory star Terry Antonis.
The midfielder — who has also played out on the left of Kevin Muscat’s midfield diamond — is in a rich vein of form.
Antonis has four goal assists to his name — more than anyone else in the competition — while he is also ranked No. 1 in the competition (along with Adelaide’s Ben Halloran) for secondary assists, with three.
He’s also seventh in the league for goals, with three so far this campaign.
The other playmaker is Dimi Petratos, who’s scored just one goal so far this season.
That said, Petratos has three assists (No. 3 in league) and two secondary assists (No. 4), while he’s also recorded 30 shots (No. 2) and 55 balls into the area (No. 4) so far this campaign.
Of the wingers looking to contend for a spot, the two clear contenders are Craig Goodwin and Chris Ikonomidis.
Goodwin has three goals (No. 7 in competition) and three goal assists (No. 3) so far this season, along with 15 shot assists (No. 4) as 46 balls into the area (No. 6).
Meanwhile, Ikonomidis is second in the league for goals, with five in seven games.
The Perth winger is fourth in the league for tackles evaded, with 10, while he’s recorded 19 total shots (No. 6) and two goal assists (No. 10).
Meanwhile, despite a groin injury limiting his recent outings, striker Adam Taggart is still second in the league for goals (five) and third in the competition for both total shots (26) and shots on target (nine).
DEFENDERS OUT TO PROVE A POINT
Arnold has shown his willingness to turn to the A-League for defensive options.
Current first-choice right-back Josh Risdon plies his trade with Western Sydney, while Victory’s Thomas Deng and Sydney’s Rhyan Grant have both earned caps under Arnold.
Of those full backs, Risdon is ranked No. 10 in the league for completed crosses (seven), No. 8 for clearances (19) and No. 6 for intercepts (29.)
In contrast, Grant is ranked 25th in the league for completed crosses (four), 52nd for clearances (six) and 44th for intercepts (14). However, he’s ranked seventh for break-ups (27) and ninth for effective tackles (15).
Meanwhile, Deng is ranked fifth in the league for clearances (21) but has few other defining stats.
That said, it’s hard to read too much into Deng’s stats as a candidate for a full-back role, as he’s predominantly played at centre-back at Victory this season.
Previous Asian Cup full backs Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic are also plying their trade in the A-League. Davidson is No. 7 in the league for contests won (31), while Franjic is sixth for completed crosses, with 11 so far.
Of the other centre-backs, Perth stalwart Shane Lowry is equal second in the competition for clearances (24). Interestingly, Adelaide’s Jordan Elsey (second for clearances with 24, equal-third for break-ups with 32) and Melbourne City’s Harrison Delbridge performed strongly statistically.
Delbridge was ranked No. 1 for break-ups (37) and contests won (45), while he was also No. 2 in possessions (480), No. 3 in passes completed (369) and fourth in clearances (22) — with those possession numbers reflecting City’s possession-heavy style.