MADRID, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- After the Copa del Rey last weekend and a reduced number of matches in La Liga kicks off the second half of the season. Here are some things to look out for in Spain.
1. Pressure on Zidane (again)
Wednesday night's Copa del Rey defeat to third tier Alcoyano was probably the nadir of Zinedine Zidane's time at Real Madrid and has once again put the coach in the firing line with his future questioned for the second time this season.
Zidane looked to be headed for the sack before his side's win away to Barcelona in November and a run of six consecutive victories saved his job and now he needs another reaction as his side travels to face struggling Alaves.
The team from Vitoria won 2-1 in Madrid earlier this season and is just the sort of lower table team (such as Elche, Osasuna, Cadiz) who Zidane's men have dropped points to this season, but with his job once again on the line Zidane needs to see his players to be at their best or else the speculation over his future will continue. His players have responded when needed so far, will they do so again?
2. No Messi for Barca
Leo Messi can count himself lucky to have only received a two-game ban for swinging out at Asier Villalibre as Barca lost 3-2 to Athletic Club Bilbao in the Spanish Supercup a week ago. He served his first suspension in midweek and he also misses Sunday's visit to relegation-threatened Elche.
Barca needed extra time to get past third tier side, Cornella without Messi on Thursday and even though Barca coach Ronald Koeman rested other players, that display hardly inspires confidence.
It's been a bad week for Koeman after tentative improvements in recent weeks and without Messi he really needs players such as Frenkie de Jong, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele to step up and take responsibility.
3. Clash of fortunes in the Wanda
Atletico Madrid are going into the second half of the season with a seven-point lead over Real Madrid and 10 points more than Barca. With a game in hand and Luis Suarez scoring vital goals, it looks as if the title is very much theirs to lose.
Atletico's situation contrasts sharply with Valencia, who travel to Madrid in 14th place, just three points above the relegation zone following Thursday's 1-1 draw at home to Osasuna.
Javi Gracia is still struggling for consistency from a squad that was considerably weakened over the summer and although players such as Carlos Soler, Daniel Wass and Maxi Gomez all have quality, the uncertainty over both their and the coach's future is only making Gracia's job harder.
4. Who wants fourth place?
It does look as if Atletico, Real Madrid and Barca will finish in the top-three (in some order), but fourth place is very much up for grabs with Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Sociedad all still in the mix.
Real Sociedad's run of league form has seen them drop from first to sixth, while both Sevilla and Villarreal have dropped points when they have had the chance to impose themselves on their rivals (such as Villarreal's 2-2 draw against Granada in midweek).
Villarreal visit struggling Huesca this weekend, while Sevilla entertain Cadiz in a local derby and Real Sociedad are at home to an improving Betis.
This weekend might start narrowing down who will qualify for the final Champions League spot.