Fantasy La Liga: Lionel Messi is fit for Matchweek 8

Lionel Messi showed he was fit with a goal on six shots in a Barca win over Sevilla just before the international break. JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

La Liga returns from the international break on Friday, when two of the newly promoted sides will face off, Granada vs. Osasuna. But Saturday should be far more exciting, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid all in action. Real Madrid currently have a two-point lead over Barcelona, and a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid, at the top of the table.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are both solid favorites despite playing away from home, at Mallorca and Eibar, respectively. Karim Benzema is one of three players tied for the league lead in goals, with six. But Lionel Messi looks back to his old self, and he'll be my Tier 1 forward and captain this week.

Messi scored his first goal of the season in Barcelona's 4-0 win over Sevilla just prior to the international break. That was his first league start of the season, and he also took six shots in that game. And four days prior, in Barca's Champions League victory over Inter Milan, Messi didn't score but had an assist, four shots and six chances created.

That's the one Barcelona player I'll have in my fantasy lineup this week. I'll also have one Real Madrid player: Sergio Ramos, as my Tier 1 defender. He's seventh in the league in passes completed, and third among all defenders, averaging 54.0 per game. Barca's two center backs, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet, are ahead of Ramos in that category, and also available in this tier. But Ramos is on penalties for Real Madrid, giving him more upside.

Pleasant surprises

Villarreal have been one of the most exciting teams in La Liga thus far. They're only in ninth place, but have scored 19 goals in eight games - only Barcelona have scored more (20). And Villarreal are favored this week despite being away, at 19th place Espanyol.

Santi Cazorla has been brilliant so far this season. He's already scored four goals, is tied for the league lead in assists with three, and is also tied for the league lead in chances created with 26. Espanyol have conceded 14 goals this season - only Real Betis have conceded more (16). They've lost all four of their home games, scoring just once and conceding 10 times. Espanyol do have a new manager - they've replaced David Gallego with Pablo Machin. But I'm still picking Cazorla as my Tier 1 midfielder this week.

You might be tempted to go with Eden Hazard, who finally scored his first goal for Real Madrid in their 4-2 win over Granada prior to the international break. But Hazard took only one shot in that game, and was taken off in the 69th minute. He's only taken four shots in four league appearances this season, which is very underwhelming.

One of Cazorla's teammates, Samuel Chukwueze, will be my Tier 3 midfielder. Chukwueze has two goals and an assist in seven appearances. He's only started five games, but that includes Villarreal's most recent one against Osasuna, and he played the full 90 minutes. I like Chukwueze's attacking potential against Espanyol.

Another exciting team so far this season has been Sevilla, who are currently in sixth place. They're coming off a 4-0 loss at Barcelona, as mentioned above, but don't let that scoreline fool you. Sevilla actually outshot Barca 16-15 in that game, and topped them in terms of TruMedia's xG (expected goals) model 3.07 - 2.30.

Not only that, but Sevilla are the biggest favorites in the league this weekend, at home against Levante. It hasn't been a terrible start to the season for Levante, who are currently in 10th place. But their underlying numbers defensively are very poor. Levante have only conceded 10 goals, but they're last in the league in terms of xG conceded at 17.21.

Ever Banega hasn't scored a goal yet this season, but he has two assists, and is eighth in the league in chances created with 17. He's also fifth in passes completed, averaging 63.3 per game. Banega will be my Tier 2 midfielder this week.

Teammate Joan Jordan is also available in this tier, and has already scored two goals this season. But Jordan hasn't started Sevilla's past two league games, and has only played the full 90 minutes once in eight appearances.

And speaking of teammates, Sergio Reguilon will be my Tier 2 defender. Reguilon had a shot and three chances created against Barcelona prior to the break, and the same totals in Sevilla's previous game. He also has good passing numbers for a fullback - if you take out the early-season game in which he exited in the first half due to injury, Reguilon is averaging 43.7 passes completed per game.

Other picks

Mikel Oyarzabal, Real Sociedad (Tier 2 forward): Oyarzabal already has four goals and two assists this season. He's also fifth in the league in shots with 23, and the league leader in terms of xG at 4.26. Real Sociedad, currently in fifth place, are solid favorites at home against 16th place Real Betis. And, as mentioned above, Betis have conceded the most goals in the league so far, 16.

Jan Oblak, Atletico Madrid (Goalkeeper): Oblak has six clean sheets in eight games, two more than any other 'keeper in the league. That includes a streak of five straight, if you include Atletico Madrid's most recent Champions League fixture. Their opponent this week, eighth-place Valencia, isn't an easy one. But Atletico will be at home, and Valencia have only scored three goals in three away games thus far.