Soccer

5 things to know about the Spanish league

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MADRID (AP)

Atletico Madrid will put its title hopes on the line when it hosts Spanish league leader Real Madrid on Sunday.

Madrid leads Atletico and Barcelona by three points.

Barcelona will be looking to rebound from a demoralizing loss at Real Sociedad when it hosts Almeria.

Here are five things to know about the 26th round of Spanish games:

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KNOCK-OUT PUNCH

Real Madrid has looked unstoppable lately, stretching its unbeaten run to 27 games in all competitions following Wednesday's 6-1 rout of Schalke.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale are supplying the goals while Madrid's defense has kept opponents at bay. Goalkeepers Diego Lopez and Iker Casillas have shown no rust despite sharing the duties between three competitions.

''Our three forwards are so dangerous in attack,'' Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. ''(Schalke) might have been Bale's best game of the season, he's showing a lot more confidence in his play.''

The three Madrid forwards have combined to score 70 goals in all competitions to make Madrid the title favorite.

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ON THE ROPES

A full week without football might be just the rest Atletico's players needed as their title charge has hit a bit of a slump.

Atletico lost at Osasuna 3-0 to slip three points behind Madrid, and another loss will all but keep it from breaking a Madrid-Barcelona monopoly on the league that has lasted a decade.

''We know how important the derby is,'' Atletico striker Diego Costa said. ''If we lose, winning the league will be much more difficult. But I don't think we ever thought of ourselves as title contenders.''

Atletico has lost twice in three games since it went to the top the league for the first time since 1996.

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GOOD LUCK

Despite a poor effort in losing at Sociedad 3-1 last weekend, Barcelona is likely looking forward to Almeria's visit following all the scrutiny it has been under because of Neymar's transfer drama.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has been under pressure, too, and the Argentine will be absent from the touchline at the Camp Nou due to a ban.

''We're training hard. Because of Saturday's loss we're all upset with ourselves,'' said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who did not play at Sociedad. ''We know it's the moment of truth, we can't afford any more slip-ups.''

Barcelona has never lost in 11 meetings with Almeria, winning nine of those by a combined score of 31-1.

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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE HUNT

With Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico looking almost certain to finish in the top three, that leaves one qualifying place left for next year's Champions League.

Athletic Bilbao has held fourth place for a good chunk of the season, with Sociedad and Villarreal only four points behind the Basques.

Athletic hosts Granada on Friday, which means Sociedad will go to Sevilla and Villarreal welcomes last-place Real Betis on Sunday knowing exactly what results they will need to keep up the chase.

''We're involved in a really tough fight, against very difficult rivals who show they won't allow any type of advantage,'' Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo said.

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TEETHING ISSUES

Athletic's promising season has seen coach Ernesto Valverde employ a variety of experienced players, new arrivals and youth team standouts.

One of those, Guillermo Fernandez, was left with a lifelong reminder of his maiden Spanish league goal in the Basques' win at Betis on Sunday.

Fernandez headed home on his first touch as a second-half substitute and, in the ensuing frenzy to celebrate, the 20-year-old forward emerged without a tooth.

That won't keep Fernandez from keeping a place in Bilbao's team, however, with forward Ibai Gomez expected to be sidelined for two months by injury.

''He has an instinct for scoring goals and that's a great thing since we're in need of goals,'' Valverde said.

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Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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