Atletico aims to stay atop in Spain with another home win

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, from Argentina, holds up his Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) award as European Footballer of the Year prior the Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/AP

MADRID (AP) Victory for Atletico Madrid this weekend will keep Diego Simeone's team atop the Spanish league going into a much-anticipated encounter with second-place Barcelona.

Atletico hosts Sevilla on Sunday looking to keep alive its nine-game winning streak at the Vicente Calderon Stadium.

Simeone's side has won 11 of its 14 home games this season suffering just three setbacks. A 1-1 draw against Real Madrid in October and 2-1 losses to Barcelona and to Benfica. The loss to Benfica in the group stage of the Champions League in late September marked the team's last defeat at the Vicente Calderon.

Barcelona, which has a game in hand, will play at Malaga on Saturday, when it will likely see the return of Lionel Messi to the squad after a minor injury.

If both Atletico and Barcelona win, it will set up a matchup between first and second next weekend at the Camp Nou.

Atletico has 47 points from 20 games, two more than Barcelona.

''We are right where we want to be,'' Atletico Madrid captain Gabi Fernandez said. ''It's great for us to be fighting at the top, to be fighting with Barcelona, virtually tied in points. We are where we want to be and now we'll see how far we can go.''

Here are other things to watch for in the Spanish league this weekend:


Not far behind the frontrunners in the standings is Real Madrid, which will play at struggling Real Betis on Sunday to try win its third in a row under new coach Zinedine Zidane.

After the former player took over, Madrid defeated Deportivo La Coruna 5-0 and Sporting Gijon 5-1 to move within four points of Atletico's lead.

It will be coach Zidane's first game away, but it's against an opponent that hasn't won in 10, and has lost five of its last six matches.


Real Madrid will be without Gareth Bale for the match against Real Betis because of an injury, but defender Sergio Ramos is expected to play after recovering from a shoulder problem.

Bale hurt a right-leg muscle in the 5-1 win against Sporting Gijon on Sunday and is expected to miss at least three weeks. The team expects him to be back for the knockout stage of the Champions League, when Madrid faces Roma.


Messi didn't play in Barcelona's Copa del Rey win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday because of a minor knock to his leg in the team's previous game, but the playmaker is expected to feature at Malaga on Saturday.

Also returning should be striker Luis Suarez, who missed the game against Athletic because of a suspension. Suarez is the Spanish league's leading scorer with 18 goals.

Barcelona has won six of its last seven matches and hasn't lost in 23 matches in all competitions.


Fourth-place Villarreal will try to stay close to the frontrunners when it plays at Espanyol on Saturday. The team is hoping to bounce back after a disappointing goalless draw at home to struggling Real Betis in the previous round – a result that snapped its six-game winning streak in the league. Villarreal has 40 points from 20 games.

Fifth-place Celta Vigo plays at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, while sixth-place Eibar travels to Bilbao on Sunday to try to win its fifth in a row.

Valencia will face Deportivo in La Coruna on Sunday to try to give coach Gary Neville his first league win since taking over six rounds ago. Valencia is only 11th in the 20-team standings with 24 points.

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