Atletico’s Liga hopes boosted after Barca win
MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid can dismiss any pretender label when it comes to challenging for the Spanish league after eliminating Barcelona from the Champions League on Wednesday, a victory that should provide it with extra momentum as they fight for the domestic title.
Atletico leads Barcelona by a single point with six rounds to play, and reaching the semifinals of Europe’s top competition for the first time since 1974 certainly fuels belief that coach Diego Simeone’s team is for real.
Atletico has a short trip to crosstown club Getafe on Sunday, a day after Barcelona plays at Granada.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, welcomes 19th-place Almeria on Saturday sitting three points behind Atletico with Cristiano Ronaldo unlikely to be available.
Here are five things to know about the 33rd round of games:
ATLETICO’S SQUAD: Atletico Madrid has won six straight Liga games but its latest victory – and perhaps most important – against Barcelona in Europe showed it can rely on fringe players too.
Striker Diego Costa and playmaker Arda Turan both missed the 1-0 win against Barcelona to injury, but little-used Adrian Lopez stepped in for Costa and set up Koke’s winner.
Adrian had been passed over for six straight games before replacing Costa in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Villarreal, with the Spanish leaders showing they have a deep enough squad to challenge for the double.
”A lot of people have confidence in him,” Simeone said of Adrian, who may be called upon again with Costa’s status being uncertain.
RONALDO OUT: Real Madrid is likely to be without Cristiano Ronaldo for Saturday’s match against Almeria after medical scans Thursday revealed the Portugal forward has a muscle injury in his already sore left leg.
Ronaldo, who has scored 45 goals in all competitions including a league-leading 28, is also a doubt for the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona on Wednesday.
Madrid defender Marcelo returned to training on Thursday after the Brazil international missed the Champions League quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund plus last weekend’s league win over Real Sociedad.
BARCELONA REBOUND: Barcelona will be looking to turn the page Saturday at Granada as it focuses on catching Atletico in the league after getting eliminated by the Madrid club in the Champions League.
”We need to forget about this and start anew,” Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said.
Barcelona needs a good run of form as it hosts Atletico on the final matchday at its Camp Nou Stadium, when a victory could allow it to retain its Spanish title – depending on results in the run-up to the league finale.
ATHLETIC ON COURSE
Fourth-place Athletic Bilbao hasn’t shown any strain from the pressures that come with chasing a Champions League spot.
The Basque-only club has lost only one of its last eight league matches to hold a six-point lead over fifth-place Sevilla. Sevilla is three points ahead of Real Sociedad, which is at Celta Vigo on Saturday.
”To be virtually qualified for Europe is an is a spectacular achievement,” midfielder Ander Iturraspe said. Bilbao is looking to move closer to at least clinching a Europa League spot with a victory over Malaga on Monday.
Real Betis hosts Sevilla in what should be a passionate Seville derby as both clubs eye positioning for next season.
Betis is last and nine points from safety with games quickly running out, while Sevilla knows it must overhaul Athletic Bilbao to have any chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
Sevilla knocked Betis out of the Europa League on penalties last month.
”There is a desire to gain revenge in a sporting sense after they knocked us out of that tie,” Betis forward Jorge Molina said.
Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP