Real Madrid and Celta Vigo play for Spanish league lead
MADRID (AP) Celta Vigo will be under the spotlight again on Saturday when it hosts Real Madrid with a chance to move into the Spanish league lead.
Celta is tied with Madrid with 18 points from eight matches and a home victory can leave the surprising team from the Galicia region in sole possession of first place.
Third-place Barcelona, which hosts Eibar on Sunday, also has 18 points entering the weekend, but trails Madrid and Celta on goal difference.
Celta and Madrid are the only teams still unbeaten in the Spanish league, and Saturday’s matchup has attracted a lot of attention across Spain. Tickets for the match at the Balaidos Stadium in Vigo sold out on Monday, five days in advance.
The crowd of nearly 30,000 will be hoping to see the hosts beat a Spanish powerhouse for the second time this season. Celta shocked Barcelona with a 4-1 win last month, when the defending champions still had Lionel Messi in the squad before his injury.
”It’s great to know that our fans are optimistic,” Celta goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez said. ”It shows that we are doing things the right way. Hopefully they will leave the stadium celebrating another big victory, which will be very important for us.”
Celta played five straight years in the second division before returning to the top flight in 2013, and since then it has twice finished in the top 10 in the standings.
Coaches and players began the season admitting that Celta’s main goal was to remain in the first division, but another victory against a top opponent could help change everyone’s expectations.
”We realize that it’s going to be a very difficult game. We will be playing against one of the best teams in the world,” Alvarez said. ”We will need to be focused from the start. We know the importance of a victory like this in front of our fans.”
Celta is led by striker Manuel ”Nolito” Agudo, who is one of the league’s top scorers with six goals and was named the tournament’s player of the month in September.
Here are other things to look for in the Spanish league this weekend:
Real Madrid travels to Vigo not long after a Champions League trip to Paris, where it drew Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday.
Rafa Benitez’s team is depleted because of injuries and many of its top players won’t be available for the game at Celta. Gareth Bale picked up a left-leg muscle injury in Madrid’s 3-0 league win over Levante on Saturday, while striker Karim Benzema returned from international duty with France with a hamstring problem. Pepe, James Rodriguez and Dani Carvajal are also likely to miss the match at the Balaidos.
The win over Levante last week was Madrid’s first since a two game winless streak in the league.
With Neymar thriving, Barcelona is coming off two consecutive victories, including one at BATE Borisov in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The Catalan club can return to the Spanish league lead if it defeats Eibar at the Camp Nou and Celta and Madrid draw in Vigo. It can also reach the top by winning by a margin that betters its goal difference compared to Madrid and Celta.
But the team left Belarus with yet another injury concern, as Sergi Roberto had to be substituted early in the first half because of a left leg muscle ailment.
Messi remains sidelined with a knee injury and it’s unclear when he will be fit to return to action.
Fourth-place Atletico Madrid hosts Valencia at the Calderon Stadium on Sunday, with both teams boosted by Champions League victories.
Atletico routed Astana 4-0 to take the Group C lead in the European tournament, while Valencia defeated Gent 2-1 to grab second place in Group H. Both teams are in comfortable position to advance to the next round and can focus on the Spanish league.
Atletico is two points behind the league leaders and can move into first place with a victory and a combination of other results. Valencia is in sixth place, six points off the lead.
Sixth-place Villarreal also is two points off the lead. It plays at Las Palmas on Sunday.
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