5 things to know about the Spanish league
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid’s advantage at the top of the Spanish league has been squeezed down to a single point over Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid is only three points behind.
Barcelona can add pressure with a victory at Valladolid on Saturday, a day before Madrid faces Levante. Atletico has a tough trip to Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Here are five things to know about this weekend’s Spanish league matches:
Barcelona remains in the hunt for the treble despite feeling a wind of change is coming.
Lionel Messi is scoring but, surprisingly, his future remains in doubt as rumors swirl that Manchester City is ready to pay his 200 million euro ($275 million) buyout clause. There are also reports that the Argentina captain’s teammates are frustrated by his tendency to disappear during games.
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino’s future also continues to be questioned, and Neymar’s arrival has been marked by the saga surrounding his transfer from Santos.
Goalkeeper Victor Valdes had already said he would leave the club at the end of the season, and defender Carles Puyol announced Tuesday this would be his last season with the club, too.
“My generation and the one before don’t know about a Barca without Puyi in defense,” Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique wrote on his Facebook page. “I suppose nothing will be the same again.”
While Atletico looks to keep pace and Barcelona looks to avoid internal combustion, Real Madrid is remarkably enjoying a season without much drama.
The Spanish team remains in the hunt for the treble with forwards Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale all in good form, and the rest of its squad reinforced at nearly every position without injury worries.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has even managed to keep his goalkeepers happy despite relegating Iker Casillas to a backup role, although the Spain captain is the team’s choice in the Champions League.
It’s quite a change to three previous seasons under Jose Mourinho, who took a stab at his players’ vanity in an interview this week.
Atletico Madrid has had to scrap and fight harder than Madrid and Barcelona to remain in the hunt for the league title, but part of that cost will be felt Saturday in Vigo.
Striker Diego Costa is banned because of an accumulation of bookings, as is midfielder Arda Turan. Assistant coach German Burgos also begins serving the first of a three-game ban for his aggressive protest in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Madrid.
Diego Costa’s absence should provide David Villa with a rare start, while midfielder Diego Ribas should get the nod for Turan.
Barcelona has played a big hand in Celta Vigo’s impressive season.
Much like his older brother Thiago Alcantara at Bayern Munich, Rafinha has been a key driving force to his club’s success this season in guiding Celta’s attack to put it 11th in the stadnings. Rafinha, who is on-loan from Barcelona, was deemed the league’s most outstanding player in February.
Celta coach Luis Enrique is a well-known former Barcelona player who has managed to exploit Rafinha’s potential.
Celta has drawn its past two games at Balaidos Stadium while Atletico has lost two straight on the road.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ASPIRATIONS
Athletic Bilbao travels to Valencia on Sunday entrenched in fourth place, which secures the league’s final Champions League qualifying place.
The Basque team, which hasn’t played in Europe’s top-tier competition in more than a decade, holds a six-point advantage over neighbor Real Sociedad and is seven points ahead of Villarreal.
“We would have all signed on the dotted line to be in this situation at the start of the season,” Athletic midfielder Ander Iturraspe said. “But a lot of games remain, we’ve still got a lot to show right up to the end of the season.”
Real Sociedad faces Rayo Vallecano on Monday, and Villarreal is at Granada on Sunday.
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