Back to normal in Spain: Top 3 teams fighting for the lead
MADRID (AP) — There is a sense of normalcy again in Spain as the country’s top three teams enter the weekend fighting for the Spanish league lead.
Some smaller teams had been hanging around the top of the standings in the first few rounds, but now it’s back to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid up front.
The 10th round begins with Madrid and Barcelona tied with 21 points, two more than third-place Atletico. Celta Vigo and Villarreal, which had been among the leaders recently, are fourth and fifth, respectively.
Atletico Madrid plays at Deportivo La Coruna on Thursday night, Real Madrid hosts Las Palmas on Saturday and Barcelona plays at Getafe, also Saturday.
Here is what to look for in the Spanish league this weekend:
BACK TO ACTION:
Real Madrid is ahead of Barcelona on goal difference and can maintain its lead with a win against struggling Las Palmas at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Unbeaten and seeking its third straight victory, Madrid may be boosted by the return of striker Karim Benzema and defender Pepe, who had been nursing injuries. Both players practiced with the squad on Wednesday and should be available to coach Rafa Benitez.
Midfielder James Rodriguez and defender Alvaro Arbeloa also practiced but should remain off the squad for now.
Recently promoted Las Palmas has only one victory this season and has lost three of its last four games. It is coming off a scoreless home draw against Villarreal.
Barcelona travels to Getafe on Saturday with plenty off-the-field problems.
This week the club learned that Spain’s national court rejected a request by striker Neymar — the league’s leading scorer with eight goals — to throw out a probe into alleged irregularities involving his transfer from Santos two years ago.
Defender Javier Mascherano on Wednesday was suspended two games for harshly complaining with a linesman in the team’s 5-2 win over Rayo Vallecano, and on Thursday he admitted at a Barcelona court that he failed to pay nearly 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in taxes owed for 2011 and 2012.
Coach Luis Enrique remains without the injured Lionel Messi, and this weekend he also won’t be able to count on right back Douglas, who was injured in the team’s 0-0 draw against third-tier team Villanovense in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday. The Brazilian hurt his right foot and is expected to be sidelined for about eight weeks.
Atletico Madrid faces Deportivo La Coruna with coach Diego Simeone likely to keep the same starting lineup from last week’s win against Valencia, the team’s third victory in a row.
Colombian striker Jackson Martinez is expected to be among the starters for the fourth straight match, while Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, who has scored in each of the last two rounds, would be among the starting 11 for the third consecutive time.
Deportivo is sixth in the standings with 13 points and hasn’t won in three rounds.
Villarreal won five of its first six league games to jump to the top of the standings before being halted by a three-match winless streak that included two losses and a draw at Las Palmas. It will have a chance to rebound when it hosts Sevilla on Saturday.
Celta Vigo defeated Barcelona at home and had a chance to take the league lead when it hosted Madrid last week, but it lost 3-1. It will play at Real Sociedad on Saturday.
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