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5 things to know about the Spanish league

October 31, 2013

MADRID (AP) — After the setback of losing at Spanish leader Barcelona, Real Madrid responded with a ferocious victory at home where Gareth Bale finally looked to be finding his stride.

Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to lose his at Madrid as the Portugal forward responded to Sepp Blatter’s slight with a hat trick to keep the pressure up on Barcelona and Atletico Madrid going into the next round of games.

Here are five things to know about this weekend’s games:

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ALMOST THERE

Gareth Bale said he’s still not 100 percent, but the world’s most expensive football player certainly gave Real Madrid fans a glimpse of what to expect when he will be.

Bale scored two goals and assisted on two more in Wednesday’s 7-3 win over Sevilla, the first time he’s completed a full 90 minutes for Madrid.

“It’s been important for my fitness level,” Bale said. “Right now I have to keep getting better and work hard and I’ll try to be 100 percent as soon as possible.”

Cristiano Ronaldo kept pace with Atletico forward Diego Costa in the goal-scoring race by taking his league tally to 11, and celebrated with a military salute directed toward Blatter for the FIFA president’s remarks that he preferred watching Lionel Messi.

Madrid plays city rival Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.

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FINDING HIS STRIDE

While Bale and Ronaldo are in-form, Messi is struggling to match his usual heights.

The Barcelona star looked desperate to score at the end of a 3-0 win at Celta Vigo, often overlooking open teammates in a bid to add to his league tally of eight goals.

The Argentina captain hasn’t scored a league goal in more than a month, but luckily striker Alexis Sanchez has found his stride with the Chilean scoring six times so far.

Barcelona’s attack hasn’t quite soared under coach Gerardo Martino, but it certainly has been successful in earning 31 of a possible 33 points to lead the league. The Catalans will have a tough test on Friday with a crosstown derby at Espanyol, with Adriano is questionable to play.

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FOR COUNTRY

Atletico Madrid’s title charge has come on the back of striker Diego Costa’s form, but now the Brazilian-born striker has the pressure of his native country threatening to strip him of his citizenship.

Brazil is threatening the action after Costa, a naturalized Spaniard, chose to play for Spain over Brazil in the buildup to the World Cup, with November’s friendlies the first time he will wear the jersey of the World Cup winners.

Costa, who has scored 11 goals in 10 games, credits his experience in Spain with building him into the player he is following a trajectory that has seen him play for Valladolid and Rayo before.

Atletico may be without playmaker Arda Turan for Sunday’s game against Athletic Bilbao.

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IN THE DUMPS

Valencia heads into Sunday’s game at Getafe reeling from three straight losses that has Miroslav Djukic’s position in question.

Losing 2-1 at home to last-place Almeria has put the Serbian coach’s short tenure in trouble. But Djukic is not relenting.

“At this moment we are very vulnerable but I feel the strength to continue,” Djukic said. “The team isn’t playing well, that is evident, but I believe I have the capacity to get us out of this.”

Djukic reportedly still has the backing of the debt-ridden club, although the patience shown may not last with the club languishing in mid-table in a season without Champions League play.

Valencia will be without forward Andres Guardado and defender Joao Pereira against Getafe because of injury.

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GOOD TO BE AWAY

Real Betis may be looking forward to Sunday’s trip to Malaga for the chance to get away from its own fans.

The match between Andalucian clubs comes days after a number of Betis ultras were allowed into practice to harangue players and coach Pepe Mel over the poor start to the season.

Despite the ugly nature of the impromptu meeting, Mel said the talk was positive with fans re-iterating that the club cannot allow another result like the 5-0 loss to Atletico. Another defeat could provide less constructive dialogue next time, however.

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Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter @PaulLogoAP

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