Real face Atletico testAgence France-Presse . Madrid
A midweek programme brings no respite to the battle for La Liga, as Barcelona entertain Getafe today while leaders Real Madrid make the short trip to city rivals Atletico on Wednesday.
With seven games remaining and a trip to the Camp Nou later this month, Madrid cannot afford any more slip-ups after a 10-point gap over their rivals has been reduced to four in less than a month.
In that period Madrid have won just two out of five, drawing three matches, while Barca have been victorious in their last nine league outings.
The Catalans came from behind to beat Zaragoza 4-1 on Saturday while 24 hours later Madrid were ineffective in attack as they drew 0-0 at home to Valencia.
Barca midfielder Thiago Alcantara was quick to send out a message to Madrid after Saturday’s hard-fought victory.
‘Madrid will have to sweat blood to win this league,’ he said, as the two sides move closer to their April 21 showdown.
Barca’s opponents Getafe, who sit 10th and only one point from a Europa League place, were the first of only two teams to defeat them this season.
That 1-0 defeat in November has only been followed by a 3-2 loss at Osasuna in February, as Barca have scored a club record 161 goals in 54 matches in all competitions.
They will be without Cesc Fabregas on Tuesday after he picked up his fifth yellow card against Zaragoza, while Gerard Pique and Dani Alves are both doubts with muscular problems.
Atletico Madrid will look to do Barca a favour in Wednesday’s ‘Madrileno’ derby.
Real stretched their unbeaten streak against Atletico to 22 matches in November with a 4-1 home victory and Atletico have not managed to beat their great rivals this century. Their last win came back in 1999.
However, Atletico’s Brazilian full-back Filipe Luis insisted his team can get something out of Wednesday’s contest.
‘We have to respect them because they are leaders and one of the best Real Madrid teams in history but we’ll be in front of our own crowd and we’ll go all out for the win. We all dream about putting an end to this run of not beating Madrid,’ he said.
The arrival of new coach Diego Simeone in the Christmas break has improved an Atletico side that finds itself in the Europa League semi-finals and still battling for European qualification next season in seventh position.
Although Atletico lost 2-0 to direct rivals Levante on Sunday, Luis believes there are still enough games to finish in a European place.
‘While there is still hope I am one of those that believe we can make it, we can’t get into the Champions League until we reach a Europa League place,’ he said.
‘We have to win games and keep getting points so we’re taking it game by game to achieve that objective.’
Atletico will have to do without Salvio, Mario Suarez and Joao Miranda, who are all suspended after picking up cards in Sunday’s defeat.
Meanwhile, leading scorer Radamel Falcao will have to recover from the virus that kept him on the bench for most of the visit to Levante.
Real captain Iker Casillas is clear that Atletico will pose another tough challenge to his side’s title aspirations.
‘It’s a crucial game, they still have to fight for a European place and they have not beaten us for so long but it’s always a difficult place to go. All games are finals from now on. We just have to look to take the 3 points,’ he said.
Osasuna v Espanyol (1800 GMT), Real Sociedad v Real Betis (1800 GMT), Barcelona v Getafe (1900 GMT)
Valencia v Rayo Vallecano (1800 GMT), Granada v Athletic Bilbao (1800 GMT), Sporting Gijon v Levante (1800 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid (2000 GMT)
Villarreal v Malaga (1800 GMT), Racing Santander v Mallorca (1900 GMT), Sevilla v Zaragoza (2000 GMT).
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