As Atleti stay put on top, Real, Barca aim to push momentum - GulfToday

As Atleti stay put on top, Real, Barca aim to push momentum

Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid have used the derby victory to string together an unbeaten run of eight games, seven of them wins and five with clean sheets. File

Atletico Madrid have stayed strong at the top of La Liga, but the Spanish League leaders cannot afford to be complacent with Real Madrid having hit their stride and Barcelona gaining momentum, ahead of what could prove a crucial month in the title race.

A surprise loss to third division side Cornella in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday came in stark contrast to Atletico’s form in the league, where only defeat to their capital city rivals last month blots an otherwise perfect run of results that stretches back to mid-October.

Two narrow victories over Getafe and Alaves last week made it four league victories on the bounce since Atletico’s setback at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium.

Diego Simeone’s men had caved when it mattered most and many thought that spelled danger for their prospects longer-term.

But while Zinedine Zidane’s Madrid have used the derby victory to string together an unbeaten run of eight games, seven of them wins and five with clean sheets, Atletico have also responded.

Luis Suarez scored consecutive winners against Getafe and Alaves, his tap-in at Mendizorroza on Sunday prompting the kind of celebrations to suggest his team genuinely believes they can go the distance.

When Madrid last put together a run like this, it was to secure last season’s title, as Barcelona wilted with the trophy in sight.

Yet Atletico have marched on, even if the last-gasp nature of their win against Alaves, coupled with Wednesday’s defeat by Cornella, means there can be no room for complacency this weekend.

Atletico face Athletic Bilbao on Saturday and then Sevilla on Tuesday, two tough games that will again test their mettle, especially as Bilbao will be eager to secure a first win under new coach Marcelino Garcia Toral.

Madrid, in contrast, have what appears to be a kind period in front of them. Their next six matches are all against teams currently in the bottom seven of the table, starting at Osasuna on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Zidane has tested negative for Covid-19 and has been given the green light to oversee Real Madrid’s game at Osasuna on Saturday, a source at the club said.

Barcelona look rejuvenated too, their 3-2 win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday coming after a scintillating performance from Lionel Messi, while the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Pedri, Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong all contributed to a slick attacking display.

It was also enough to rekindle their hope, even if a seven-point deficit behind Atletico, who have two games in hand on both the Catalans and Madrid, still looks a large gap to close.

If Barca can win away at Granada on Saturday, belief will grow. Madrid travel to Osasuna later on Saturday night. Earlier in the day, Sevilla, in sixth, face Real Sociedad in fourth.

Spanish League fixtures (times GMT):

On Saturday: Sevilla vs Real Sociedad (1300), Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao (1515), Granada vs Barcelona (1730), Osasuna vs Real Madrid (2000); On Sunday: Levante vs Eibar (1300), Cadiz vs Alaves (1515), Elche vs Getafe (1730), Real Valladolid vs Valencia (2000); On Monday: Huesca vs Real Betis (2000)

GIANTKILLERS CORNELLA FACE BARCA IN KING’S CUP: Third-division Cornella were rewarded for knocking Liga leaders Atletico Madrid out of the Spanish Cup with a home game against Barcelona in the round-of-16 draw on Friday.

Real Madrid have also been paired with a team from Segunda B, Alcoyano, who eliminated top-flight stragglers Huesca 2-1 on Thursday.

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