MADRID (AP) — After both teams staved off elimination from the Champions League, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid now face each other.
The Spanish rivals meet on Saturday at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in a match that could prove key in the title race. Atlético can open a nine-point gap on fourth-place Madrid, leaving the defending champions in a difficult position to repeat for the first time in more than decade.
Both teams were in danger of being eliminated in the Champions League on Wednesday, but Madrid pulled through with a 2-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach in Group B and Atlético advanced with a 2-0 victory at Salzburg in Group A.
“The players showed their character from start to finish. This team has this ability to show its worth during difficult times,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. “We have to enjoy the moment but we also need to rest because we have another match on Saturday.”
Madrid was winless in three straight league games before edging Sevilla 1-0 on Saturday to remain in fourth place with 20 points from 11 matches. Atlético, which has 26 points from 10 matches, is the only unbeaten team in the league this season, having won its last seven games in the competition.
Atlético will be trying to win eight in a row for the first time since it won nine straight in 2014, the year it won its last league title.
“I don’t consider this a final because there so many matches yet to be played,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said. “Madrid will always be contending.”
Madrid hasn’t lost to Atlético in eight consecutive league games, with three wins and five draws since 2016.
Unable to put an end to its struggles, Barcelona hosts relegation-threatened Levante on Sunday looking to rebound from two consecutive setbacks — a 3-0 home loss to Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday and a 2-1 defeat at Cádiz in the Spanish league on Saturday.
The Catalan club is ninth in the standings after 10 matches. It trails Real Madrid by six points and Atlético by 12 points.
“We are not where we want to be but we have some matches ahead in which we can recover some of the points that we’ve lost,” Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen said. “That’s our goal for these next weeks.”
Second-place Real Sociedad hosts mid-table Eibar in a match between Basque Country clubs on Sunday. Sociedad will be looking to extend its unbeaten streak to nine matches. It won six straight in the league before drawing the last two.
Third-place Villarreal, coached by Unai Emery, is unbeaten in 14 games in all competitions and has drawn three straight in the league, including at Sociedad. It will visit Manuel Pellegrini-coached Real Betis on Sunday.
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