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MADRID (AP) - Atletico Madrid will carry the momentum from its Champions League draw at Barcelona into the domestic title race, even if the 1-1 quarterfinal result left the Spanish leaders without two of its top playmakers.
Atletico faces Villarreal without striker Diego Costa and midfielder Arda Turan, who both picked up injuries against Barcelona and will be rested ahead of the return leg against its closest league rival.
Atletico leads Barcelona, which plays last-place Real Betis, by one point with 76 points while Real Madrid is third with 73 points before its tough trip to Real Sociedad.
Here are five things to watch from the 32nd round of games in the Spanish league:
Atletico Madrid’s 1-1 draw at Barcelona put the Spanish leader in prime position to advance to the Champions League semifinals for the first time since 1974, but it came at the cost of injuries.
But coach Diego Simeone is unlikely to rest any more key players when seventh-place Villarreal visits the Vicente Calderon on Saturday with Barcelona right on its heels in the Spanish league title race.
Striker Diego Costa and midfielder Arda Turan will rest with Wednesday’s return leg against Barcelona in mind, offering first-leg standout Diego Ribas another chance to play, while Raul Garcia will likely return after missing the match at Barcelona to suspension.
“We’re going to take advantage of our other forwards, like Raul Garcia, (David) Villa, and (Adrian) Lopez,” Simeone said.
While Barcelona’s image off the field continues to take a hit from more negative news, the team remains in contention for three trophies this season.
On Wednesday, FIFA banned Barcelona from signing any players in the next two transfer windows because breaching regulations in signing youth players. The punishment also comes on the heels of the drawn-out legal case surrounding Neymar’s signing. The Brazil striker’s arrival ultimately cost president Sandro Rosell his job.
Now, the Catalans must dismiss more off-field problems and focus on last-place Real Betis, which hopes spring a similar upset to that of emulate fellow struggler fellow struggler Real Valladolid, which beat Barcelona 1-0 at home.
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