- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Fernando Torres could make his Atletico Madrid return seven years after last wearing the red and white-striped shirt when the defending league champions host Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

The first leg of the last 16 brings together the winners of the last two cups. Madrid eliminated Atletico en route to winning last season.

Atletico has already beaten Madrid in the league this season, and will be looking to build momentum to carry over to the league.

Also, Barcelona will host Elche on Thursday after losing at Real Sociedad in the league over the weekend.

Here are some things to know about this week’s Copa del Rey matches:

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TORRES RETURNS

Torres has returned to the boyhood club he left in 2007 to go to England, where he flourished at Liverpool before beginning a decline with Chelsea that led to his disappointing stint at AC Milan to start this season.

Now he is back at the club that was a perennial loser when he played there, now transformed into a multi-title winner.

Just how much the 30-year-old Torres can offer a consolidated Atletico squad is to be seen, but he has already shown his ability to thrill its faithful by filling the Vicente Calderon with 45,000 fans who turned out to greet him on Sunday.

Torres arrives with Atletico’s supporters divided in the aftermath of a violent clash between one of the club’s radical fan groups with rival “ultras” of Deportivo La Coruna that left one man dead in November.

The Madrid native called for unity.

“The people who love Atletico know that they win points for the team,” Torres said. “Last year, the team was champion because we won many points here (at home). On Wednesday, I’m sure we will see a great atmosphere like in other derbies. Atletico is above everything else and our fans will help us win and grow.”

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NEW YEAR

Madrid ended 2014 on a 22-game winning streak across all competitions, a record for a Spanish club.

That came to a halt when Valencia fought back from a goal down to wipe out Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty at Mestalla Stadium and win 2-1.

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti took the loss in stride.

“After 22 wins this could happen,” Ancelotti said. “We’re well positioned in the league. We’re alive in several competitions. This defeat won’t affect us because we have been doing things well.”

Madrid now faces a second tough outing against an Atletico side that has gotten the upper hand of their rivalry after years of Madrid dominance.

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BARCELONA’S BENCH

Both of Barcelona’s main sports dailies splashed photos of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Dani Alves and Gerard Pique watching from the bench as Barcelona fell behind early in a 1-0 loss at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

El Mundo Deportivo’s headline read “What a Waste,” while SPORT was more pointed in its criticism of the coach’s decision to rest his stars with the headline “Luis Enrique Throws Away Points.”

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has been criticized all season for his constant changing of his starting 11, and that was only fed by him keeping Messi and Neymar off the field until the second half.

Barcelona faces Elche as it prepares for Atletico’s visit in the league next.

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FIRST DIVISION

With no lower-division sides surviving the round of 32, the rest of the bracket is completed by topflight teams.

Athletic Bilbao visits Celta Vigo on Tuesday, when Malaga hosts Levante. On Wednesday, it’s: Valencia vs. Espanyol; Villarreal vs. Real Sociedad; and Almeria vs. Getafe.

Sevilla visits Granada also on Thursday.

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