- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

MADRID (AP) - Looking to find a way to end its freefall, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has his hopes pinned on starting strong against Deportivo in La Coruna.

Barcelona was nine points clear of Atletico Madrid just a few weeks ago and appeared on course to defend its Spanish title, but the Catalan club hasn’t won in four straight league games and its 39-game unbeaten streak was halted by a home loss to Real Madrid this month.

To make things worse, Barcelona was eliminated by Atletico in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

“We have to win this first match because we are in a very difficult situation,” Luis Enrique said Tuesday. “It will be hard because of where we will be playing and because of our opponent. If we can win, our confidence will increase.”

All three title contenders face difficult opponents on Wednesday. Atletico is at fifth-place Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid hosts fourth-place Villarreal.

With five matches to go, Barcelona and Atletico are even at the top of the standings and Real Madrid is only one point behind.

Barcelona hasn’t beaten Deportivo in two games. The champions squandered a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou earlier this season.

Real Madrid hosts Villarreal boosted by seven straight league wins, but coach Zinedine Zidane will be without the injured Gareth Bale.

“We haven’t won anything yet,” said Zidane, whose team was 12 points behind Barcelona last month. “We are in a good position. We are in contention in the league and in the Champions League, but we haven’t won anything. The players know it.”

Atletico Madrid, which has won seven of its last eight league games, heads to Bilbao filled with confidence after finally erasing Barcelona’s lead.

“It’s difficult to know what’s going to happen in the next games,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “But I’m certain that we only depend on ourselves (to win the title).”

It wasn’t that long ago that many believed Atletico had no chance because Barcelona was so good. But after the 2-1 loss to Valencia at the Camp Nou on Sunday, Luis Enrique said anxiety has played a role in the team’s recent poor performances.

“We are in a negative dynamic,” Luis Enrique said. “The worst thing would be a repeat of what happened against Valencia. We created five clear chances and couldn’t score, they scored in the first one they had with an own-goal.”


Tales Azzoni on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tazzoni

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