Sat, May 03, 2014 - Page 18 News List

Atletico, Real turn focus to race for La Liga title

WINNING WAYS:The two city rivals, who are to face off in the Champions League final next month, both have a chance to win the title, but Atletico has the upper hand

AFP, MADRID

Atletico Madrid’s Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld, center, controls the ball during team training at Majadahonda Sports City in Madrid, Spain, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA

Fresh from reaching a first Champions League final in 40 years on Wednesday, Atletico Madrid insist they are already focused on their La Liga title run-in, starting with a trip to Levante UD tomorrow.

Atletico are to face bitter neighbors Real Madrid in a historic Champions League final in Lisbon next month, but in the meantime they are in the driving seat as they need just two wins from their last three games to seal their first La Liga title for 18 years.

Diego Simeone’s men are on a run of nine straight league wins and another victory away to mid-table Levante will give Los Rojiblancos the chance to wrap up the championship at home to Malaga next weekend, and avoid needing to get something from their daunting visit to Barcelona on the final day of the campaign.

Even in the wake of his side’s famous 3-1 win over Chelsea, Simeone insisted he was immediately “preparing and focusing on the objective of beating Levante.”

Fullback Filipe Luis echoed his coach’s sentiments and believes they will have beaten “the best team in Europe” if they go on to win La Liga or the Champions League.

“This team never give up. There are a lot of very important games before Lisbon and we are going to try and win them all,” he said.

“Real Madrid are the most difficult opponent you can face, they are the best team in Europe in my opinion, but we always approach games with humility and try our best to win. There is a long way to go though and now Levante is the most important game,” Luis added.

Simeone is expected to make a few changes to the side that started at Stamford Bridge, with captain Gabi back from suspension and the likes of Raul Garcia and David Villa set to feature.

However, top-scorer Diego Costa should be fit to start despite being withdrawn in midweek due to a knee injury.

Real Madrid could be nine points adrift of Atletico, albeit with two games in hand, by the time they kick off later tomorrow at home to Valencia.

Los Blancos enjoyed a fantastic win in midweek themselves, as they hammered European champions Bayern Munich 4-0 at the Allianz Arena to qualify for their first European final for 12 years.

Having already lifted the Copa del Rey, Real could still win an historic treble this season, should Atletico stumble in their final few league games.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti is savoring the success of his first season in charge.

“Obviously I am very happy, you have to enjoy the good moments because, sooner or later, the bad moments will come,” he told Sky Italia. “It gives me great satisfaction to take Real Madrid to the final 12 years later.”

Barcelona also maintain a slight chance of retaining the title, although they need both Atletico and Real to slip up, as well as winning their three remaining games.

The Catalans can close the gap on Atletico to one point when they host relegation-threatened Getafe earlier tomorrow and, despite looking like they will miss out on a major trophy for the first time in six years, midfielder Sergio Busquets insists they have to put the pressure on both sides from the capital.

“We still have the end of La Liga to come, but it has not been a good season when it comes to results,” he said on Thursday. “We know that we don’t depend on ourselves and that makes it more difficult, but we still have hope. We need to exhaust all the possibilities.”

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