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Real’s Pepe (left), fights for the ball with Barcelona’s Marc Bartra during the final of the Copa del Rey between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Mestalla Stadium in Valencia, Spain, on April 16. (AP)
Atletico look to edge towards title Barcelona have raft of injury problems

MADRID, April 18, (AFP): Atletico Madrid can take another step towards their first league title in 18 years when they host Elche at the Vicente Calderon on Friday. Los Rojiblancos need to win just four of their five remaining games to seal the championship and will be keen to finish off relegation threatened Elche early on with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against Chelsea to come on Tuesday. “Within the group the only thing that is worrying us is how to approach the match against Elche in the best way possible,” said Atletico boss Diego Simeone. “It is a final for us and we have to work out the manner in which to play and make the situations that we want in the game come about.” Atletico’s near flawless record at home in both La Liga and the Champions League this season has been helped in recent weeks by incredible backing from the club’s fans.

And Simeone wants the Calderon full and jumping once more to drag his players towards the title. “We want to see the stadium in tune with what we have seen recently and what remains in the season. “There are three games left — Elche, Chelsea and Malaga and we want to see a full stadium.” Atletico will be boosted by the presence of top scorer Diego Costa as the injury he suffered when he crashed into the post after scoring his 34th goal of the season against Getafe last weekend was not as serious as first feared. Arda Turan remains the only senior player absent from Simeone’s squad due to injury, but the Turkish international is hopeful of facing Chelsea in midweek. Second-placed Real Madrid have the weekend off after overcoming Barcelona 2-1 in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday as they prepare for a Champions League semi-final of their own against Bayern Munich.

Barca, though, have to try and put a nightmare week behind them as three consecutive defeats in different competitions has left them on the verge of not winning a major trophy for the first time in six years. The Catalans are four points adrift of Atletico and have a raft of injury problems for the visit of Champions League chasing Athletic Bilbao to the Camp Nou on Sunday. Neymar has been ruled out for the majority of what remains of the campaign due to a metatarsal injury in his left foot, which will keep him out for four weeks. Jordi Alba is also out for three weeks with a hamstring injury, whilst Marc Bartra is doubtful meaning Carles Puyol could be forced into a first appearance in six weeks. Barca need to win the remainder of their matches and have both Atletico and Real slip up if they are to get matters into their own hands after losing 1-0 at Granada last weekend.

However, boss Gerardo Martino insists the champions will keep going until they are mathematically ruled out of the title race. “There is no perfect recipe to recover. The league doesn’t have a favourable look for us at the moment, but we have the obligamtion to fight until the last day,” he said. Sevilla will certainly be cheering on Martino’s men on Sunday as they look to close the gap on Athletic in fourth place to just three points ahead of a meeting between the two sides next weekend. Unai Emery’s men will need to keep their excellent form of late going though as they host Granada in an Andalusian derby.

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