Atletico, Barca in battle to chase Real

Fernando Torres celebrating one of his two goals in Atletico Madrid's 5-0 walloping of Sporting Gijon. Atletico play Barcelona.
Fernando Torres celebrating one of his two goals in Atletico Madrid's 5-0 walloping of Sporting Gijon. Atletico play Barcelona.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MADRID • Fernando Torres believes Atletico Madrid travel to Barcelona today at just the right time after emphatically bouncing back with three wins over the past week.

The showdown is the first major clash of the La Liga season, but, despite their free-scoring form, both Spanish football sides face the prospect of being cut adrift from league leaders Real Madrid even at this early stage.

"It's a good time to visit Barcelona," Torres said after netting twice in Atletico's 5-0 thrashing of Sporting Gijon on Saturday. "It seems like they are playing as we have become accustomed to.

"They are the most difficult opponents we have faced in the last few years without a doubt and we know how difficult it will be. But when you are winning and playing well, it always gives you that little more confidence."

Atletico scored 10 times and kept three clean sheets in seeing off Celta Vigo, PSV Eindhoven and Sporting in eight days.

However, they already trail city rivals Real by four points after disappointing draws with Alaves and Leganes to open the campaign.

"We just needed to find the goals because we have been consistent in the way we have played despite the two draws," said Torres.

Despite dumping Barca out of the Champions League twice in the past three years, Atletico have not won at the Camp Nou since Torres scored twice in a 3-1 victory during his first stint at the club in 2006.

Barca also hit five against newly promoted Leganes to back up their 7-0 hammering of Celtic in the Champions League with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar scoring 10 times in their first two starts of the season together.

However, a shock home defeat by Alaves earlier this month leaves Luis Enrique's men three points behind Real in the early running for the title. Real can extend their lead at the top before Barca and Atletico kick off and set a La Liga record with a 17th straight win at home to Villarreal earlier today.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale missed Sunday's 2-0 win at Espanyol due to illness and injury respectively. However, both returned to training on Monday and are expected to start.

Villarreal are unbeaten in the league this season as back-to-back wins have taken them up to sixth.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

REAL MADRID V VILLARREAL
StarHub Ch213, tomorrow, 1.55am

BARCELONA V ATLETICO MADRID
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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2016, with the headline 'Atletico, Barca in battle to chase Real'. Print Edition | Subscribe