Madrid, Spain (SportsNetwork.com) - It's rare for Atletico Madrid to find itself ensconced in a title race when April rolls around, but that is precisely what has transpired through the first eight months of the La Liga season.
Atletico enters round 32 of the Spanish season at the top the league with 76 points, one point better than Barcelona and three points better than Real Madrid. And Diego Simeone's men will have the opportunity to retain first place with a win over Villarreal at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
The Rojiblancos traditionally have faded out of the title race toward the end of the season, but this campaign has seen the club resist such a dip. Raul Garcia, one of Atletico's longest-tenured players, believes that this squad has the motivation to stay top.
"Since January we've been on the topic of fuel," the Atletico midfielder said. "The team is showing everyday that if it's not because of fuel, it's because of ambition. We always look for anything to make the match progress. Teams come here to try to win some points. We are very aware that all the matches are complicated, our rivals have much on the line, both at the top and the bottom. We only think of staying at the top, the longer the better."
Atletico is coming off of a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in Champions League play, a match that required the Catalans to come back from a goal down on home soil. Gerardo Martino's side will remain home to face Real Betis at Camp Nou on Saturday as the reigning champions will look to match Atletico's result from earlier in the day.
Real Madrid, meanwhile, can climb to top spot on goal difference should Atletico and Barcelona suffer defeats on Saturday. Carlo Ancelotti's men, flying high after a 3-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, will head to the Anoeta on Saturday for a potentially tricky fixture against Real Sociedad.
Rounding out Saturday's action, Rayo Vallecano, which saw its five-game unbeaten come to an end last time out, will attempt to pull further away from the relegation zone when it welcomes Celta Vigo to the Campo de Futbol de Vallecas.
Valladolid and Getafe did well to pick up wins last week, and they will look to keep that trend going on Sunday when they face Valencia and Elche, respectively.
Malaga and Granada, separated by a single point in the La Liga table, will square off at La Rosaleda on Sunday while Sevilla, after suffering a narrow defeat to FC Porto in Europa League action, will look to bounce back against Espanyol.
Monday's lone match will see Levante welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Ciudad de Valencia while Friday's relegation six-pointer saw Osasuna claim a 2-1 win at Almeria to climb out of the drop zone.