Barcelona, Atletico aim to extend record starts

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Dani AlvesPhoto: reuters
Dani AlvesPhoto: reuters

Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will look to extend their best ever starts to the Spanish league with wins against defensive stalwarts Levante and Sevilla.

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has led the Catalan club to an unbeaten record of 11 wins and one draw through the opening 12 rounds of his debut season, and Atletico is keeping pace only three points behind them.

Lionel Messi is fueling Barcelona with a league-high 17 goals. The Argentina forward has scored 80 times in 2012 for club and country and is only five goals away from the single-year record set by Gerd Mueller for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972.

On Saturday, third-place Real Madrid will visit the unpredictable Real Betis.

Barcelona, which has had several injuries in defense, kept its opponents scoreless on Tuesday for only the sixth time through 20 games this season.

“We hadn’t kept a clean sheet in a while and we are very happy to have done so,” said defender Dani Alves, who scored Barcelona’s opener in Russia. “We have a way of playing that when we all push forward in attack sometimes we leave our defense exposed.”

Levante has become a specialist in taking advantage of such opportunities to hit on the break and hence are expected to compete.

Atletico continues to impress under coach Diego Simeone, a former Atletico midfielder who helped the team win both the league and Copa del Rey titles in the 1995-96 season.

Madrid travels to Seville on Saturday having wrapped up its classification for the next round of the Champions League after drawing 1-1 and eliminating Manchester City on Wednesday. The team is eight points behind Barcelona but has won five straight in the league.AP



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