Atletico visit Valencia as they look to maintain title charge

MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid will look to extend their advantage over La Liga title rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona when they travel to Valencia on Saturday.

Atleti, who remain the league's only unbeaten side, sit in second place - three points behind top of the table Real Sociedad having played two games fewer.

Crucially, they sit three points above Real having played a game less and nine ahead of a wobbling Barca - who they beat last weekend - with both sides playing eight times.

Diego Simeone will be without forwards Luis Suarez, who is isolating following a positive COVID-19 test, and Diego Costa, who has deep vein thrombosis.

The duo's absence was sorely felt on Wednesday night as Los Rojiblancos failed to break down a resolute Lokomotiv Moscow side to leave their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of this season's Champions League in the balance.

Opponents Valencia, who sit ninth, have coped admirably this campaign under new coach Javi Gracia despite huge amounts of upheaval on and off the pitch. They hammered Real 4-1 earlier this month and will hope to repeat the trick when Atleti visit.

The visitors have not won at Mestalla since 2016, however you have to go back to 2014 for the last time Valencia took three points off Atletico in La Liga.

Barcelona host Osasuna having won just one of their last six La Liga games with an ever-growing injury list of their own.

Gerard Pique, Ronald Araujo, Sergi Roberto, Ansu Fati and Samuel Umtiti are all ruled out, while Sergio Busquets will undergo a late fitness test.

The Catalan side can ill-afford to slip further behind their rivals, having already lost to both teams this season. They will, however, take confidence from a dominant display in Europe, where they booked their place in the Champions League last-16 with a 4-0 win against Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday.

Madrid, meanwhile, host Alaves in Saturday's late kick-off also shorn of a number of first team regulars.

Captain Sergio Ramos, midfielder Federico Valverde and forward Luka Jovic will definitely be absent for the visit of the Basque outfit, while doubts also remain over top scorer Karim Benzema and Casemiro's availability.

Elsewhere on Sunday night Real Sociedad host Villarreal as first meet third, and the weekend's action comes to a close as Eibar visit Real Betis on Monday.

(Editing by David Evans)

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