Barcelona can equal best league start at Sevilla


BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -Barcelona can equal its best ever Spanish league start with a sixth straight win at Sevilla on Saturday, with Atletico Madrid ready to pounce on first place if the Catalan club stumbles.

Barcelona will face a tough test at Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium against a Sevilla team that is undefeated through five rounds and tied for the league's best defense after conceding only two goals.

Tito Vilanova's squad has quickly opened up an eight-point lead over Real Madrid, which plays on Sunday at home against Deportivo La Coruna.

"Eight points are significant. I like our advantage," said Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez. "Madrid can't afford any more slip ups. I like to see us so far ahead and with Madrid struggling to keep up.

"Now we have a difficult away game against Sevilla. They are a strong team."

After three of its four previous six-for-six starts- the last of which came under former coach Pep Guardiola in 2009 - Barcelona finished the season by lifting the league title.

Sevilla has already knocked off Madrid with a 1-0 home win thanks to an early goal by Piotr Trochowski and an intense defensive effort by Michel Gonzalez's team. The former Madrid player has transformed his squad from last season when it often suffered costly lapses of concentration.

Coach Vilanova will still be without center backs Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique and will likely again turn to reconverted midfielders Javier Mascherano and Alex Song.

Barcelona's improvised backline will face one of the league's best counterattacking sides led by winger Jesus Navas and fellow Spain international Alvaro Negredo.

"We can win this game. We will be playing in front of our fans, and we expect to see a full stadium," Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. "We are going up against the best team in the world, but I know we will make it difficult for them."

Atletico is only two points behind Barcelona and has a four-game winning run heading into its match at lowly Espanyol late on Sunday.

Despite only having three days of rest, Atletico striker Radamel Falcao will look to add to his league-leading tally of seven goals, with Barcelona's Lionel Messi just one behind.

"I never said I wanted to be the league's top scorer. I want to help the team," Falcao said after scoring twice in Atletico's win at Real Betis on Wednesday. "We just want to go game by game and not look too far ahead."

Madrid goes into the match at Santiago Bernabeu in seventh place after having won just two of its first five matches.

Jose Mourinho's team will hope to build on its 2-0 win last week at Rayo Vallecano against a Deportivo which has returned to the first division in fine fashion with just one loss.

Madrid routed Colombian side Millionarios 8-0 in a friendly on Wednesday, when the little-used Kaka made a rare appearance and scored a hat trick.

Given Mourinho's anger at his team's league performances this season, Kaka's good outing could lead to him receiving more minutes.

"Kaka played well. When players show their motivation and ambition the consequence is that the coach has more confidence in them and plays them in competitive matches," Mourinho said. "Kaka and others did what it took to put their names in the coach's head."

Upstart Mallorca, in third place after its unbeaten start, plays at Getafe on Monday.

Also on Saturday, Real Sociedad hosts Athletic Bilbao in a Basque Country derby. Zaragoza visits Zaragoza, and Betis is at Malaga.

Also on Sunday, it's: Granada vs. Celta Vigo, Valladolid vs. Rayo Vallecano, and Osasuna vs. Levante.

Copyright 2016 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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