Radamel Falcao powers Atletico streak
MADRID -- Radamel Falcao is having little trouble keeping up with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's goal-scoring heroics, and Atletico Madrid is riding the Colombia striker's form to the top of the Spanish league.
"The Tiger" -- as Falcao is nicknamed -- has delivered the winning goal in half of Atletico's league matches to help it go top of the standings alongside Barcelona with 22 points. Falcao's nine league goals have the Europa League champions on a seven-game winning streak for its best run since 1992-93.
Atletico is on a 10-game winning streak overall and hasn't lost a match in any tournament since April -- a run of 20 games.
Falcao's 12 goals have certainly helped as the 40 million Euros ($52 million) striker has stayed in reach of Messi's 15 goals and Ronaldo's 16 this season.
"He was the leading scorer in the last two editions of the Europa League, which he both won, a European Super Cup champion, too," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "He's one of the best three players in the world. He's got no reason to envy anybody."
Simeone has routinely left Falcao out of Atletico's Europa League matches in favor of the league, and up next for Atletico is Osasuna on Sunday. Atletico has squeaked out victories with Falcao curling home an 89th-minute winner to deliver victory at Real Sociedad last weekend.
"We're winning games the same way as Barcelona, and they don't look too worried about it," Simeone said. "When a team gets to the end of a game with a chance of victory and it manages it, it means some things are working."
Barcelona needed an injury-time winner against Celtic in the Champions League on Tuesday, which came days after a wild 5-4 victory at Deportivo La Coruna. On Saturday, the Catalan club puts its unbeaten start on the line at Rayo Vallecano, while Madrid looks to bounce back from its Champions League loss at Borussia Dortmund at Mallorca a day later.
Barcelona got good news Friday as defender Dani Alves has recovered from injury to make the squad for the trip to Madrid to play Rayo Vallecano.
While center back Marc Bartra performed adeptly against Celtic, Barcelona will be without Gerard Pique, who remains sidelined with a sprained left foot. Even Eric Abidal could return soon as the Frenchman continues his impressive recovery from liver transplant surgery.
Barcelona could use some defensive stability as its 11 goals surrendered in eight games are the highest in a decade, although it has scored a league-leading 24.
"We've started well, although it's true we've had to suffer in certain games, but the team is playing well," Pique said. "There's a great connection between players in the team and I think we're on track for a great season."
Madrid left Dortmund with further injury concerns as midfielder Sami Khedira came off in the 2-1 loss with a groin injury. Defenders Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao have been missing the past couple of games.
"The only thing we can do now to respond to this is to play well and win our games," Ronaldo said after scoring against the German champions.
Malaga will look to follow up its 1-0 Champions League win over AC Milan by keeping pace with the co-leaders at Espanyol on Saturday. The Costa del Sol club has 17 points, while Madrid and Sevilla both have 14 points.
The rest of the matches this weekend are: Real Betis vs. Valencia; Celta Vigo vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Real Zaragoza vs. Sevilla; Levante vs. Granada; Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe; and Real Valladolid vs. Sociedad.