MADRID (AP) — Injury-hit Barcelona is coming off its first loss of the season ahead of perhaps its toughest domestic league match of the young season, an away date at Athletic Bilbao.
Real Madrid is on a roll, unbeaten in six games, heading into the home date against Valladolid, while Atletico Madrid is at Elche. Both of Barcelona's pursuers can put the pressure on the Spanish leader with victories in their games on Saturday, a day earlier than the defending champion.
Barcelona leads the standings with 40 points, Atletico has 37, and Madrid is third with 34 points.
Here are five things to know about the Spanish league this weekend:
TIME TO MAN UP
Barcelona did not need a deep analysis of Tuesday's 2-1 loss at Ajax to know where the problems lay.
It wasn't so much its play or tactics, but a lack of hunger and desire shown by the players after having already clinched a spot in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Coach Gerardo Martino and players Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique, and Carles Puyol all criticized the team's attitude and how it needed changing. Sunday's game at Athletic Bilbao is certainly a good way to get the team's competitive edge back — Barcelona hasn't lost at Athletic in nearly eight years.
The Catalans remain without forward Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, while the club will hope Xavi Hernandez, Jordi Alba, Dani Alves, and Adriano are available for the trip to the Basque country.
CHANGE OF SCENERY
Bilbao is hoping the move to the new San Mames Stadium will herald a turn of results against Barcelona.
Barcelona plays at Bilbao's new home, which stands beside the old stadium on the banks of the Nervion River, for the first time Sunday.
Bilbao will have to ditch a dangerous trend this season if it hopes to beat Barcelona for the first time since May 2006: It has come from behind to win four times and draw twice in 14 games this season.
Under coach Ernesto Valverde, Bilbao has returned to a free-flowing style of football that led the Basque club to the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals two seasons ago before the exits of Javi Martinez and Fernando Llorente.
"They haven't lost in the league yet and it would be great if their first loss was at the (new) San Mames, where they have yet to beat us," forward Iker Muniain said. "We're certainly playing well at the moment."
'EL COMMANDANTE' RETURNS?