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5 things to know about the Spanish league as Atletico faces Elche in 1st of 5 'finals'

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BARCELONA, Spain — Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has called the remaining league games of the season five "finals," and his team plays its first against Elche on Friday before receiving Chelsea in the Champions League.

Atletico leads Real Madrid by three points and Barcelona by four points as the season comes to a finish.

Real Madrid will get a rest to prepare for Bayern Munich in the Champions League after beating Barcelona 2-1 to win the Copa del Rey thanks to Gareth Bale's late goal on Wednesday, and won't play Valladolid until May 7.

Barcelona can provisionally overtake Madrid with a win over fourth-place Athletic Bilbao on Sunday as it looks to salvage its season.

Here are five things to know about Atletico's title bid with five rounds to play:


ONE MORE STEP

While all the headlines in Spain on Thursday lauding Gareth Bale's gallop to score the 85th-minute winner over Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final, Atletico Madrid is content to remain out of the spotlight as it targets its home match against Elche.

Atletico is undefeated in league play this season at its Vicente Calderon Stadium, and it would be a major upset if Elche can change that.

"We are right there," said Atletico forward Adrian Lopez. "It's getting closer and closer. We have five games left and we are in first place. We will try to take each game as it comes."


CRUISING COSTA

One big reason Atletico Madrid is on course for its first league title in 18 years is striker Diego Costa.

Diego Costa has scored 26 goals in the league this campaign, and he only needs two more to pull even with the competition's leading scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Brazilian should take aim at Ronaldo's' tally against Elche after his injury when he banged his leg into the post last weekend turned out to only be a cut.


END OF ERA?

Barcelona's season has crumbled in the matter of eight days, with three straight losses seeing it out of the Champions League, the Copa del Rey final, and with its league title defense in serious danger.

It is widely speculated in the Spanish media that Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino will be fired this offseason, but his Madrid counterpart doesn't think this run of poor results marks the end of a winning era for his fiercest rival.

"Maybe things haven't gone their way this year, but I am sure that they will fight for the league title until the end," Carlo Ancelotti said. "I don't think this winning cycle for Barcelona is over."


BASQUES ON RISE

A hurting Barcelona faces a tough match at Camp Nou when Athletic Bilbao comes to town looking to protect its hold on the final Champions League berth.

Bilbao leads fifth-place Sevilla by six points, but can ill afford a slip with the Andalusian side visiting Bilbao in the following round.

Bilbao's young squad will have the advantage of playing a Barcelona side weary both in body and spirit after its demoralizing loss in the cup final.


MADRID HIGH

Madrid will have the weekend off to recover from the Copa del Rey final and prepare for Bayern Munich.

Cristiano Ronaldo said he hopes to be ready to play against the title holders when they come to the Spanish capital on Wednesday after missing the Copa del Rey final with leg muscle injury on top of an already sore left knee.

"We have been able to put the cherry on top," said goalkeeper Iker Casillas, as the team celebrated the cup title in Madrid with its fans late into the night. "I hope, I wish, that we will be there in the other competitions that are left."

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