LA LIGA

Costa’s drought whets appetite

Atlético hosts Sevilla, one of the Brazilian’s favorite victims, as Real travels to Betis

Diego Costa rues a missed chance in a cup match against Valencia.
Diego Costa rues a missed chance in a cup match against Valencia. Andres Kudacki / AP

Atlético hosts Sevilla on Sunday in this Liga round's eye-catcher as Diego Simeone's side attempts to keep the pressure up at the top of the table. It is not an easy assignment — under Unai Emery Sevilla has improved in leaps and bounds — and Barcelona faces a considerably easier task at Levante, but Atlético has spent the past year thumbing its nose at limitations. Real Madrid has been beaten twice, Barcelona held to a stalemate on three occasions, and a bundle of goals scored.

If Simeone has any worries ahead of the clash, they probably center on Diego Costa, who has not yet ruffled the onion bag in 2014. But it is worth noting that Atlético's second striker, David Villa, hasn't done so since November. What Simeone's team has is the ability to score from all areas of the field; Raúl García has already bettered his previous tally for an entire season and the league's least-breached defense poses a threat at the other end as well.

However, Costa has bagged nine against Sevilla during his career and is vying with Cristiano Ronaldo for the pichichi top scorer's trophy.

Real Madrid, continues its game of catch-up with the leaders with a trip to bottom-placed Betis with a mildly alarming statistic in the kit-bag: losing on 17 occasions to a team propping up the division, and two of those to none other than the Sevillan side. But with the newly minted Ballon d'Or winner in its ranks and the recent luxury of dumping 100 million euros' worth of Welsh winger on the bench, the visitor poses a menacing problem for the struggling verdiblancos.

Former coach Pepe Mel, now with his feet under the table at West Bromwich Albion, promised this week not to raid Betis during the winter transfer window: a bit of public relations made that much easier by Betis having little anybody else would want. Leo Baptistão has been signed on loan from Atlético to lend some much-needed verve to the front line, and Cristian Erbes is en route from Boca Juniors to fill the chasm left by Spain international Beñat, who was offloaded in last summer's fire sale.

Not much of that will help Betis on Saturday though with a cricket score in the offing at the Benito Villamarín, where Betis has conspired to lose to Almería and Osasuna in its last two home games.

Rayo Vallecano, which last week won away at Getafe, to a backing soundtrack of a million pools coupons being shredded, now travels to Elche in search of another road victory in the absence of the ability to gain a point in Vallecas to help in the battle against relegation.

At the other end of the table, Villarreal will hope to bounce back from its King's Cup defeat by Real Sociedad at home to Almería as the tussle for the final Champions League spot gains momentum. Sevilla sits in seventh, six points behind Athletic Bilbao, which currently occupies the coveted fourth position. La Real and Villarreal lie in between, with all four facing matches against the top three in due course.

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