Madrid looks to rebound from weekend draw

PAUL LOGOTHETIS AP Sports Writer Published:

MADRID (AP) -- Real Madrid goes into Wednesday's game against struggling Villarreal looking to rebound from a draw that boosted rival Barcelona's slim hopes of winning a fourth straight Spanish league title.

The Spanish leader conceded a stoppage time equalizer Sunday in a 1-1 draw against Malaga that allowed Barcelona to move to within eight points of the lead.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said his team's chances of winning the championship were near zero before Madrid's draw, but Madrid's players were weary of falling into any kind of motivational trap to aid their Catalan rivals.

"I don't care what Guardiola says, what I worry about is what my coach says and thinks about us. We never thought the league was done," Madrid captain Iker Casillas said. "We've won enough to be in this position and now we have to defend our lead game-by-game, and that's what we intend to do."

Villarreal coach Miguel Angel Lotina will make his debut for the struggling club, which has lost four of five to hover just above the relegation zone. Sunday's 1-0 loss to Levante led to the club firing Jose Molina to make a third coaching change of what has been a miserable season.

Since 1998, the 11 previous teams to make a coaching change before playing Madrid have gone on to lose nine times and draw twice.

"It would be odd if Madrid doesn't end up champion but in football many things can happen," said Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini, whose team looks to stay fourth and in the Champions League places when it faces Rayo Vallecano on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Barcelona is in great form with seven straight wins overall ahead of Tuesday's game with Granada, with the European champions enjoying a more favorable run-in over the final 11 fixtures of the season. Barcelona has six more games to increase the pressure on Madrid before they meet for the second time this season.

"The difference in points is considerable but Madrid still has some difficult games ahead and I'm someone who likes to think that impossibilities are a question of opinion," Barcelona fullback Daniel Alves said. "We'll continue competing until the end of the season like every year."

Lionel Messi will look to score for the seventh straight game to move closer to breaking Cesar Rodriguez's club record goal tally. Messi is just four goals away from matching Cesar's 235 for the club.

Athletic Bilbao travels to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday in a matchup of teams trying to rediscover their spark while knowing they cannot afford to drop further back of the final Champions League place.

Athletic is four points off fourth and Atletico five back, with the pair following up impressive Europa League performances with disappointing losses on Sunday.

"We'll try to show the opposite of what we have," said Bilbao coach Marcelo Bielsa, who may again have to do without striker Fernando Llorente for Wednesday's game.

Serbian striker Dejan Lekic returns for sixth-place Osasuna on Tuesday against Getafe, while Sevilla may be without centerback Emir Spahic for Thursday's game against Racing Santander as the Andalucian club looks to end a two-game winless run. Sevilla is eight points adrift of fourth place.

In other midweek matches, it's: Real Sociedad vs. Levante; Valencia vs. Zaragoza; Sporting Gijon vs. Mallorca; and Real Betis vs. Espanyol.

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Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP