BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Chasing its first league trophy since 2014, Atlético Madrid will try to deal a severe blow to Real Madrid’s title defense on Sunday.
Diego Simeone’s side has a five-point advantage over third-place Madrid, and a game in hand, before the crosstown rivals meet at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. Barcelona is in second place at two points adrift.
Both teams enter the derby with concerns about their top scorers.
While Karim Benzema’s fitness is in doubt, Luis Suárez is in a scoring rut.
Suárez, shipped by Barcelona to Atlético last summer for financial reasons, is one of the main reasons Atlético tops the standings. While not as explosive as he once was with Liverpool and Barcelona, the 34-year-old Suárez has provided the punch Atlético was missing at the front of its attack and leads the team with 16 goals in the competition.
Suárez, however, has gone five games without a goal, a drought that has coincided with the team’s worst form of the campaign.
After winning 15 of 16 league games from October to February, Atlético has only won twice in the last five rounds.
“Every player has goals. One of mine is to win a title after joining a team like Atlético that hasn’t won one in some time,” said Suárez.
The front-runners have only lost twice in the league this season. One of those losses came in December, a 2-0 defeat at Madrid.
“We want to avenge our loss from the first meeting to show that we want to stay atop the league,” said Suárez, who scored 11 goals in 17 “clásico” matches against Madrid during his six seasons with Barcelona.
Atlético’s main strength, however, remains in defense. Jan Oblak has conceded a league-low 16 goals this season.
England defender Kieran Trippier will be available for Alético after he completed a 10-game ban for breaking betting rules.
Simeone, who will break Luis Aragonés’ club record of 308 wins with his next victory, said that Trippier was ready to play.
“(Trippier) has never stopped training. He is important for us. He gives us his precision, his talent and his leadership. He helps us a lot in attack,” Simeone said about his right back.
Madrid arrives with injury problems and questions about its competitiveness after dropping points to modest clubs Elche, Osasuna and Levante in recent rounds.
Defender Sergio Ramos is still out recovering from surgery to his left knee. But Zinedine Zidane’s main concern is his attack after back-up striker Mariano Díaz injured his left leg.
Benzema, who leads Madrid with 12 goals in the league, is back on Madrid’s squad after missing three matches with a muscle injury in his right leg. Without the French striker, his team was limited to just one goal in each of those games.
“Karim will be with us. We know what he means to us, not just for his goals. He is an important player for the way we play as a team,” said Zidane.
Zidane would not reveal, however, if he felt Benzema was ready to start.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports