Football

5 things to know about the Spanish league

MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi seems to have rediscovered his swagger for Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are certainly showing some at Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid's upstarts appear to be maintaining theirs.

The top three teams in the Spanish league are all on winning runs going into the weekend, with leader Barcelona and Madrid both on three-game winning streaks. Second-place Atletico Madrid, meanwhile, just clinched its place in the last 16 of the Champions League after a fourth straight win.

Here are five things to know about this weekend's games:

MESSI SCORING AGAIN

Messi's brace in Wednesday's 3-1 win over AC Milan gave the Argentine his first goals at the Camp Nou since late September. But Messi still hasn't scored for four league games, which hasn't happened since 2010-11.

While Messi still looks slightly bothered by his hamstring, his teammates insist their star is fine heading into Sunday's game at Real Betis.

"He looks good to me. You can always play better as a team, you can always score more goals," midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. "But he's finding his game, just like the team is."

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique injured his hamstring against Milan and is questionable to face Betis, which is 18th and in the drop zone.

BALE ADAPTING

While Ronaldo has been scoring at a staggering pace to start this season, new teammate Gareth Bale is quietly adapting to his new surroundings and making Madrid's attack more prolific.

The world's most expensive football player has scored three goals and provided four assists in his last three games, helping boost Madrid's attack, especially with Karim Benzema also in good form.

Bale's emergence has led to some changes in Madrid's squad, with playmaking midfielder Isco seeing his time cut drastically, while Angel di Madrid has also been coming off the bench more often. Mesut Ozil's decision to leave appears wiser with each passing game as Arsenal contends for the Premier League title and Bale taking playing time away from other midfielders.

Real Madrid welcomes Real Sociedad to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on Saturday.

UNRELENTING ATLETICO

While striker Diego Costa and coach Diego Simeone are grabbing most of the headlines about Atletico's success, playmaker Koke is quietly developing into one of Spain's top midfielders.

Koke and Simeone were recognized as the Spanish league's best player and coach in October, and the 21-year-old is certainly a big part of the reason Costa has scored a joint league-leading 13 goals this season.

Koke's emergence also provides Spain with another talent in the middle going into the World Cup, a position where it contains an abundant of wealth in the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, and Juan Mata.

"Atletico is disciplined and ordered," Austria Vienna coach Nenad Bjelica said after losing 4-0 to Atletico in the Champions League. "You have to take them very seriously as a candidate to win the Champions League."

YELLOW SUBMARINE SURFACING

Villarreal doesn't appear to have lost a step since returning to top-flight football after a season in the second division.

"The Yellow Submarine" is alone in fourth place following a dramatic stoppage time winner over Elche on Monday.

They will get a real test on Sunday when Atletico visits El Madrigal, especially with Mexican forward Giovanni Dos Santos sidelined for the match with a leg injury. Defender Bojan Jokic returns from a left leg injury.

"They've already lost one game away so that gives us belief that we can beat them," defender Jaume Costa said.

MADRID'S MICROSOFT STADIUM?

Real Madrid may be the world's richest club but it is still operating in a time of a troubled domestic economy. Club president Florentino Perez had said the club would look at selling naming rights to its famed Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, and an investor appears to be on the horizon.

Microsoft is reportedly in talks to rename the stadium.

"We have an excellent relationship with Real Madrid and in fact we recently signed an agreement with its foundation," Microsoft Spain president Maria Garana told Antena 3 TV station. "They've raised, as have other companies, renaming the stadium and we're only talking about this possibility."

Madrid is football's biggest money-maker and the first sports team anywhere to break the €500 million ($675 million) revenue barrier.

Follow Paul Logothetis at https://twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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