With the La Liga title race heating up, Matchday 26 promises to feature plenty of thrilling action across Spain.
League leaders Real Madrid will welcome back reigning FIFA Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo following a three-game suspension. But despite Ronaldo's long-awaited return and Los Blancos' incredible unbeaten streak, they'll have zero room for error as a loss to crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid at Vicente Calderon would drop them into a tie atop the table just one week after they took over the top spot.
DISASTER! Atletico could have put themselves in a great position but lose 3-0 at Osasuna. Advantage Real Madrid— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) February 23, 2014
Fortunately for Real fans, Ronaldo is coming off a two-goal performance against Schalke in the Champions League on Wednesday and is expecting to bring his A-game on Sunday, per Spanish newspaper Marca:
"I'm happy to be back and to be helping the team. I was frustrated about not playing, I didn't deserve the punishment...We are very motivated. We are Real Madrid and we are going to try to win."
Meanwhile, defending Spanish champions Barcelona will look to bounce back from a stunning loss last weekend to beat Almeria and close the gap on Real. Lionel Messi added to his goal count, but Barca watched helplessly as Real Sociedad turned in a shocking 3-1 upset victory.
With Week 26 underway, let's take a closer look at the updated La Liga standings.
Athletic Bilbao 4 - 0 Granada
Athletic Bilbao took another huge step towards finishing among the top four and earning a Champions League berth at season's end on Friday, topping Granada 4-0 to pick up three more points.
Powered by a hat-trick from Aritz Aduriz, Bilbao had all the answers for Granada, who were forced to play the final 20 minutes with only 10 men after Diego Mainz drew a straight red for an ill-advised tackle in the penalty area.
1 - @AritzAduriz11 has scored his second La Liga hat-trick for Athletic (the first in Bilbao). Star.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 28, 2014
Aduriz would score his third goal on the ensuing penalty to give Los Leones a 3-0 advantage.
Carlos Gurpegi's 80th-minute goal would provide the icing on the cake for Bilbao, who now boast 10 home victories in La Liga this season.
Unsurprisingly, Aduriz would come away with Man of the Match honors. His three goals give him nine total in league play in 2013-14.
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