Madrid: Radamel Falcao is having little trouble keeping up with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's goal-scoring heroics, and Atletico Madrid are riding the Colombia striker's form to the top of the Spanish league alongside Barcelona, who put their unbeaten start on the line at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
"The Tiger " — as Falcao is nicknamed — has delivered the winning goal in half of Atletico's league matches to help them go top of the standings alongside Barcelona with 22 points. Falcao's nine league goals have the Europa League champions on a seven-game winning streak for their best run since 1992-93.
Atletico are on a 10-game winning streak overall and haven't lost a match in any tournament since April — a run of 20 games. Falcao's 12 goals have certainly helped as the €40 million ($52 million) striker has stayed in reach of Messi's 15 goals and Ronaldo's 16 this season.
"He was the leading scorer in the last two editions of the Europa League, which he both won, a European Super Cup champion, too," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "He's one of the best three players in the world. He's got no reason to envy anybody."
Simeone has routinely left Falcao out of Atletico's Europa League matches in favor of the league, and up next for Atletico is Osasuna on Sunday. Atletico has squeaked out victories with Falcao curling home an 89th-minute winner to deliver victory at Real Sociedad last weekend. "We're winning games the same way as Barcelona, and they don't look too worried about it," Simeone said. "When a team gets to the end of a game with a chance of victory and it manages it, it means some things are working."
Barcelona needed an injury-time winner against Celtic in the Champions League on Tuesday, which came days after a wild 5-4 victory at Deportivo La Coruna. On Saturday, the Catalan club puts its unbeaten start on the line at Rayo Vallecano, while Madrid look to bounce back from their Champions League loss at Borussia Dortmund at Mallorca a day later.
While centre-back Marc Bartra performed adeptly against Celtic, Barcelona hope Gerard Pique will return from injury for the trip to Madrid to play Rayo. Even Eric Abidal could return soon as the Frenchman continues his impressive recovery from liver transplant surgery.
Barcelona could use some defensive stability as their 11 goals surrendered in eight games are highest in a decade, although they have scored a league-leading 24. "We've started well, although it's true we've had to suffer in certain games, but the team is playing well," Pique said. "There's a great connection between players in the team and I think we're on track for a great season."
Madrid left Dortmund with further injury concerns as midfielder Sami Khedira came off in the 2-1 loss with a groin injury. Defenders Alvaro Arbeloa, Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao have been missing the past couple of games. "The only thing we can do now to respond to this is to play well and win our games," Ronaldo said after scoring against the German champions.
Malaga will look to follow up their 1-0 Champions League win over AC Milan by keeping pace with the co-leaders at Espanyol on Saturday. The Costa del Sol club has 17 points, while Madrid and Sevilla both have 14 points.
Also, it's Real Betis vs Valencia, Celta Vigo vs Deportivo La Coruna, Real Zaragoza vs Sevilla, Levante vs Granada, Athletic Bilbao vs Getafe and Real Valladolid vs Sociedad.