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La Liga, Round 23: Atlético Madrid took over first place last week, now they must defend it

Getting to the top is one thing and as Atléti are about to learn, staying there is another thing entirely.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

Last round's matches shook up La Liga and ended with Atlético Madrid topping the table for the first time in 18 years. With the seemingly endless tyrannical reign of Barcelona -- well, not tyrannical -- now over the attention shifts to how each team will respond.

Atléti were hammered in the midweek by Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey but gets a winnable match against Almeria on Saturday to get their confidence back. With a three point lead over Barcelona, Diego Simeone's side now controls their fate in terms of the title. Tough test are ahead though so earning full points in games like this are important.

Barcelona will look to keep the pressure on Atlético and hold off a surging Real Madrid as they travel to Sevilla. The Blaugrana haven't lost two league matches in a row since the 2008-09 season when it happened twice. Real Madrid face their second straight tough match with fifth placed Villarreal.

Two matches this round will affect the relegation battle with Rayo Vallecano facing Málaga and Real Valladolid meeting Elche. Rayo and Valladolid are both sitting in the drop zone but could escape if they can win and get other results to go their way. Real Betis will also be chasing their second straight win as they attempt to save their season.

Here's the full schedule for round 23 in Spain.

Friday, February 7th

Espnayol vs. Granada | 3:00 p.m. ET, 9:00 p.m. CEST

Saturday, February 8th

Valencia vs. Real Betis | 10 a.m. ET, 4 p.m. CEST

Rayo Vallecano vs. Málaga | 12 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. CEST

Real Madrid vs. Villarreal | 2 p.m. ET, 8 p.m. CEST

Almeria vs. Atlético Madrid | 4 p.m. ET, 10 p.m. CEST

Sunday, February 9th

Osasuna vs. Getafe | 6 a.m. ET, 12 p.m. CEST

Real Valladolid vs. Elche | 11 a.m. ET, 5 p.m. CEST

Real Sociedad vs. Levante | 1 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. CEST

Sevilla vs. Barcelona | 3 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CEST

Monday, February 10th

Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao | 4 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. CEST