MADRID (AP) " Lionel Messi scores goals, lots of them. And no team has allowed more of them than Atletico Madrid.
The Barcelona forward will get a chance to add to his impressive tally of 26 career goals against Atletico on Sunday, when a victory at the Vicente Calderon Stadium could move the defending champions ahead of Real Madrid for the first time in months.
Barcelona is only one point behind Madrid, but the Spanish league leaders still have a game in hand and face Villarreal later Sunday.
"There's still a lot of league left, but we can't falter anymore," Barcelona defender Jordi Alba said. "We are alive and we are convinced that if we keep doing things right the way, we will have a chance to win the title."
Messi has been averaging a goal per game in all competitions and has scored 34 times this season. One of those came against Atletico in this year's Copa del Rey.
The 29-year-old Argentina captain has not gone two consecutive games without scoring since early September, and is the league's leading scorer with 19 goals " one more than teammate Luis Suarez. He has scored 10 times in his last nine league games, and has 11 goals in 14 matches overall in 2017.
If Barcelona beats fourth-place Atletico, Messi will earn his 400th career victory with the Catalan club. He has 399 wins, 64 losses and 102 draws in all competitions since his official debut in 2004.
Barcelona has been struggling recently, though, coming off a humiliating 4-0 loss at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and a lackluster 2-1 win over relegation-threatened Leganes at Camp Nou last Sunday, when Messi scored twice, including a 90th-minute winner after a controversial penalty.
Fans loudly jeered the team, a rarity for a club which has dominated world soccer in the past decade. Most of the criticism has been aimed at coach Luis Enrique, who is accused of failing to make a team full of stars play up to its potential.
Atletico, meanwhile, has won three in a row in the league and is coming off a 4-2 win at Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.
Although the Spanish league title remains a longshot, victory over Barcelona could bring the team closer to Sevilla in third place, which guarantees an automatic qualifying spot for next season's Champions League.
"We know it's going to be a tough match," Atletico Madrid left back Filipe Luis said. "But we are going through a good moment. We have confidence."
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This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings