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PREVIEW-Soccer-Atletico looking to secure Champions League berth

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MADRID, May 21 (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid have been unable to repeat the magnificent achievements of last season in this campaign but can congratulate themselves on a job well done if they secure a lucrative Champions League berth on Saturday.

Barcelona clinched the La Liga title last weekend thanks to a 1-0 win at third-placed Atletico and the season concludes with the Madrid club playing at relegation-threatened Granada and looking to protect a three-point lead over Valencia in fourth.

Led by inspirational coach Diego Simeone, Atletico won their first La Liga title in 18 years and reached the Champions League final last term but an exodus of key players, including top scorer Diego Costa, set them back.

New arrivals like Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and Fernando Torres have helped them remain competitive and third spot would send them directly into the group stage of Europe's elite club competition.

They were knocked out by holders Real Madrid in the quarter-finals in the latest edition, having lost to their city rivals 4-1 after extra time in last year's final.

"I will say that the season has been very good if we are third after Saturday's game is over," Atletico midfielder Koke said at a promotional event in Madrid on Wednesday.

"There have been changes, the team has responded well and has known how to compete," added the Spain international. "If we are third we will keep fighting for trophies next season."

Atletico have 77 points, with Valencia, who play at Granada's fellow strugglers Almeria, on 74 and Sevilla a point further adrift in fifth before their trip to eighth-placed Andalusian rivals Malaga.

Sevilla, the Europa League champions who are through to the final for a second consecutive year, are assured of at least fifth and a place in the continent's second-tier competition, while Villarreal cannot be caught in sixth, which also carries a Europa League berth.

At the other end of the table, bottom side Cordoba are already down and two of Almeria, Eibar, Deportivo La Coruna and Granada will join them.

Eibar host Cordoba, while Deportivo may benefit from treble-chasing Barca fielding a weakened side at the Nou Camp with the King's Cup and Champions League finals looming.

Second-division leaders Real Betis and Girona, in second, are well placed to secure the two automatic promotion places, with Sporting Gijon, Las Palmas, Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza currently occupying the playoff spots with four matches remaining. (Writing by Iain Rogers; Editing by John O'Brien)

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