Chance for Higuain to shine as Real visit Rayo

Brief news from La Liga ahead of this weekend's matches:

Real Madrid's match at city rivals Rayo Vallecano on Sunday may be a chance for Gonzalo Higuain to shine after his strike partner Karim Benzema picked up an injury in Tuesday's 1-1 Champions League draw at CSKA Moscow.

Benzema damaged an adductor muscle and local media reported the France striker would be out of action for up to three weeks. He joins Argentina winger Angel di Maria on the sidelines, who missed the CSKA game with a leg muscle tear.

Victory for Real at Rayo would put them 13 points clear of second-placed Barcelona ahead of the champions' game at Atletico Madrid later on Sunday.

Barca should have a full squad available for the match at the Calderon apart from long-term injury absentees David Villa and Ibrahim Afellay.

Clashes between Barca and Atletico have produced plenty of goals and a fair share of drama over the past two decades, with the two sides finding the net 153 times in 37 league meetings.

Barca have won all four matches at their Nou Camp stadium since Guardiola took over in 2008, netting 19 goals and conceding three, while at the Calderon Atletico have two wins, including a dramatic 4-3 comeback success, and one defeat.

Real's 10-point lead is "considerable" but Barca are ready to pounce should Jose Mourinho's side slip up, according to midfielder Andres Iniesta.

"Our only mentality is to keep taking three points at a time," the Spain international said on Thursday. "That will keep us competitive for the Champions League and the King's Cup final and in the league if Madrid drop any points."

In-form Barca forward Alexis Sanchez believes he still has room for improvement following his 40 million euros move from Udinese in the close-season.

"I still haven't come away at the end of any game saying 'today I played well'," the Chilean said. "I still haven't reached my peak and I know I can give more."

Valencia are 11 points behind Barca after their 5-1 drubbing at the Nou Camp last weekend, when Lionel Messi scored four goals to take his tally for the season to 27 from 23 games.

Unai Emery's side warmed up for their match at home to Sevilla on Sunday with a 1-0 Europa League win at home to Stoke City, which took them through to the last 16 of Europe's second-tier club competition 2-0 on aggregate.

Espanyol occupy Spain's fourth Champions League qualification berth but only two points separate them from 10th-placed Osasuna, with Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Rayo Vallecano and Malaga bunched in between.

Bilbao play at Villarreal on Sunday, Osasuna host Granada, also on Sunday and Levante play at Espanyol on Saturday, immediately after Malaga host bottom club Real Zaragoza.

In a congested lower half of the table, Osasuna in 10th are only eight points above the relegation places, which are occupied by Racing Santander in 18th, Sporting Gijon in 19th and Zaragoza trailing five points behind in 20th and last place.


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