Malaga ideal tonic for Real and Ronaldo

MADRID - Malaga's leaky defence provides Real Madrid with an ideal opportunity to rediscover their goal-scoring touch as Jose Mourinho's side struggle to keep pace with La Liga leaders Barcelona.

The league's bottom side visit the Bernabeu on Thursday having conceded 50 goals in 24 matches and arrive just when Real need to erase the memory of Saturday's goalless draw at Deportivo La Coruna.

That result enabled Barca to extend their advantage at the top to seven points on the weekend, and they could be 10 points clear by Thursday if they can overcome third-placed Valencia at Mestalla on Wednesday.

Real have won every home game so far this season but need a lift, in particular from their leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, who has netted only twice in the club's last nine matches in all competitions.

The Portuguese, their top scorer in La Liga with 24, is the only member of the team to have completed every single league match this season. "I don't see any reason to rest him," Mourinho has said. "If he needs to one day I will do, but he is very strong."

The arrival of loan signing Emmanuel Adebayor has given the side more attacking options and provided competition for striker Karim Benzema, but he is still settling in and has only scored once since leaving Manchester City.

Argentine forward Gonzalo Higuain remains their second highest scorer in the league with seven goals despite not having played since November due to a back injury.

PELLEGRINI RETURNS

Malaga who are managed by the person Mourinho replaced at Real, Manuel Pellegrini, are mired in the relegation battle and have yet to register a league win at the Bernabeu in 29 attempts.

They will only have three days to prepare, compared to Real's five, after playing Almeria on Monday evening.

Barca's hosts Valencia have only lost once in their last 15 league matches, going down 2-0 at the Bernabeu back in early December, and have pulled four points clear in third. They remain 10 adrift of second-placed Real.

They have made a habit of scoring late goals to secure victories and have pace in the shape of Joaquin, Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez among others, to unsettle a Barca defence that has looked vulnerable to the fleet of foot recently.

Pep Guardiola will have Dani Alves back from suspension and is likely to boosted by the return of playmaker Xavi after injury, though Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol remain sidelined.

Fourth-placed Villarreal have taken two points from their last four league matches and host Hercules on Wednesday as they battle to hold on to the last Champions League qualification slot.


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