Real still waiting for Kaka to find form

MADRID - Cristiano Ronaldo has stolen most of the headlines with a string of match-winning performances but Real Madrid are still waiting to see the best of Brazilian playmaker Kaka, their other major summer signing. Real paid AC Milan 67 million euros to bring the 27-year-old to the Bernabeu but he has only recently shaken off a lingering groin injury and has yet to reproduce the form that won him the 2007 FIFA World Player award.

Kaka has another chance to impress when Real play at struggling Tenerife on Saturday and a win would lift Manuel Pellegrini's side above leaders Barcelona, who host improving Malaga in the late kick-off.

"When you have talent, sooner or later you will show it," Real director and former player Emilio Butragueno said this week. "Kaka is one of the world's best players," he added. "There is no debate."

Barca have struggled recently to reach the heights that won them an unprecedented six trophies in 2009 and were held to a 1-1 draw at VfB Stuttgart in Tuesday's Champions League last-16 first-leg.

The earlier-than-expected return from injury of midfield orchestrator Xavi, who played the full 90 minutes in Germany, was good news for coach Pep Guardiola, who acknowledged that improvement was needed.

"This result (against Stuttgart) is relatively positive but we need to improve to win titles," he told a news conference. "I know we have to do things better."

UPS AND DOWNS

Inconsistent Atletico Madrid face a stern test on Sunday when they host third-placed Valencia, while Sevilla, four points behind Valencia in fourth, host seventh-placed Athletic Bilbao.

"Last season we had ups and downs but I believe that the team is now on an upwards path," Atletico striker Diego Forlan said at a news conference on Wednesday ahead of Thursday's Europa League last-32 second-leg at Turkish side Galatasaray.

"We are through to a King's Cup final and we are working to do things well," the Uruguayan added.

Atletico, the only La Liga team to beat champions Barca this season, are in 13th with 27 points from 23 matches. Barca have 58, Real 56 and Valencia 46.