Malaga v Real Madrid: Three points crucial for Zidane's title challenge
Real Madrid cannot afford a slip up in their trip to La Rosaleda to face Malaga on Sunday, with the distance to La Liga leaders Barcelona in danger of becoming insurmountable.
Barca extended their lead at the summit to six points with a 3-1 win at Sporting Gijon on Wednesday, a game delayed due to their participation in the Club World Cup in December.
Madrid are seven points adrift of the defending champions in third position, but the gap could reach double figures with the Catalan giants taking on Las Palmas on Saturday.
Subsequently, Zinedine Zidane's side need to take maximum points - regardless of the result achieved by Luis Enrique's team - in order to boost their chances of denting Barca's bid for a second successive title.
History is on Madrid's side – they have suffered just one defeat in their last 29 Liga matches against Malaga, winning on 21 occasions.
Zidane knows the distance to the summit will prove a difficult obstacle, but expects his team to give their all and extend their unbeaten run to 11 matches across all competitions.
"I am still thinking the same thing," the Frenchman said. "We are seven points behind and it will be difficult, but we are giving it everything and we are all happy.
"On Sunday we will try to do everything to get what we need to get."
Malaga slipped into the bottom half of the table with a 1-0 loss at Villarreal last Saturday, but Javi Gracia's team have lost just one of their last five home matches in the top flight.
Former Madrid defender Miguel Torres hopes his team can come together as a unit and pull off a shock result.
"It's going to be a long match in which any detail could determine the final result. We've been working very well during the week," he said.
"We see Real Madrid in action once or twice a week as they're taking part in a lot of games; although it's also tough to stop players of such quality. However, I hope it'll be a hard-fought game and we get a good result.
"It's not going to be an easy match, it'll be about collective growth, not individual, and I hope we interpret well what is required of this type of game. I expect the crowd to get behind the team and I hope it's a great match for everyone."
Madrid were boosted by the return of Marcelo from a shoulder injury in the 2-0 Champions League success at Roma in midweek, but Gareth Bale (calf) and Pepe (foot) remain sidelined.
Zidane's defensive concerns are increased by the absence of Raphael Varane, who misses out due to suspension following his red card in the 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao last weekend.
Juan Carlos (thigh), Christian Atsu and Chory Castro (both muscular) are unlikely to return for the hosts.
Key Opta stats:
- Real Madrid have gone nine league games in a row without defeat (W7 D2), scoring an average of 4.22 goals per game.
- Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 14 goals against Malaga in La Liga, more than any other player in the competition.
- Charles has scored half of Malaga goals at La Rosaleda in La Liga this season (seven out of 14).
- Seventeen Real Madrid players have assisted goals in La Liga this season, the most in the competition.
- Karim Benzema has already scored 19 goals in La Liga this term, just one behind his league record for Lyon (20 in 2007-08) and two behind his best Real Madrid campaign (21 in 2011-12).