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Rayo next in free-scoring Real firing line

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RONALDO-GRANADAMADRID, April 6- Real Madrid continue their pursuit of Barcelona in the La Liga title race away to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday fresh from a 9-1 thrashing of Granada.

Cristiano Ronaldo registered a five-goal haul for the first time in his distinguished career as Madrid bounced back from losing a potentially-decisive clash against Barcelona before the international break.

Moreover, coach Carlo Ancelotti has almost a fully fit squad to choose from for the first time in five months with centre-back Pepe the only doubt for the trip across Madrid.

Playmaker Isco is available once more after missing out through suspension against Granada, but Ancelotti insisted he is reluctant to make too many changes after such a stunning return to form.

“The team is very fresh. Resting players for the sake of it doesn’t make sense. The players will rest when they are tired and there is a risk of injury,” said the Italian.

“We are in great form. We have never been in this physical shape before, especially at this time last season.”

Rayo come into the game in fine form themselves on the back of three victories to take them into the top half of the table.

Manucho was the match winner for Paco Jemez’s men in a 2-1 win at Eibar on Friday and the former Manchester United striker is confident of springing a surprise against their city rivals.

“With the enthusiasm we have in the team and how we are playing at the moment, we think we can beat Madrid,” he said.

Rayo’s main threat will be a well-known one to Madrid fans as former Real youth product Alberto Bueno’s 16 La Liga goals have made him the highest scoring Spaniard in the division.

Barca maintained their stranglehold on the title race in less dramatic fashion with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Celta Vigo on Sunday to remain four points clear at the top of the table.

However, the Catalans will be confident of a more comfortable evening at home to managerless Almeria on Wednesday.

The Andalusians sacked Juan Ignacio Martinez at the weekend after a 4-1 defeat to Levante left them in the relegation zone with Miguel Rivera set to take temporary charge, just as he did in a 4-1 defeat to Real Madrid earlier in the season after Francisco had been fired.

Champions Atletico Madrid can strengthen their position in third and move to within six points of the leaders when they host David Moyes’s Real Sociedad at the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday.

Atletico lead Valencia by a point in the race to secure automatic qualification for the Champions League next season, but will face a stern test in a Sociedad side that has lost just once in their last eight La Liga games.

However, in contrast to Ancelotti, Atletico boss Diego Simeone said he plans to use every resource available to him with a Champions League quarter-final between the two Madrid giants just a week away.

“It doesn’t matter if it is 10, 20 or 60 minutes, the important thing is to do well when you get your chance because we think we have a strong squad,” said the Argentine.

“When you get to this stage of the season, when there are a lot of games, we have to have internal competition and enthusiasm between the players for the minutes that the coach gives you.”

Valencia slipped back to fourth after being held to a 0-0 draw by Villarreal on Sunday and face another tricky fixture when they travel to Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.

Fifth-placed Sevilla could be level with Los Che by the time they kick-off in the Basque country as the Europa League holders now trail Valencia by just three points and they visit Levante on Tuesday.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Tuesday

Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad (1800), Levante v Sevilla (2000), Eibar v Malaga (2000)

Wednesday

Barcelona v Almeria (1800), Deportivo la Coruna v Cordoba (1800), Granada v Celta Vigo (2000), Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid (2000)

 Thursday

Athletic Bilbao v Valencia (1800), Elche v Getafe (2000), Villarreal v Espanyol (2000)

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