Real out to add pressure on Barca

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MADRID, February 26 – The Spanish league's top-scorers Real Madrid hope for more goals at Tenerife on Saturday as they bid to close the two-point gap on leaders and defending champions Barcelona who host Malaga on the same day.Real thumped Villarreal 6-2 at home in their last outing and in-form Argentine international forward Gonzalo Higuain believes they are starting to find their stride at a critical point in the season.

"We are playing the way we should," said Higuain. "This is a crucial part of the season and we are two points off the lead in the league. We control our own destiny in both competitions (the league and the Champions League), but both will be difficult to win."

Higuain is the club’s leading scorer with 14 goals, two goals ahead of team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, just three goals behind Valencia’s David Villa who leads the goalscoring charts on 17 goals.

Real have won all 12 of their home matches in the league but their away form has been patchy in 2010 with a 0-0 draw at Osasuna and a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao while they also lost 1-0 at Lyon in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League clash with the return leg on March 10.

Coach Manuel Pellegrini is under pressure to deliver the Champions League crown with the final being played at the Santiago Bernabeu and last weekend’s convincing win over his old club Villarreal was a major shot in the arm for the Chilean manager.

Promoted Tenerife lie second from bottom and could do with a morale-boosting win over Real to boost their survival hopes.

Barcelona were in European action on Tuesday when they secured a 1-1 first leg Champions League draw at VfB Stuttgart and on Saturday the treble winners take on an improving Malaga that have collected 10 from the last 12 points to surge away from the relegation battle.

Barca have looked a shadow of themselves of late so are glad to have midfield maestro Xavi back from injury with the Spanish international returning from a thigh injury in the Stuttgart draw.

"If he (Xavi) hadn’t been fully fit, I wouldn’t have risked him," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola. "We did plenty of tests and he was okay and there was no danger of him aggravating the injury."

Another boost for Barca is the return to form of club record signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic who made it two goals in as many games with his equaliser against Stuttgart.

"He (Ibrahimovic) is a very mobile player and he works hard too," said Guardiola. "I want him scoring goals – he needs that, you could see how animated he was after the goal and how he participated more."

Sevilla hope to close the four-point gap on third-placed Valencia when they host Ahtletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Sevilla drew 1-1 at CSKA Moscow on Tuesday and captain Andres Palop called for a similar performance against Bilbao.

"We have to have the same level of concentration and ambition for this game and fight for three points," said Palop. "If we play like we did against CSKA Moscow we can make things very difficult for our rivals."

On Sunday the erratic Atletico Madrid host Valencia in a game that should deliver goals with three of the league’s sharpest finishers on show in Villa, Sergio "Kun" Aguero and Diego Forlan.

Valencia are a creditable third, although they are 10 points behind second-placed Real, and hope to continue their impressive away record to keep fourth-placed Sevilla at bay.

Atletico hoped to be contesting for third themselves but are way down in 13th place 19 points behind Valencia and closer to the relegation zone than the top six.

Fixtures

Saturday

Getafe v Real Zaragoza (1700 GMT), Tenerife v Real Madrid (1900 GMT), Barcelona v Malaga (2100 GMT)

Sunday – all 1600 GMT unless stated

Villarreal v Deportivo La Coruna, Valladolid v Real Mallorca, Sporting Gijon v Osasuna, Racing v Almeria, Xerez v Espanyol, Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao (1800 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Valencia (2000 GMT)

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