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Barca target perfect 12 ahead of City trip

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MESSI-APOELMADRID, February 20- Barcelona can move to the top of La Liga for the first time since early November when they look to stretch their winning run to 12 games against Malaga on Saturday.

The Catalans have struck 42 goals in that hot streak to close to within a point of Real Madrid and to the brink of reaching the Copa del Rey final.

However, Luis Enrique’s men will be intent on not only taking top spot for at least 24 hours before Madrid travel to Elche on Sunday, but also ensuring they suffer no injury setbacks ahead of their return to Champions League action away to Manchester City on Tuesday.

“We know there is a lot of work ahead of us until the end of the season and is it a key moment for us. We need to be at 100 percent,” Barca full-back Adriano said on Thursday.

Barca dismissed City 4-1 on aggregate at the same stage of the competition last year and Adriano warned that will act as motivation for the English champions despite their indifferent form in the Premier League.

“We know we have drawn a very strong opponent that we could easily have faced in the semi-finals.

“They aren’t in great form, but in a tie like this there aren’t any favourites. It will be just as hard or even more difficult than last year because they will definitely want revenge.”

Barca have no fresh injury worries with Andres Iniesta available once more after missing last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing of Levante due to a fever.

However, Enrique is expected to make a raft of changes after handing a rest to the likes of Gerard Pique, Dani Alves and Luis Suarez last time out.

– Whittled down –

Real already look well set for a fifth consecutive Champions League quarter-final after beating Schalke 2-0 away in the first leg of their last 16 tie on Wednesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo ended his month-long goal drought to put Madrid in front before teeing up Marcelo for a stunning second 11 minutes from time.

“In the team we don’t have any problems if Cristiano doesn’t score for one or two games. Everyone knows that the goal will come sooner or later,” said Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Ronaldo will be keen to get back on the scoresheet in domestic competition, having seen his huge lead over Lionel Messi as the top marksman whittled down to just two goals in recent weeks.

Real continue to be dogged by injuries, though, as Dani Carvajal is a doubt after picking up a knock against Schalke, whilst Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric, James Rodriguez and Sami Khedira remain out.

Madrid needed a controversial stoppage time penalty converted by Ronaldo to take all three points at the Martinez Valero last season and Elche will be confident of an upset having won four of their last six league games to climb out of the relegation zone.

Champions Atletico Madrid suffered a huge blow to their hopes of retaining the title last time out when they lost 2-0 at Celta Vigo just eight days after thrashing Real 4-0 to fall seven points behind the leaders.

Diego Simeone’s men also return to Champions League action in midweek, away at Bayer Leverkusen, and will be hopeful of a problem-free evening when they host struggling Almeria at the Vicente Calderon.

Spanish international Koke is still sidelined by a hamstring problem, but midfielders Arda Turan and Raul Garcia will be free to return after missing out through suspension last weekend.

Indeed, rather than challenging for the title, Atletico’s primary objective in the coming weeks will be fighting off Valencia and Sevilla for the final two Champions League places.

Valencia can move level on points with Atletico should they beat Cordoba on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Sevilla will be hoping to prevent David Moyes claiming just his fourth league win as Real Sociedad boss when they meet in San Sebastian on Sunday.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Getafe v Espanyol (1945)

Saturday

Barcelona v Malaga (1500), Cordoba v Valencia (1700), Atletico Madrid v Almeria (1900), Deportivo la Coruna v Celta Vigo (2100)

Sunday

Real Sociedad v Sevilla (1100), Athletic Bilbao v Rayo Vallecano (1600), Villarreal v Eibar (1800), Elche v Real Madrid (2000)

Monday

Levante v Granada (1845)

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