at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Madrid – Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale has warned against looking ahead to the Clasico clash with Barcelona before his side travel to face Malaga on Saturday.
Los Blancos have opened up a four-point advantage on third-placed Barca at the top of La Liga with 11 games to go and could all but end the Catalans' hopes of retaining their title with victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 23.
However, with both title rivals Barca and Atletico Madrid having suffered surprise defeats on the road in recent weeks, Bale stressed they can take nothing for granted against relegation-threatened Malaga.
“At the moment the next game in the league is against Malaga and we are concentrated on playing well there and getting the three points,” he said on Thursday.
“Afterwards we can think about the Clasico against Barcelona. It is important to play in these huge games that everyone loves. Winning a title is always difficult, but they are great games and we can't wait to play them.”
Madrid were not in Champions League action in midweek and with their last 16, second leg against Schalke on Tuesday a mere formality after a 6-1 hammering of the Germans in the first leg three weeks ago, coach Carlo Ancelotti has no need to rotate his squad.
Atletico currently lie in second, three points behind Real, and are also in action on Saturday when they host Espanyol.
Los Rojiblancos enjoyed an historic week as they secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time in 17 years with a 4-1 hammering of AC Milan on Tuesday.
And having defied the odds to compete with Real and Barca all season, captain Gabi is determined to continue their title fight until the end of the campaign.
“We have 11 games to go. With the fewer number of games we have left, we have even more desire, as the fans do, to fight until the end,” he told the club's website.
“I think that Atletico have made an incredible effort, from both the fans and the technical staff, to fight with the most powerful teams and, now that we have achieved that, we want to continue until the end of the season.”
Mario Suarez and Miranda are both suspended for Diego Simeone's men so Tiago and Toby Alderweireld are expected to come into central midfield and defence respectively.
Barcelona aren't in action until Sunday when Osasuna travel to the Camp Nou.
Gerardo Martino's men got back on track after a shocking 1-0
defeat to Valladolid last weekend by beating Manchester City in midweek to also secure their place in the last eight of the Champions League.
Lionel Messi looked back to his best as he opened the scoring against City and he insists the league is still far from beyond Barca's grasp.
“I don't know if the criticism has been exaggerated. We are the first to criticise ourselves and we didn't play well. We know when we play badly,” he said.
“We lost the chance to stay on Madrid's coattails, but the league is far from lost. There is still a long way to go.”
Martino had the luxury of naming his strongest side on paper for the first time this season on Wednesday.
However, he is expected to make a few changes to freshen up his side with Pedro Rodriguez and Alexis Sanchez likely to be recalled.
At the bottom of the table, new Getafe coach Cosmin Contra gets his first taste of action at home to Granada on Friday.
And two of the bottom three clash in Vallecas as Rayo Vallecano welcome Almeria.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Getafe v Granada (2000)
Levante v Celta Vigo (1500), Rayo Vallecano v Almeria (1700), Malaga v Real Madrid (1900), Atletico Madrid v Espanyol (2100)
Elche v Real Betis (1100), Barcelona v Osasuna (1600), Sevilla v Valladolid (1800), Real Sociedad v Valencia (2000)
Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao (2100) – Sapa-AFP