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Prelude to a Clasico: Real Madrid the winner as Barcelona & Atletico slip up

Things may just be looking up for Real Madrid.

Coach Carlo Ancelotti called for improvement ahead of tough tests against Juventus and Barcelona this week, and not only did he get it as the Blancos beat Malaga 2-0 on Saturday, but he also saw the team's two title rivals - the Catalans and Atletico Madrid - drop points in La Liga later on. For the under-pressure Italian, it was the ideal start to a crucial seven-day spell.

Malaga made life difficult for Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu as the visitors constantly caught out the home team with a dogged defense and a clever offside trap. And when those two failed, there was the wonderful Willy Caballero in goal to keep out almost all that was aimed at him in a quite brilliant display of shot-stopping. Once, even the woodwork intervened.

But Madrid improved markedly on Saturday following some underwhelming performances in recent weeks, and Willy was finally beaten just after halftime, when Angel Di Maria's curling cross beat everyone - including the head of the airbound Cristiano Ronaldo - on its way to the corner of the net.

Ronaldo was thwarted by an inspired Caballero on a number of occasions and was only able to convert a contentious late penalty after substitute Gareth Bale went down in the box. Then, in a curious gesture towards the Madrid fans, the Portuguese said sorry to the Bernabeu and asked not to be acclaimed on an afternoon where he had not quite been at his best. High standards indeed.

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