MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid moved six points clear at the top of La Liga as Cristiano Ronaldo's 39th goal of the season handed them a hard-fought 1-0 win away to Malaga.
Ronaldo made the breakthrough with a resounding finish from the edge of the area midway through the first-half and was only denied from adding to his tally by a series of saves from Willy Caballero.
Malaga pushed hard for an equaliser in the final quarter, but could not find a way through as they remain just three points above the relegation zone.
Real now lead third-placed Barcelona by seven points with the Catalans not in action until Sunday when they host Osasuna, whilst Atletico Madrid can move back to within three points of the leaders with victory over Espanyol later on Saturday.
And with Real and Barca set to meet in El Clasico next weekend at the Santiago Bernabeu, midfielder Xabi Alonso underlined the importance of consolidating their advantage.
"It is a very important three points. There is one less game to play and now we will focus on Tuesday and then Sunday," he told Canal Plus.
"We will have to see what happens tomorrow to see if they cut the gap. We have 10 games to go and we need to play them all like it is the last one.
"I don't think the Clasico will be decisive, but it is very important."
Real boss Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, hailed his side's attitude despite not having their best day in front of goal.
"It was a difficult game because Malaga pressed a lot for the whole game," he said.
"We had chances to score the second goal but unfortunately we weren't able to get it and then when the score is 1-0 you always suffer.
"It wasn't a great game in terms of how we played, but we showed good attitude and were very solid defensively. We didn't concede any opportunities, so it is a good and very important result."
The only goal of the game arrived on 22 minutes when Ronaldo collected Gareth Bale's crossfield pass and cut inside two Malaga defenders before thumping a right-footed shot into the bottom corner.
The Portuguese captain could then have added to his tally twice in quick succession as he forced Caballero into a fine low save before volleying a lovely cross from Bale wide at the far post.
In trying to reach the ball for the second chance, though, Ronaldo clashed with teammate Karim Benzema and the Frenchman had to replaced by Angel di Maria after failing to recover from a knock to the thigh.
Ronaldo continued to pose problems for the Malaga defence and headed wide Di Maria's pin-point volleyed cross just before the break.
Di Maria created the first clear opening of the second period as well with a fantastic run inside his own half before teeing up Isco, but he wastefully fired over with just Caballero to beat.
Bale had another good penalty claim waved away moments later before Diego Lopez was forced into a rare save at the other end by a fiercely struck shot from Nourredine Amrabat.
Madrid were then handed a break from the officials as Pepe got away with planting his studs into Duda's knee as he cleared the ball.
Malaga's best chance to equalise came 15 minutes from time, but unfortunately for Bernd Schuster's men it fell to centre-back Sergio Sanchez and he blasted well wide of the target when well-placed inside the area.