Pellegrini urges Real to step up

Pellegrini urges Real to step up

Published Jan. 16, 2010 12:38 a.m. ET

Manuel Pellegrini has urged his Real Madrid side to step up to the biggest challenge of the season so far when they travel to hostile territory on Saturday night.

Los Meringues have been hit by injuries recently and will be without several key players - including striker Gonzalo Higuain - when they head to the Basque country to face Athletic Bilbao.

Pellegrini's team are still two points behind leaders Barcelona and will be keen to keep up the pressure - with their rivals at home to Sevilla.

The Chilean coach is braced for a difficult night, however.

"Athletic Bilbao have a defined style," he told "They are strong and rely on aerial plays.

"They play at a very high level. We have to score from our chances, which we failed to do against Osasuna in our previous away match. We are currently having a good run. We continue to improve, but we can never be fully satisfied.

"We are performing well and I hope we continue to improve with each game we play."

Pellegrini added: "Higuain's injury is as important to us as any other player's. He was scoring goals for us.

"It's a shame he got injured when he was having such a good run. I nevertheless think of the whole team and I believe the squad is good enough for us to continue to play at a high level. I have faith in Raul and Karim Benzema. I believe they are doing a good job."

Pellegrini is happy to give French enigma Benzema a chance.

"I watch all of my men closely during training and in each of our games, so Benzema has nothing to prove to me," he added.

"He proves his quality on a daily basis. We need all of our men to be ready in order to have a good season both in La Liga and in the Champions League. It's pointless to just focus on eleven players. This is a large and quality squad."

As well as Higuain, Madrid are without Rafael Van der Vaart, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Pepe while Mahamadou Diarra is at the African Nations Cup. Lassana Diarra and Sergio Ramos, however, are back from suspension.

"Sustaining injuries means, more than ever, that we must show everyone we are capable of doing what's expected of us," the coach said.

"I'm not worried about Barcelona. I just think about winning our match at San Mames."

Opposite number Joaquin Caparros had a subtle dig at his big-spending counterpart following their unprecedented recruitment drive last summer.

He told reporters: "Madrid have spent all the money in the world of football and it is true that we, with our philosophy, we are the other end.

"But we're very comfortable with the model we have, which is run fairly, and we will enjoy it."

Gaizka Toquero should be available for Athletic with Joseba Etxeberria also in contention but Aitor Ocio, Iban Zubiaurre and Inaki Munoz are still missing having already missed last week's draw at Malaga.