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Nov 23, 2012

Karanka demanding focus from Real

Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka has said his side are not worrying about the eight-point gap between them and Primera Division leaders Barcelona ahead of Saturday night's game at Real Betis.

• Blog: No worries for Mourinho

A win at Betis would temporarily cut Barca's lead to five points and also perhaps make up ground on city rivals Atletico ahead of next weekend's Madrid derby, but nobody in the Madrid camp were thinking in those terms, said Jose Mourinho's No. 2.

"We have to concentrate on our games and not thinking about other people," Karanka said. "If we cannot win our own games then nothing else matters.

Speaking before Friday's training session at Madrid's Valdebebas facility, the former blancos defender said selection would depend on how players had recovered from Wednesday's 1-1 Champions League Group D draw which saw Madrid qualify for the last 16 with one game remaining.

"After playing on Wednesday we have one less day's rest than others and we have to see how the players are at training," Karanka said. "We are considering make some changes depending on how they are."

French centre-forward Karim Benzema was withdrawn late in that game after shipping a heavy challenge from David Silva, but should start up front against Betis with Gonzalo Higuaín still absent with a muscle problem.

One likely change is the return to the starting XI of German playmaker Mesut Ozil, who Karanka said was benched for "technical reasons" against City, although on loan midfielder Michael Essien looks set to miss out again with a foot infection.

Betis come into the game at a low ebb, having been hammered 5-1 by Sevilla in last weekend's local derby, but Karanka pointed out they had tested Madrid last year, when Betis were controversially denied a last minute penalty in a 3-2 win for Mourinho's side.

"Betis are having a very good season, and last year it took a lot out of us to win there," he said. "This week will have been difficult for them, but we need to just concern ourselves with our own game and getting the three points."

Betis coach Pepe Mel said on Friday that the game against the defending Primera champions gave his players a chance to win back some of the pride lost in last Sunday's disastrous showing against neighbours Sevilla.

"I hope that after the game our players can look Betis fans in the face, and their coach can too," Mel said. "I expect the fans will whistle when run out onto the pitch, but when the game starts we are all Betis. We need to try and beat Madrid, this is another game, another story. Madrid will not sympathise with our problems."

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