MADRID, Oct 30 (Reuters) - After a terrible start to the Primera Liga season, four straight victories have propelled promoted Malaga to sixth in the standings, seven points behind leaders Valencia.
The south-coast club failed to score in their first four matches, losing three of them, but then went on a run that ended in a fine 1-0 win at fifth-placed Sevilla last weekend, their best series of victories in the top flight.
Their good form faces a severe test on Saturday when they play Barcelona, who have won their last 10 matches in all competitions and have amassed 12 goals in their last three league ties.
"We have to rest and prepare for the Barcelona match," coach Antonio Tapia said after Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Real Mallorca in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey, last-32 tie.
"It's a very attractive match, with three extremely important points up for grabs," he added on Malaga's website.
Lionel Messi said second-placed Barcelona's priority was to put behind them the last two seasons when they finished second and third in the league respectively, having won the title the previous two terms.
"We want to forget those terrible two years and there is no better way to do that than winning the title this year," Messi said in an interview with Thursday's Mundo Deportivo newspaper.
"This year (the league) will be more keenly contested," he added. "Real Madrid are going well, Valencia have come back, Sevilla are going strongly and Villarreal, I think together with us, are the ones playing the best football."
Fourth-placed Villarreal need to pick themselves up after Wednesday's 5-0 Copa Del Rey humiliation at third-tier Poli Ejido and play at struggling Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.
Real Madrid, in action in the Copa Del Rey later on Thursday (2000 GMT), travel to Almeria on Sunday, while Sevilla, who lost 1-0 in Wednesday's Cup match at third-tier side Ponferradina, play at Real Valladolid, also on Sunday.