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Jose Mourinho's men led the league by 10 points at one stage but they are now just four points clear and coming under increasing pressure from a resurgent Barcelona.

Real Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka has claimed that Los Blancos deserve to be crowned Primera Division champions because they have had to overcome great adversity this season.

The capital city side is currently four points clear of Barcelona at the summit of the standings with just six rounds remaining.

Madrid, which led by 10 points as recently as last month, has come under increasing pressure from the Blaugrana in recent weeks but Karanka believes it would be unfair if Jose Mourinho’s men were overhauled at this late stage in the season.

"These players deserve to be champions because of their hard work and the adversity they are overcoming,” the former defender argued.

Karanka also stood by his assertion that Cristiano Ronaldo is superior to Barcelona forward Lionel Messi.

“Cristiano proves he is the best player in the world in every match,” he declared. “We are all aware of how important he is to the team. The fight isn't between Ronaldo and Messi, but rather between two sides that want to win the title.”

Karanka was speaking ahead of Madrid’s Liga clash with Sporting Gijon, having again been sent out to face the press in place of Mourinho.

The 38-year-old denied, though, that his boss was again shunning the media.

"Jose Mourinho will speak whenever he has to, just as he's been doing so far,” he explained. “We take turns addressing the media. That's how we work. We find it normal, but it seems to surprise all of you."

Up next for Madrid is what looks like a very winnable game against Sporting Gijon at the Santiago Bernabeu, but Karanka is taking nothing for granted.

“We cannot fail against Sporting,” he declared. “It will be a very important match with a lot at stake for us. Taking three points will be vital.

"They defeated us at the Bernabeu last season and they are dangerous. A draw will not be enough for them because they need three points to avoid relegation. They will go all out for the match and that will make them dangerous. The match is of paramount importance and we won't use rotations. We didn't win our last home game and we have to win tomorrow."

As a result, Madrid will, according to Karanka, resist the temptation to omit top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo to protect the Portuguese from the threat of suspension ahead of the Clasico.

"Cristiano Ronaldo has been at risk of seeing a fifth booking for two months and still hasn't,” he pointed out. “He always wants to play and tomorrow is no exception.

“He is intelligent and a player should never be afraid of being booked. There's no problem there."

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