La Liga

Vilanova close to Barcelona return

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has been recovering from throat cancer.
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Tito Vilanova will remain in charge of Barcelona next season, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has said.

Vilanova, who replaced Pep Guardiola last summer, has missed the majority of Barca's matches this year as he undergoes treatment to combat throat cancer after having surgery in December, with his assistant Jordi Roura taking charge of the team.

Forty-four-year-old Vilanova is set to return to Barcelona at the end of the month, but it remains to be seen when he will be able to resume his full responsibilities with the Catalan giants.

There are no doubts in Zubizarreta's mind about Vilanova's longer-term future at Barca, though.

When asked if Vilanova will be Barca coach next season, Zubizarreta told Catalan radio station RAC1: "Yes, absolutely."

Regarding Vilanova's expected return to the club, Zubizarreta said: "Tito will
arrive at the end of March, I don't know if it will be March 25th, we have to be prudent with the date.

"After that, he will set the agenda. If he wants his first day to be in the morning, afternoon or evening, then fine. He decides."

He added: "Tito is very well. His appearance, his mood, weight, everything...if you saw him in the street, aside from his scarf, you would think he is in perfect health. But we know that these types of treatments wear you down.

"We're happy with how the process is going."

While Vilanova's imminent return is to be welcomed in Catalunya, Barca have been dealt a blow by the news that midfield playmaker Xavi will sit out their clash with Rayo Vallecano on Sunday with a hamstring injury picked up against Milan.

"Further tests confirmed that the player has strained his muscle and therefore will miss the match on Sunday at the Camp Nou," read a statement released on the club's official website.

Xavi has already been laid low with a similar ailment this season, but he is expected to be back in action by the time Spain take in a World Cup qualifying double-header with Finland and France.

Barca this week sealed their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League after overcoming a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat AC Milan 4-2 on aggregate.

They are also 13 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid in the Primera Division.

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