Barcelona hosts Villarreal following winter break
Barcelona will look to extend its unbeaten run when the Spanish
league resumes Saturday following the winter break after having
returned from winning the Club World Cup for its sixth title of
Barcelona hosts Villarreal with 12 wins and three draws from
15 league games to lead Real Madrid by two points at the top of the
standings. Barcelona has 39 points, Madrid has 37, followed by
Sevilla on 30 and Valencia on 29.
Madrid visits Osasuna on Sunday, while troubled Atletico
Madrid faces Sevilla on Saturday.
Barcelona secured its place in football history by winning
the Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 19 to cap a
perfect year by adding to its Champions League, Spanish league,
Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercup and European Supercup titles.
Defender Daniel Alves said there is no danger of complacency
going into the new year due to coach Pep Guardiola.
“Maybe things won’t go quite so well, but we won’t relax
because (Guardiola) is always there, reminding us that winners only
keep winning with ambition,” Alves said. “We have too much
experience to relax. We’re alert and we will try to improve further
Villarreal could present a stiff test for Barcelona. The
ninth-place team had a disastrous start to the season when it
slipped into the relegation zone. However, it has won its last
three league games by playing the kind of quick, passing football
that has taken it into the Champions League several times in recent
“After everything they’ve won, (Barcelona) are without doubt
the team to beat. The one everyone wants to beat,” Villarreal
midfielder Ariel Ibagaza said. “It’s a game that we’re motivated
for and excited about, and we’re going into it very calmly. We know
that getting anything out of it would be very important.”
Andres Iniesta could feature following his recovery from an
undisclosed injury, although defensive midfielder Yaya Toure is
away at the African Cup of Nations and Seydou Keita is in doubt due
Atletico is 15th in the standings, two points above the
relegation zone and already out of the Champions League. Coach
Quique Sanchez Flores, appointed in October, has the task of
shoring up one of the worst defenses in the league while depending
less in attack on Sergio Aguero.
The Argentina striker has been injured throughout December,
although he could feature against Sevilla.
“We have to go out there with a winning mentality, playing at
home with a new year beginning,” Atletico midfielder Jose Antonio
Reyes said. “We must forget what happened last year and realize
that we’re a big team and we can beat anyone.”
Reyes, formerly of Sevilla, said that he will not celebrate
if he scores against his old team out of respect.
Sevilla kept up the pressure on Barcelona and Real Madrid in
the early stages of the season, and even beat Madrid. Despite
falling off the pace more recently, coach Manolo Jimenez insists
his team is “working to win a title” this season.
Brazil striker Luis Fabiano will not feature for Sevilla due
to an ankle injury.
Madrid’s Kaka has returned to training as he completes his
recovery from a groin injury, although Rafael van der Vaart will
probably cover for him against 12th-place Osasuna if the Brazilian
is ruled out.
Madrid finished the first half of the season in style,
beating Zaragoza 6-0 and finally playing the kind of football
reflecting the ?250 million ($360 million) outlay on new signings
in the offseason.
“We all agree that the team has taken a step forward,”
defender Alvaro Arbeloa said. “We’ve improved our play, we’re still
scoring lots of goals, creating chances and we’re strong at the
In other games, it’s: Valencia vs. Espanyol; Sporting Gijon
vs. Malaga; Getafe vs. Valladolid; Racing Santander vs Tenerife;
Almeria vs. Xerez; Zaragoza vs Deportivo La Coruna and Mallorca vs.