Barcelona to reinforce defense, keep Alves, Keita

JOSEPH WILSONAssociated Press

New Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said the Spanish club is looking to reinforce its fragile defense while hoping to hold on to right back Dani Alves and midfielder Seydou Keita.

Vilanova, who signed a two-year contract Friday to take over from Pep Guardiola, said ”we want to add to our defense. We have had problems and have been forced to adjust at both left back and center back.”

Barcelona had to shuffle its backline constantly last season. Veteran captain Carles Puyol is currently missing Spain’s European Championship title defense with a knee injury. Andreu Fontas tore a ligament in his right leg in January, and left back Eric Abidal is out long term due to a liver transplant.

Vilanova said he had seen Abidal recently and described the France international as having lost weight but doing well.

”He is in good spirits. We will see how he comes along,” he said.

The 42-year-old Vilanova also missed various games last season after having surgery on a salivary gland. He said that he has fully recovered and would not otherwise have taken on the stressful job of head coach.

Guardiola’s former assistant also dispelled rumors surrounding the future of Dani Alves and Keita.

”Dani Alves is logically staying. He has been one of the best signings of this club … Keita the same, if he wants to stay he has a place,” he said.

Barcelona sports director Andoni Zubizarreta said he would also discuss extending Puyol’s contract, up at the end of next season.

Vilanova said the club had no plans to bring in players to its already loaded attack led by Lionel Messi.

”We hope that (David) Villa, Alexis (Sanchez) and Pedro (Rodriguez), who were all hurt at times last season, will be healthy and along with (Cristian) Tello and Messi score a lot of goals.”

Barcelona won 14 of 19 possible titles under Guardiola with Vilanova as assistant. Guardiola stepped down at the end of last season, citing the wear and tear of four long campaigns.