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Barcelona hosts Villarreal following winter break

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 2009.
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 if possible."
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 years.
"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 to injury.
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 is still waiting for midfielder Kaka to recover from a groin injury, although Rafael van der Vaart has successfully covered for the Brazilian in recent games.
Madrid finished the first half of the season in style, beating Zaragoza 6-0 and finally playing the kind of football reflecting the (EURO)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 back."
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. Athletic Bilbao.


Updated : 2021-04-21 04:59 GMT+08:00