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Víctor Valdés against Villareal / PHOTO: CAPARRÓS - FCB

FC Barcelona go to Villareal for the last game in January, and they won't want to drop any points if they want to stay in the hunt for their fourth consecutive league title. They travel south with their morale high after putting Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, which means they are still challenging to win all three major trophies this season.

Big absences

But it is never easy to get three points at El Madrigal, and Pep Guardiola has only 14 first team players available after Alexis and Iniesta both went down with injuries midweek, and therefore join Villa, Afellay and Fontàs on the sidelines, not forgetting that Seydou Keita is also away, due to his participation in the African Nations Cup.

Young guns ready to fire

It's hardly the situation Guardiola would have wanted at such a crucial time of the season, but rather than lament the circumstances, players like Cesc Fàbregas said on Wednesday that "if we have to play for 90 minutes in five games in a row, we'll do it, and if we have to play with ten men, we'll do that too. It won't change anything. We are who we are and we just have to keep pushing forwards. What's more, we have a great reserve team". Indeed, the Barça B youngsters are the best winter signing the club could have wished for, and against Vila-real, Isaac Cuenca, Jonathan dos Santos, Sergi Roberto and Tello have all been named in the squad.

Dangers of Villareal

Barça have to take special care over this trip to Villareal. The side from Castellón have always made things difficult for the Catalans, even though this is anything but the best season they have ever had in the first division. They have been managed since the New Year by José Franciso Molina, who replaced Juan Carlos Garrido, and last Monday finally made it out of the relegation zone thanks to a win against fellow strugglers Sporting Gijón. The yellow submarine will be keen for another victory, but they know it won't be easy against the European champions. Their manager said this week that "it is impossible to beat FC Barcelona without playing a brilliant match". He has named a provisional squad of 19, because goalkeeper Diego López has gone down with a fever and may not be able to play.

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