La Liga preview: Vilanova return imminent as Barca resume action
By Football News
The return of head coach Tito Vilanova has been soured by mounting injury problems ahead of Barcelona's trip to play Celta Vigo in La Liga.
Vilanova is back in Spain this week following two months in New York spent undergoing treatment for a cancer relapse.
Barca are yet to confirm if the 44-year-old, who succeeded Pep Guardiola as first-team coach at the end of last season, will be on the bench at Estadio Balaidos on Saturday.
Assistant coach Jordi Roura took charge in Vilanova's absence, guiding Barca into the last eight of the UEFA Champions League and taking them 13 points clear of reigning champions Real Madrid in the Spanish top flight.
With just 10 rounds of the league campaign remaining, the title looks set to return to Camp Nou, while another appearance in the Champions League final at Wembley beckons.
But Vilanova and Roura must negotiate the loss of several key players if they are to pull off a double of domestic and European honours.
The biggest problems are at the back - stalwart captain Carles Puyol is out of action following knee surgery, while a torn thigh muscle means versatile fullback Adriano is also on the sidelines.
Last week's international break did Barcelona no favours, with first-choice left-back Jordi Alba suffering a pulled hamstring during Spain's 1-1 draw with Finland.
Forward Pedro Rodriguez then tore a calf muscle in the 1-0 win over France, while the extent of Xavi Hernandez's long-running groin problem is unclear.
As if those injury woes were not enough, goalkeeper Victor Valdes is suspended, meaning reserve shot-stopper Jose Pinto will be among several fringe players called into action this week.
And while they remain heavy favourites to claim all three points, the visitors are unlikely to have an easy time of it in Galicia - Celta are second bottom on the table, three points from safety and fighting for survival as they bid to avoid a fourth successive defeat.
Title rivals Madrid, meanwhile, will keep up their seemingly futile pursuit of the leaders away to struggling Real Zaragoza.
Also on Saturday, Rayo Vallecano, ninth on the table, host sixth-placed Malaga, while 10th plays 11th respectively when Sevilla visit Levante.
In the pick of Sunday's matches, third-placed Atletico Madrid welcome fifth-placed Valencia to Estadio Vicente Calderon.
On the same day, surprise Champions League qualification contenders Real Sociedad - two points ahead of Valencia in fourth - visit underachieving Espanyol.
Elsewhere, last-placed Deportivo La Coruna go away to third-bottom Mallorca in a crucial relegation battle, while Real Valladolid host Osasuna.
Finally, there are two matches on Monday, with Athletic Bilbao at home to Granada and Getafe due to visit Real Betis.