Barça starts toughest stretch at Malaga

Barça starts toughest stretch at Malaga

BARCELONA - The Associated Press
Runaway Spanish leader Barcelona travels to fourth-place Malaga on Jan. 13 to enter its toughest period of the season with five of its next eight games away from the Camp Nou.

Lionel Messi, fresh from collecting his record fourth world player of the year award, will lead Barcelona with his league-best 27 goals. Barcelona is aiming to reach the season’s midway point unbeaten after winning 17 of its 18 games.

Barcelona and Malaga will then meet twice more over the next two weeks in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals.

“These three games against Malaga will be difficult,” said Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Pinto, who handles the Copa games while Victor Valdes plays in the league. “We will have to see how the two teams handle the mental wear and tear, which above anything else will be determined by the results.”
Atletico Madrid is 11 points behind Barcelona and hosts Real Zaragoza on Jan. 13.

Real Madrid, 16 points off Barcelona’s pace in third, will try to avoid another slip at last-place Osasuna on Jan. 12 without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo and its defense in tatters.

While Barcelona shows no signs of slowing down, its stumbling chasers’ last hope of catching the Catalan club resides in the bumpy road the coming weeks offer.

After the game at Malaga, Barcelona has subsequent trips to in-form Real Sociedad, Valencia, Granada and archrival Madrid. It will also pursue its Copa defense and start the Champions League knockout rounds against Italian side AC Milan.

Barcelona will face its packed calendar with coach Tito Vilanova and assistant Jordi Roura sharing coaching duties while Vilanova continues chemotherapy and radiotherapy after his recent surgery to remove a tumor from his throat.

Vilanov has gone to New York to continue his treatment on a second tumor in two years, according to the Spanish press.