Real Zaragoza appoint Jose Antonio Gay full time while Almeria turn to Manuel Lillo.
|Manager Pep Guardiola chats to Andres Iniesta during a rainy training session near Barcelona [AFP]|
The new year will bring no changes to the work rate for leaders Barcelona when they resume action in Spain’s Primera Division.
The Catalan giants face Villarreal at home on Saturday, and only hold a two-point lead in the league thanks to Real Madrid’s 6-0 demolition of Real Zaragoza.
Barcelona have had a hugely successful end to 2009, winning the Club World Cup two weeks ago taking their haul of trophies over the course of the year to six.
But the team will need to focus on their domestic duties based on Real’s resurgent form.
The challenge from Real will be a powerful motivating factor as Barcelona return from the winter break. Barca will remember what happened the last time they played in the Club World Cup in 2006, when their surprise defeat to Internacional triggered a slump in form under Frank Rijkaard.
But Barca’s Brazilian full back Daniel Alves is confident the same will not happen under coach Pep Guardiola, saying that the work ethic instilled by him in the team meant there would be no chance of Barcelona resting on their 2009 laurels.
“With the coach we have there will be no relaxation because he has taught us that we’ll only keep winning if we maintain our ambition,” Alves said.
“We are going to do all we can to make sure this book has more than one page.”
Barcelona will be defending their 100 percent home record without injured midfielders Jeffren and Seydou Keita, and Yaya Toure who is on international duty with Ivory Coast.
Andres Iniesta is still working to recover from an injury while Lionel Messi has been granted extended leave until Saturday.
Villarreal have won three on the trot to climb to ninth after their poor start to the season.
Saturday January 2
Atletico Madrid v Sevilla
Sunday January 3
Almeria v Xerez
Real Madrid will take up the chase again away to Osasuna on Sunday.
Real have found excellent form, buoyed by the return to fitness of star striker Ronaldo, and have netted 13 goals in their last three league victories ahead of their trip to the Reyno de Navarra in Pamplona.
“We had a period of adaptation because there were many new faces in the team but now we are starting to get the results,” Cristiano Ronaldo told Spanish sports daily AS.
“The team is improving all the time and I am sure we’ll win a title this year.”
Manuel Pellegrini is without long-term injury victim Pepe and Mahamadou Diarra who is on duty with Mali. Guti, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Kaka continue to work apart from the group.
Third-placed Sevilla have lost ground on the leaders after only one win from their last four outings, and face a testing trip to play Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Games between the two sides are often explosive affairs.
Sevilla are without their injured top scorer Luis Fabiano.
Atletico, who are struggling two points above the relegation places, have an injury doubt over top scorer Sergio Aguero.
“The truth is we have had an awful first third of the season, horrific,” Atletico president Enrique Cerezo told AS.
“We have a lot to do to recover the lost ground.”