Barcelona travel to Real Valladolid on Saturday, following several days when the minds of most inside the club have been focused on matters altogether more serious than events on the pitch. On Thursday, manager Tito Vilanova had an operation on a recurrence of a tumor on his salivary gland.
Despite now having to undergo six weeks of chemotherapy, the 44-year-old may be able to continue in his role and so far Barcelona have only announced that assistant coach Jordi Roura will be in charge of the team on Saturday.
Vilanova has led the club to the best ever start to a La Liga season and captain Carles Puyol has said that all they can do is to continue to perform on the pitch.
“What we have to do is keep on doing our job, train hard and eagerly await Tito’s return,” Puyol explained, according to Barcelona’s official website.
“The best way we can help him is to continue working like we have been. [Tito] is our leader and we have to follow the path that he’s laid out for us.”
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On being under the temporary charge of Roura, Puyol said that there should be little disruption.
“He’s worked with us for many years,” he added. “He’s very active in the training sessions and in how we play, our approach to the game won’t change. We’re in good hands.
“Having [Roura] in command is the right decision.”
Barcelona further enhanced their position in La Liga with a thrilling 4-1 victory over second-placed Atletico Madrid last Sunday. Now with a nine point lead, not to mention a 13 point advantage over rivals Real Madrid, many are already hailing Barcelona as champions.
The players will want to avoid any complacency, though, against mid-table Valladolid. In their last home encounter, Miroslav Dukic’s side gave Real Madrid a real scare and led 2-1 before eventually falling to a 3-2 defeat.
Valladolid will again be missing Patrick Ebert and Jesus Rueda.
While the news has since been overshadowed by Vilanova’s condition, earlier in the week Barcelona received a boost with the return to training of defender Eric Abidal following a liver transplant. Cesc Fabregas remains sidelined with a thigh injury.
Real Valladolid (probable)
D: Rukavina, Sereno, Valiente, Balenziaga
M: Rubio, Perez
Ramos, Gonzalez, Bueno
D: Adriano, Puyol, Pique, Alba
M: Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Messi, Sanchez
Prediction: Valladolid have been impressive at home in recent times and could present Barcelona with a real challenge. However, the Balugrana showed last week just how good they are by dispatching in style a strong Atletico Madrid side.
Likely looking to pay tribute to Vilanova, Barcelona should emerge convincing winners.
Real Valladolid 1-3 Barcelona
Where to watch: The La Liga match kicks-off from the Estadio Nuevo Jose Zorrilla at noon ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.