MADRID, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- FC Barcelona face another potentially difficult away game on Sunday as they seek to maintain their five point lead at the top of the Liga Santander.
The lead could have been reduced to two or three points by the time Barca kick off in Villarreal if Valencia and Atletico Madrid win their respective matches, which will have finished before the game starts in the Estadio de la Ceramica.
Villlarreal have not beaten Barca at home in 10 years, but their ground has always been a difficult place for Barca to visit. The home side entertain Barca on the back of three defeats, with setbacks in the league at home to Sevilla and away to Leganes, while a side made up mainly of B-teamers lost in the Europa League on Thursday.
Coach Javier Calleja rested key players in Europe and will field his strongest available side against Barca, with the doubt of Colombian striker, Carlos Bacca, who has been struggling with a hamstring problem.
Barca coach Ernesto Valverde has only two central defenders fit at the moment following Samuel Umtiti's injury in the 2-2 draw at home to Celta a week ago and Javier Mascherano's hamstring problem.
That leaves Gerard Pique and the fragile Thomas Vermaelen as the only first team options until the New Year and with the 'Classico' against Real Madrid in two weeks, any injury to either of those two would pose a major problem.
Valverde looks likely to maintain Paulinho in an attacking midfield role with Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta also starting, although Iniesta will need a test on his fitness with Denis Suarez the likely alternative if Valverde decides not to risk the veteran midfielder.
Barca's football of late has been pragmatic rather than brilliant and last weekend's draw came as a wake-up call to some; should they drop points on Sunday, the alarm bells might just start ringing a little louder.