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Barcelona face difficult La Liga tie against Villarreal

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez

Madrid, Dec 10 (UITV/IANS) - FC Barcelona face another potentially difficult away game on Sunday as they seek to maintain their five-point lead at the top of the La Liga football championship.

The lead could have been reduced to two or three points by the time Barcelona 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, reports Xinhua news agency.

Villlarreal have not beaten Barcelona at home in 10 years, but their ground has always been a difficult place for the Catalan powerhouse.

The home side has lost three consecutive defeats coming into the match. They lost at home ainst Sevilla and away against Leganes, while a side made up mainly of B-teamers lost in the Europa League on Thursday.

Coach Javier Calleja rested key players in Europa League and will field his strongest available side against Barcelona, with the doubt of Colombian striker Carlos Bacca, who has been struggling with a hamstring problem.

Barcelona 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 keep Paulinho in an attacking midfield role with Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta also starting, although the latter will need a test on his fitness. Denis Suarez is the likely alternative if Valverde decides not to risk the veteran midfielder Iniesta.

Barcelona'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.