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Valverde’s reinforced squad faces Anoeta test
January 13, 2018
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Madrid: Barcelona conclude a busy week on and off the pitch with a visit to Real Sociedad, where the runaway Spanish League leaders are winless in La Liga going back to 2007.

Philippe Coutinho completed his 160-million-euro ($192 million) move from Liverpool on Monday in the third richest transfer in history, although a thigh injury will prevent the Brazilian from making his debut on Sunday.

Barca sealed another deal on Thursday for Colombia centre-back Yerry Mina, the towering 23-year-old joining on a five-year deal from Palmeiras to fill the void left by the expected departure of Javier Mascherano to China.

Ernesto Valverde’s team then cruised into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey with Lionel Messi scoring twice in a 5-0 second-leg demolition of Celta Vigo at the Camp Nou.

Barca remain unbeaten as the season hits its halfway point and hold a nine-point lead over nearest rivals Atletico Madrid, with defending champions Real Madrid languishing 16 points off the pace.

But aside from a 1-0 win in last season’s Copa del Rey courtesy of a Neymar penalty, Barca have struggled at Anoeta in recent times with their last league success there coming under Frank Rijkaard in May 2007. Five wins in six have kept Atletico in the title hunt, but Diego Simeone’s side also face a tricky assignment on Saturday away to Eibar, whose unrivalled return of 19 points from a possible 21 since mid-November has propelled them to seventh.

Zidane bullish

Real host sixth-place Villarreal after also sealing their place in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey following an unconvincing 2-2 draw at home to second-tier Numancia that secured a 5-2 aggregate win.

“A draw is not the best result, but we’ll continue to do our job in a positive way and at some point we’ll see the results of this hard work,” said coach Zinedine Zidane, who confirmed he has signed an extension with Real until 2020.

Agence France-Presse

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