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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Barca coach hails returning Villa

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova praised David Villa for a hard-working performance after his side's 2-0 Copa del Rey last 16 first leg win at second tier Cordoba on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi again scored twice for Barca - taking his 2012 tally to 88 - with the first coming from close range after Villa unselfishly chose to pass to his teammate after committing Cordoba goalkeeper Mikel Saizar.

Spain international Villa, 31, rumoured to be unhappy with his limited playing time so far this season after returning from the broken leg he suffered last December, was replaced with seven minutes remaining.

"I am very pleased with [Villa's] work," Vilanova said. "He provided the assist for Messi and he gave us a lot of options up top.

"He fought a lot. He played with a lot of rhythm and he reminded me of the footballer he was before his injury. I took him off because I believed that [Cristian] Tello's pace would help us score a third goal.

Midfielder Thiago Alcantara, 21, also took his chance to impress at the Estadio Nuevo Arcangel after returning from an injury lay-off.

"I am very happy, because he was out for a long time," Vilanova said. "He is a very complete player. When you need to keep hold of the ball, he keeps hold of it. If we need him to shoot, he shoots.

"He is a player that has progressed a lot in the last year. He played a very good game."

Vilanova said that even though Barcelona have a two-goal lead going in to January 10's home second leg, the tie was not over. "We still have to play 90 minutes, and they can score two goals at the Camp Nou," he warned.

But he criticised the ball being used in this year's Copa, which he said was lighter than that used in other competitions.

"The ball used in La Liga is good and the ball used in the Champions League is good," Vilanova said. "But the one we use in the cup is not good. It seems like a beach ball."

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