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Vilanova: I would be axed over gap

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova says he would have been sacked had his side slipped as badly as Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid have over the first half of the Primera Division season.

While Vilanova's side have won 18 and drawn one of their first 19 matches in his first season in charge, Mourinho's Madrid have been struggling, with their latest unexpected result - Saturday's 0-0 at bottom side Osasuna - leaving last year's champions a whopping 18 points behind Barca in the table.

When asked if Madrid could be discounted as a title rival given the huge gap, Vilanova said the race was far from over, but he reckoned he would not have survived in his job if his team had dropped so many points.

"No," he said. "But this. That question, if the situation was reversed, I would not be here answering it. Madrid are capable of winning every game of the second half of the season and we could lose those points. We are not talking about there just being four games left. There are lots left. I know things happen and can happen quickly. As they lose games, coaches become less good."

Vilanova said that he did not take seriously the suggestions from the Madrid camp, including from Mourinho after the Osasuna game and Angel Di Maria on Monday, that refereeing decisions were the reason for Barca's huge lead.

"I do not believe anyone doubts how we have played," he said. "I saw the pictures of Di Maria on the news and I do not believe he was talking very seriously. He said it almost smiling."

The Catalan coach was speaking with reporters at Barcelona's Ciutat Deportivo ahead of Wednesday's Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg versus Malaga, which comes just three days after the Catalan side cruised to a 3-1 win against the Andalucians at la Rosaleda.

Vilanova said that his team would not be taking anything for granted in their second meeting, as Manuel Pellegrini's side had already showed their quality in Europe this season.

"I do not believe we will relax," he said. "It is true that we won the league game and we played very well. This is a game which could perfectly be in the Champions League. Malaga are a team full of quality and, over two legs, when you have a sending off or a goal against, everything becomes more difficult."

Vilanova also confirmed that David Villa would miss the game with a slight thigh muscle problem, but is expected to rotate his side with Jose Pinto, Alexis Sanchez, Adriano Correia, Thiago Alcantara, Alexander Song, Carles Puyol and Martin Montoya among those who could come into the starting line-up.

"We have the look that all these players, who you say are not regulars, have helped us to reach the number of points we have already," he said. "Any of them could play. The team tomorrow will be competitive and against Real Sociedad (in La Liga on Saturday) also. Not just the players who went out against Malaga, but those who played in the cup against Cordoba (5-0 last Thursday), give me confidence."


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