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Jan 18, 2013

Vilanova to stick with Valdes

Tito Vilanova says Victor Valdes can remain Barcelona's first choice goalkeeper, despite his decision to leave the club within the next 18 months.

• Barcelona blog

Valdes stunned Barca's fans by announcing on Thursday, via his agents, his decision not to extend his contract at the club beyond its end in June 2014.

The Catalan coach, speaking with reporters ahead of Saturday's Primera Division trip to Real Sociedad, said he had spoken with Valdes and saw no reason why the decision should affect the goalkeeper's remaining time at the club.

"I have spoken with him," he said. "Everyone is free to work where they want. He has not asked to leave, just that he will fulfil his contract and then go somewhere else. You must respect him. He will help us as he has until now.

"It would be something positive if he had a good exit from the club. If he keeps playing and performing as now, he will remain first-choice. I repeat that he has not said he wants to go, but that from 2014 he will not renew his contract."

The news came as a surprise and a disappointment, Vilanova admitted, but should not unduly affect the team's performances in the short term.

"It does not upset my plans," he said. "It is not that I do not care, it is a pity as he is the ideal 'keeper for Barcelona. I do not know how the players are, although there will have been surprises as they did not expect the news. But they are professionals and if things go wrong they will not blame this. There is always news around Barca."

Vilanova is likely to return Valdes to the goal for Saturday's game, but must decide how to marshal his outfield resources, with his side 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid and 18 ahead of Real Madrid in the league standings, and facing a tricky Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg trip to Malaga on Thursday after this week's first leg ended 2-2 at the Camp Nou.

David Villa has been ruled out as he has not yet recovered from a troublesome thigh muscle problem, but Vilanova has no new injury worries.

Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba and Pedro Rodriguez could all return to the starting line-up, while Alexis Sanchez - whistled by some fans inside the Camp Nou after missing two simple chances in Wednesday night's Copa clash - should return to the bench.

Vilanova said he would not hold any big names back against La Real, as he did not consider the La Liga race over.

"I am not changing my plans," he said. "We always think in advance. Tomorrow is Saturday and we play in Malaga on Thursday. There is time."

Philippe Montanier's Sociedad have themselves completed an impressive first half of the season, and despite last weekend's disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Deportivo la Coruna, sit comfortably in ninth position in the table. The San Sebastian-based side also held Barca 2-2 in last season's fixture at Anoeta, and beat Barca 2-1 there in 2010-11.

"In our two visits with the first team we have not been able to win," Tito said. "They are dangerous, with pace on the flanks, and a good counter-attack."

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