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Tootle's 'slug' goal celebration

The Toe Poke
By ESPN Staff

Dani Alves denies Barca's standards will slip

Barcelona defender Dani Alves is confident complacency will not be a problem for the Catalan giants as they look to build on their record-breaking success of the past year in 2010.

Barca have swept all aside in the last 12 months, winning all six trophies on offer - Primera Division, Champions League, Copa del Rey, Club World Cup and the European and Spanish Super Cups - but the challenge facing Pep Guardiola's side now is trying to keep themselves ahead of the pack.

Three years ago Barca failed to build on their Primera Division-Champions League Double of 2006 as they went trophyless until their Copa del Rey triumph of last May, but Alves is hoping it will be a different story this time around.

"We don't know how things will go, but with the coach we've got there's no way we're going to relax,'' said the Brazilian. "There's the experience of 2006, plus we need to improve, as if we don't we'll be caught by other teams. So we need to work hard to stay on top.''

January could prove a telling month for Barca as they potentially have nine matches during that period, starting with Saturday's testing home clash against improving Villarreal and also including two games against Alves' former club Sevilla in the Copa del Rey last 16. If Barca get through that tie, then they could face 2008 cup winners Valencia in the quarter-finals later in the month.

"We're hoping to start the year well, like we finished this one,'' added Alves, whose side have lost just once in their 28 competitive fixtures this season. "We need to be ready because January will show us how far we can go in the Copa del Rey.''

Villarreal suffered a dismal start to their season and were bottom of the standings after seven matches, but they have turned things around impressively and now boast a record of nine wins from their last 13 matches in league, cup and Europe.

Playmaker Cani said of the trip to the Nou Camp: "We couldn't have a better start to the year than to win there. It's not going to be an easy game because Barca are doing very well and nobody has beaten them yet (in La Liga). But we've picked up points there in the last two years (with a 2-1 win and a 3-3 draw), so why can't we do it again?''

Barca currently boast a two-point lead at the top of the standings, but second-placed Real Madrid are chasing hard and will be in buoyant mood for their trip to Osasuna after ending 2009 with a crushing 6-0 victory over Real Zaragoza.

World-record signing Cristiano Ronaldo, who netted his 13th goal in just 12 competitive games this season in that match, warned his side's rivals: "I am full of confidence that we are going to get much better in the rest of the season.''

There is already a gap appearing between the big two and the rest, with third-placed Sevilla seven points adrift of Madrid. Manolo Jimenez's side have lost their way of late and will be desperate to get back on track this weekend against an Atletico Madrid who will be praying 2010 will be better for them than the second half of 2009 was.

The Rojiblancos will start the new year in 15th place having won just three times so far in La Liga, while they were also dumped out of the Champions League at the group stages.

If Sevilla do slip up at the Vicente Calderon, then fourth-placed Valencia will replace them in the top three with a home win over Espanyol.

Almeria will be under the control of new coach Juan Manuel Lillo for their clash against rock-bottom Xerez after he replaced the sacked Hugo Sanchez just prior to the Christmas break.

Zaragoza also recently made a managerial change and decided to stick with newcomer Jose Aurelio Gay despite that 6-0 Bernabeu mauling in his first game in the hotseat.

Gay, the reserve team coach who was appointed temporary boss of the first team following the dismissal of Marcelino Garcia Toral, has been given the job for the remainder of the season and his second game will be at home to sixth-placed Deportivo La Coruna.

Elsewhere this weekend, fifth-placed Real Mallorca will look to make it eight home wins out of eight when they host Athletic Bilbao, Sporting Gijon face Malaga, Real Valladolid go to Getafe and Tenerife travel to Racing Santander.


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