Barcelona promote Cuenca to first team

Brief news from La Liga ahead of this weekend's matches:

Barcelona have promoted youth team winger Isaac Cuenca to the first team with an improved contract which will tie him until 2015, the European champions said on Friday.

Cuenca, 21, made his debut in the Champions League last October and has made 15 first-team appearances since.

He is likely to get further opportunities starting at Villarreal on Saturday as Pep Guardiola has David Villa, Ibrahim Afellay, Andreu Fontas, Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez out injured.

Villarreal, who started the season playing in the Champions League, secured their first win under new coach Jose Molina last weekend but are only kept out of the bottom three by goal difference.

"We have had a tough season so far," defender Gonzalo Rodriguez said. "We need a special performance to help us to believe in ourselves again."

Villarreal have a doubt over first-choice keeper Diego Lopez who has a fever.

Leaders Real Madrid, who hold a five-point advantage over second-placed Barca, host La Liga's bottom club Real Zaragoza on Saturday.

Jose Mourinho's team are likely to be without the injured Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira, who missed Thursday's training session.

Promoted Rayo Vallecano host King's Cup semi-finalists Athletic Bilbao, who are seventh, on Saturday having bolstered their squad with two new loan signings.

Brazilian striker Diego Costa has arrived from Atletico Madrid while last season's top scorer when they were in the second division with 20 goals, Argentine Emiliano Armenteros, returns for another spell from Sevilla.

Sevilla, ninth, visit Malaga, 10th, on Sunday for an Andalucian derby with both teams seeking to end poor runs which have seen them drop out of the European places. Malaga last won in November, Sevilla in early December.

Malaga are still missing injured Brazil forward Julio Baptista and winger Joaquin, two of the high-profile signings brought in by owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family.

New Granada coach Abel Resino debuts in another Andalucian derby at Real Betis on Sunday, with both clubs battling to avoid a swift return to the second division. Granada are 18th, four points behind Betis in 12th.

"I am convinced we can maintain our top-flight status," Resino said at his presentation. "There are four or five teams above us in the league who are worse then Granada."