Valdes relieved after Pep pens new deal

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

Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes believes Pep Guardiola's decision this week to extend his contract until the end of next season has removed an unwelcome distraction for league leaders.

"Now we will only talk about football," the Spain number two, who has conceded only 11 goals in 22 league matches this season, told a news conference on Thursday.

"I cannot imagine a Barca without Guardiola," he added. "Barca must always have the best coach and he is the best."

Barca have a seven-point lead over second-placed Real Madrid and can extend their record run of victories to 17 at Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

The club's 13 internationals all returned from this week's friendlies unscathed, while central defender Carles Puyol and forward Jeffren are continuing their return from injury and have been left out of the squad.

Real Madrid face a tough match at sixth-placed Espanyol, one of the surprises of the season, on Sunday and will be trying to avoid dropping points away from home for a third straight game.

Real's hopes of ending Barca's two-year reign as Spanish champions were dented when they drew 1-1 at Almeria and lost 1-0 at Osasuna on their last two trips outside Madrid.

Working under Real coach Jose Mourinho has given new signing Emmanuel Adebayor a new lease of life, the Togo international said on Friday.

"He's like the father who tells his son to go to school and and have fun," Adebayor, who moved from Manchester City last month on loan until the end of the season, said on Real's website. "I feel like a new-born baby and I am having fun."

Espanyol defender David Garcia is a serious doubt for the game at the club's new Cornella-El Prat stadium after he fractured bones in his nose in training.

There was better news for coach Mauricio Pochettino on midfielder Joan Verdu and former Spain striker Sergio Garcia, who have both recovered from gastroenteritis. Goalkeeper Carlos Kameni has shaken off a leg muscle problem.

Villarreal's players must learn the lessons from last weekend's 1-0 defeat at home to local rivals Levante if they are to make it into the Champions League next season, according to goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

"It's normal that we lose one day, although we did not think it would be against Levante," Lopez said on Villarreal's website ahead of Sunday's match at struggling Deportivo La Coruna.

The club are in third, nine points adrift of Real and one ahead of fourth-placed Valencia.

Valencia play on Saturday at erratic Atletico Madrid, who have lost their last three league games to slip well out of contention for a place in European competition.

"Realistically we are a long way from getting into the Champions League," Atletico defender Juan Valera told a news conference on Thursday.

"We know that if we don't beat Valencia our goal will be much tougher," he added. "The club has to be playing alongside Europe's best and we all want to play in the Champions League."