La Liga Preview: Barcelona v Villarreal

Barcelona host Villarreal on Saturday knowing they will likely need all three points to maintain their spot at the top of La Liga.

Gerardo Martino's men suffered their first league loss of the campaign on December 1 as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Athletic Bilbao.

That setback allowed title rivals Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid to gain ground on the Catalan club, with the former now behind the defending champions on goal difference only.

Real are a further three points behind in third place, but Martino will be aware that his side can ill-afford another slip-up against a Villarreal team that is enjoying a strong return to the top flight following promotion last season.

Indeed, the visitors can move ahead of Bilbao - who travel to Sevilla - and into fourth place with a win at Camp Nou.

And they take on a Barca side with a number of injury concerns ahead of the encounter.

Lionel Messi is still on the sidelines due to a hamstring injury, with goalkeeper Victor Valdes (calf) also unavailable.

Full-back Dani Alves could be in line to return after a month out of action with a calf injury, but Ibrahim Affelay and Jonathan dos Santos (both knee) are long-term absentees.

Defender Adriano is out through suspension, but the hosts should be confident of defeating a side that has not beaten Barca since 2008.

That win did come at Camp Nou though, Marcos Senna and Jon Dahl Tomasson scoring in a 2-1 win.

Midfielder Cani is a doubt for Villarreal after picking up a knee injury in Villarreal's Copa del Rey clash with Elche, while Francisco Javier Farinos (Achilles) remains unavailable.

Bruno is banned, but the onus for the visitors should be on ex-Barca forward Giovani dos Santos, who will be keen to breach the home defence and add to his tally of seven goals in all competitions.