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Football | Spain

Barcelona training © Reuters Images

Malaga to test Barca record start



Barcelona will face one of their toughest tests so far this season on Sunday when they visit fourth-placed Malaga.

Barca have broken all the Spanish records this season, dropping just two points in their first 18 games and claiming the "Winter Champions" title at a canter.

But Malaga have a lot of spark in attack and are full of goals at the moment. On Tuesday they thrashed Eibar 4-1 in the cup, just before Christmas they beat Real Madrid 3-2.

Talented reserve Diego Buonanotte might get the nod after a dazzling two-goal display against Eibar.

"Last night was wonderful," said the young Argentine. "Now we have to think about the Barcelona game ... I hope I'm given my chance against them."

Another striker hoping for his chance is Barca's David Villa, who has spent much time on the subs' bench than on the field this season. Villa will be keen to impress in Thursday's cup game at home to second division Cordoba.

Barca coach Tito Vilanova should be back in time for the Malaga match, after flying over to the United States on Wednesday to consult with several specialists about his Parotid gland cancer.

Barca are a 11 points above second-placed Atletico Madrid, who on Sunday will receive Zaragoza. Atletico will be keen to get back to winning ways after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Mallorca.

Sunday will also see fifth-placed Betis against No 6 Levante, as well as Real Sociedad against lowly Deportivo La Coruna.

The big game on Saturday will be Real Madrid at bottom team Osasuna. The whites often have problems in wintry Pamplona, and will be without the in-form Cristiano Ronaldo, suspended for one match.

Ronaldo confirmed his importance to Real with an impressive hat-trick on Wednesday - his 10th for the club - in a 4-0 cup destruction of Celta Vigo.

Real will also be without injured defenders Fabio Coentrao and Pepe, though Raul Albiol and Marcelo might be fit to return.

Coach Jose Mourinho will have no choice but to pick Spain keeper Iker Casillas this time around, given that understudy Antonio Adan is suspended.

Adan was sent off at the start of Real's 4-3 defeat of Real Sociedad last Sunday, after Mourinho had raised eyebrows by giving him the nod over Casillas.

Saturday's other games will be Valladolid v Mallorca, Espanyol v Celta Vigo, and Valencia v. Sevilla.

On Friday the action will start with Athletic Bilbao at home to Rayo Vallecano. Getafe take on Granada on Monday.

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