Osasuna braced for Barca

Barcelona are back to league action on Sunday looking to continue their perfect start to 2009 with a win at bottom side Osasuna after demolishing Atletico Madrid 3-1 in the Spanish Cup in midweek.

A sizeable 31 points separates the two teams but Barca struggled against Osasuna last season, drawing 0-0 away and needing an 85th minute winner to seal a 1-0 victory at Camp Nou.

However this season Barcelona look a completely different team under Pep Guardiola and Lionel Messi's form will be giving the Osasuna defence nightmares. The Argentine scored a hat-trick against Atletico and received a standing ovation from the Atletico fans at the Vicente Calderon.

"It was a very special moment for me to be given a standing ovation," explained Messi. "It's something unexplainable and a beautiful experience for any player."

Barca lead second-placed Valencia by 11 points in the standings but Unai Emery's Valencia can close that gap by three points as they are in action against Villarreal on Saturday night. Villarreal's season is threatening to fall apart with the Yellow Submarine losing their last three league matches against rivals Sevilla, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

The club are still in the UEFA Champions League, where they will face Panathinaikos in the last 16, but have fallen down to seventh in the league 15 points behind Barca.

"I do not believe we can start talking about a crisis, because the football is there, and in the last two games we did not deserve to lose," said French midfielder Robert Pires. "However, we cannot afford to drop so many points. After these results there is certainly more pressure."

Villarreal must also do without captain Marcos Senna for the Valencia game due to suspension.

After losing his first match in charge 2-0 against Barcelona new coach Juande Ramos has guided Real Madrid to back-to-back 1-0 wins.

Clean sheets were a rarity under former manager Bernd Schuster, whose last two matches ended in 3-1 and 4-3 defeats, and Dutch international Arjen Robben is happy to grind out the wins.

"It does not matter if you win 1-0 or 3-0, it's still three points. They do not give you more points for scoring more goals," said Robben. "It was important against Villarreal that we did not concede any goals again. The defence did an excellent job and they kept a cool head."

Real, 12 points behind Barca in third, travel to struggling Real Mallorca on Sunday. Elsewhere former Real striking legend Hugo Sanchez aims to make it two wins out of two with new club Almeria when they travel to Espanyol on Sunday.

Mexican Sanchez, 50, guided the club to a 1-0 win over Real Betis in his first match in charge as the club climbed away from the relegation zone.

Atletico Madrid coach Javier Aguirre is another Mexican managing in the Spanish top flight and is having to deal with fresh calls for his head in the wake of the 3-1 defeat to Barca on Tuesday.

Atletico could still overturn that deficit in the second leg at Camp Nou and president Enrique Cerezo claims Atletico are in good shape having qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League while they are just three points behind Valencia going into Sunday's home match against Athletic Bilbao.

Sevilla were also in cup action defeating Deportivo La Coruna 2-1 on Wednesday in the last 16 first leg and the two face off again on Saturday in the league only this time at Depor's Riazor Stadium.

Sevilla lie fourth, a point behind Valencia, but Depor, who finished last season with a terrific late run, have surged up to sixth and are just two points behind Sevilla.