Alves wary of derby, Mourinho focused
The defending champions turn their attention to league affairs for the first time since their FIFA Club World Cup triumph and subsequent mid-season winter break.
Barça were back in action last night as they claimed a 4-0 win over Osasuna in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie, but in between two early goals from Cesc Fabregas and substitute Lionel Messi's late double they were not always at their best.
And Alves does not expect his side to have it all their own way on Sunday against Espanyol, who sit eighth in the table and went four games unbeaten in all competitions before the winter break.
The Brazilian told the club's website: "The game next Sunday is a difficult one, it's the derby and these types of games are always complicated. We'll face the game with ambition. If we play at a high level, they'll have a difficult time too."
By the time they play they could be six points behind leaders Real Madrid, who host Granada on Saturday. Real were far from their best on Tuesday in coming from behind to claim a 3-2 first-leg win over Malaga, but coach Jose Mourinho says that was still enough to leave him in positive mood.
"I believe we're in good form despite our bad first half," he told his club's website. "That's not to say we think about winning it all. For the time being our minds are set on defeating Granada and later on eliminating Malaga. I would have preferred to lose [against Malaga] than to lose our league match on Saturday."
Simeone starts at Atletico
Malaga, meanwhile, face another Madrid side in Atletico, for whom Diego Simeone will take charge of his first match after replacing sacked coach Gregorio Manzano before Christmas. Also on Saturday, fourth-placed Levante host Real Mallorca, Racing Santander entertain Real Zaragoza and Osasuna go to Real Sociedad.
Sunday's action opens with the lunchtime kick-off between Rayo Vallecano and Sevilla, while Getafe face Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal take on third-placed Valencia. Jose Francisco Molina will be in control of Villarreal after being placed in charge until the end of the season following the sacking of Juan Carlos Garrido.
Villarreal striker Marco Ruben said: "Matches against Valencia are always good. Both teams will play football. It's been a busy week, but we are getting used to it quickly because we look forward to a good start to this new phase." Finally, Sporting Gijon travel to Real Betis.