Villarreal: FC Barcelona have the difficult task of overcoming the death of former coach Tito Vilanova when they face Villarreal Sunday.
The 45-year-old Vilanova died Friday after losing his two-and-a-half-year battle against cancer of the parotid gland. The death of the man, who led Barcelona to last season's La Liga title, has sent shockwaves through the club and the football world in general, reports Xinhua.
Messages of sympathy have arrived from all over the world with nearly all the Barcelona players making public their feelings for a man who had been very popular in the dressing room.
"I have no words. You were an example and it was an honour to be part of your life," said Andres Iniesta while defender Marc Bartra commented the former coach had "helped me to fulfil my dream. I will always have you in my head and in my heart".
Dani Alves said that Vilanova had been "a great spirit, a great person and a great person full of dedication and will the fight".
The players will now have to lift their head up and try to dedicate a win to Vilanova in the El Madrigal Stadium in order to keep Barcelona's title hopes alive. It won't be easy given that moments such as Vilanova's death serve to show that, beyond the sometimes closed world of football, there is much more to life.
Tata Martino, who stepped into the coaching role at Barcelona last summer when Vilanova suffered a relapse of cancer, has to get his players to focus on what is sure to be an emotive game.
The Spanish football league has asked all teams to dedicate a minute's silence for Vilanova which will especially be emotive for Barcelona side where Bartra is likely to continue in defence alongside Javier Macherano and Pedro Rodriguez to accompany Cesc Fabrigas and Lionel Messi, who showed signs of returning to form last week, in attack.
With Gerard Pique, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Jordi Alba and Neymar out through injury, Martino's options are limited on the playing front. But he will hope that the players will carry with them a special motivation, that of dedicating a win to Tito.