BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — After surpassing mentor Pep Guardiola's debut with a near perfect start in the Spanish league, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova now turns to the Copa del Rey, a competition the Catalan club has dominated historically and especially in recent years.
Guardiola's last game came in the Copa final in May when Barcelona won its record 26th domestic cup by beating Athletic Bilbao 3-0. It was the club's 14th title under Guardiola, whose first trophy as coach came with the cup title in 2009 at the expense of Bilbao. Barcelona also reached the 2011 final where it lost to Real Madrid.
Barcelona opens the knockout competition playing away at third-division Alaves in the first leg of the round-of-32 on Tuesday.
"In the Copa, against Alaves, we must look to get a good result because it's a tough place to play and they will come out highly focused on the match," said striker David Villa, who has helped Barcelona score five goals in each of its last two league outings.
League co-leader Atletico Madrid plays at third-division Real Jaen a day later, while Jose Mourinho's Madrid is at third-tier Alcoyano, as both big clubs look to avoid an upset.
In his first season since taking over from Guardiola, Vilanova has led Barcelona to an outstanding start of eight wins and one draw in the league. Guardiola managed seven wins, a draw and a loss to start his debut season in 2008 when his team went on to win the league, Copa and Champions League.
Vilanova decided to rest Lionel Messi, forward Pedro Rodriguez, midfielder Xavi Hernandez and defender Jordi Alba, leaving all of them off his squad.
The cup holders will likely still be missing defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, meaning 21-year-old center back Marc Batra could get another start. Some of his fellow youth players may also get the nod at Mendizorroza stadium in Vitoria.
Alaves reached the final of the 2001 UEFA Cup, but has since fallen on hard times. It has eight wins and two losses so far this season.
"We have to be fearless because when you are afraid of losing you never win," said Alaves coach Natxo Gonzalez. "We are playing the best team in the world, but we are not going out there just to enjoy the moment because that's when they score eight to 10 goals on you."
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