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Friday, Dec. 21, 2012

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Best wishes: Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova stands on the touchline during his team's Spanish Cup game against Cordoba last week. AFP-JIJI

Barcelona coach Vilanova to have surgery after cancer relapse


BARCELONA, Spain — For the second time in two years, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova is stepping aside from soccer to take care of his health.

Barcelona said Vilanova was to have surgery on Thursday and undergo several weeks of chemotherapy after doctors discovered a recurrence of a throat ailment, the club said Wednesday.

The 44-year-old coach underwent an operation to remove a tumor from the saliva gland in November 2011 when he was Pep Guardiola's assistant.

Vilanova will likely spend four days in a hospital before undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy for about six weeks, the club said.

The statement said Vilanova could be able to remain in charge of the team while undergoing treatment.

"During this time, depending on his evolution, Vilanova may be able to combine treatment with his work regime," the club said.

Assistant coach Jordi Roura is expected to take over the team in the meantime. Barcelona plays Valladolid in the Spanish League on Saturday.

Vilanova took over as Barcelona's team coach from Guardiola last summer after passing medical checks.

Wednesday's announcement came one day after the club solidified its future with all-time top scorer Lionel Messi, playmaker Xavi Hernandez and team captain Carles Puyol all signing multiyear contract extensions.

Under Vilanova's guidance, Barcelona has made its best-ever start to a season, winning a Spanish record of 15 of its first 16 league games. The club leads the standings with 46 points, nine ahead of Atletico Madrid and 13 in front of archrival Real Madrid.

Vilanova's son, Adria, used his Twitter account to give thanks for the support being offered his father.

"Thank you all for your support, you are truly great, everything is going to work out," he tweeted.

Earlier Wednesday, Barcelona canceled meetings with the club president and journalists after reports of Vilanova's illness emerged. Several hours later, the club issued the statement confirming the medical situation.

"Very sorry to hear the news," Xavi said on Twitter.

Chelsea crushes Leeds


LEEDS, England — Chelsea scored five goals in a masterful second-half display to beat old rival Leeds 5-1 on Wednesday, setting up a meeting with Swansea in the semifinals of the League Cup.

A shock was on when Leeds went in at halftime 1-0 up thanks to Luciano Becchio's 37th-minute goal at a rain-soaked Elland Road.

However, Chelsea was clinical after the break, equalizing through Spain playmaker Juan Mata in the 47th before adding four more goals in a ruthless 19-minute spell. Branislav Ivanovic, Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres were the scorers for the European champions, who have won the League Cup four times — most recently in 2007.

"We had a word with ourselves at halftime and the early goal gave us an impetus to go on and win it," Chelsea captain Frank Lampard said.

By moving into the last four, where it is also joined by Aston Villa and fourth-tier Bradford, Chelsea went some way to making up for the frustration of losing the Club World Cup final to Corinthians 1-0 on Sunday.

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