Luis Enrique returns to face former club Sporting Gijon without the talismanic Lionel Messi. The Barcelona boss has indicated that new signing Paco Alcacer is likely to replace the Argentine in the starting XI.

 

Barcelona were handed a major blow this past week, with Messi having to be taken off early into the second half of their La Liga game against Atletico Madrid. It has since been confirmed that the 29-year-old will miss up to three weeks of action due to a groin strain.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 21: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona is helped by medical staff as he leaves the pitch injured during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium on September 21, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

BARCELONA, SPAIN – SEPTEMBER 21: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona is helped by medical staff as he leaves the pitch injured during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at the Camp Nou stadium on September 21, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

This has opened the door for Paco Alcacer, who was signed from Valencia earlier this summer for €30 million. The 23-year-old Spaniard has so far played just one game for the Blaugrana — the remarkable 2-1 loss to Alaves — and will be looking to impress against Sporting Gijon in the absence of Messi.

“I don’t think you’ll see anything different this time compared with the last time Messi was out,” said the Barca manager, according to the official club website.

“He (Alcacer) has nothing to prove, we know how good he is, he is an international player. More playing time would be useful, and he’ll get more with Leo out.”

Alcacer is primarily a central striker, but will probably take up Messi’s place on the right wing. Luis Suarez is set to continue up front, with Brazilian forward Neymar on the left wing. La Masia products Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are set to start in midfield, alongside Barca’s goalscorer from their previous game Ivan Rakitic.

The injury to Samuel Umtiti means that the veteran duo of Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano pair up once again in central defence. They will be flanked by left-back Jordi Alba and makeshift right-back Sergi Roberto, while German keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has now become the undisputed first-choice after the sale of Claudio Bravo to Manchester City.

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