Club football action returns this week after a near-fortnight long international break and defending La Liga champions host Malaga at Camp Nou on Saturday. Here’s the team news for Luis Enrique’s side ahead of this weekend’s clash.
Luis Enrique has had a horrid luck with injuries this season, as the Barcelona boss has often been unable to pick his first choice eleven. But it seems his luck is turning for the better, with more returns this week than those joining the treatment table.
The best piece of news for Enrique is that first-choice centre back Gerard Pique started training individually earlier this week. The Spain international is now set to make a return to the starting lineup, having recovered from the ankle injury he suffered three weeks ago.
Fellow centre back Jeremy Mathieu (calf) and left back Jordi Alba are back into the reckoning too, after coming back from their respective injuries and rejoining training this week.
However, Samuel Umtiti is a fresh injury setback for Barcelona after suffering a picking up a hamstring injury. The French centre-back suffered the injury while training with the national squad last week and is set to be out for a couple of weeks. In Umtiti’s absence, Argentina international Javier Mascherano is expected to partner Pique in the heart of Barcelona defence, with the central defensive pairing flanked by Sergi Roberto and Alba as the full backs.
In midfield, club captain Andres Iniesta has shown promising signs in his progress from the knee injury he suffered in the 3-2 win at Valencia three weeks ago. The game this weekend, though, comes too early for the Spaniard as he has only just started with light training this week. Denis Suarez is likely to fill in for his skipper, lining up alongside Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic in central midfield.
Speaking on Iniesta’s rehabilitation in his press conference, manager Luis Enrique said: “I’m interested in Iniesta getting fit as quickly as possible, but I won’t be putting him under pressure. We have to observe his progress, and he’ll be ready when he’s ready.”
Up top, star striker Luis Suarez is the biggest miss for Barcelona. The Uruguayan will miss the match against Malaga through suspension after picking up his fifth booking in the league this season in the 2-1 win over Sevilla in Matchday 11.
Enrique confirmed that Spanish striker Paco Alcacer will step up in Suarez’s stead, with Lionel Messi and Neymar flanking him on either side. “This is a great chance for Paco Alcacer, and he’ll be starting tomorrow. But his aim is not just to score goals, but to help the team to win, and I’m sure he’ll have a great game,” said Enrique.