Barcelona will return to fulfill their La Liga duties in a potentially colossal entertainer as they host the Catalan derby at Camp Nou.
Barcelona will host Espanyol in the Catalan derby at Camp Nou on Saturday. While the club have maintained a winning momentum so far, it remains to be seen how the international break has its effect. Ernesto Valverde, however, tried to be optimistic about the situation as he spoke at his pre-match press conference.
The Barca boss did acknowledge that not being able to train with the whole group for a few days “could be a handicap”, but at the same time he admitted that “it motivates us to play against Espanyol.”
The Spaniard expects Barca’s opponents “to play aggressively since they are a team that likes to play on the counter attack”, before adding, “our idea is to win and we have to be very concentrated.” Speaking about their Champions League match against Juventus, Valverde said, “Saturday’s game is important and is our absolute priority.”
Ousmane Dembele is expected to make his debut with the player fresh after not being involved in international action. Ivan Rakitic, though, is doubtful with a muscle problem and is unlikely to be risked against Espanyol, while Rafinha continues to be sidelined due to a knee injury and will play no part in the derby.
Meanwhile, Arda Turan might miss out after sustaining a thigh injury. However, Luis Suarez featured for Uruguay in the recent break and is back in contention for a starting spot after recovering from the injury he endured against Betis in Barcelona’s season opener.
As the Blaugrana adjust to the post-Neymar era, it will be interesting to see how Dembele performs. The French forward is expected to start on the left side of their attack, where Neymar used to be deployed as Suarez returns to the centre of the attack. In fact, the Catalan derby could see the rise of a heroic new trio ahead of a demanding encounter against Juventus.
In midfield, with Rakitic looking set to miss out, Valverde could hand a full debut to summer signing Paulinho and possibly provide rest to Andres Iniesta after his international duties. Valverde will be hoping to see the Spaniard play against Juventus on Tuesday, thus possibly choosing to rest him against Espanyol.