The suspended Jordi Alba will be one of five first-team players unavailable when Barcelona pay a visit to San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Barcelona will be hoping to widen the gap atop the La Liga table to eight points when they travel to the Basque country to take on Athletic Bilbao at San Mames on Sunday afternoon. Ernesto Valverde though, has received a mix of good and bad news heading into the Matchday 23 clash.

The Barcelona boss did address the problem in his pre-match press conference, but iterated that this is a problem that every top club in the world has to deal with at this juncture of the season.

“The calendar is tough for any team that is involved in the three competitions, it requires a great effort and you have to be up to the task.”Barcelona

Jasper Cillessen remains sidelined due to a calf problem, meaning Inaki Pena remains the backup goalkeeper for Barcelona. Marc-Andre ter Stegen though, will continue to be deployed between the sticks. In defence, however, Jordi Alba will be the major absentee due to suspension.

In the Spaniard’s stead, Valverde has a major selection headache to deal with. Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto have both been deployed as makeshift left-backs in recent weeks, but neither has completely convinced. Semedo though, fared better than Roberto, meaning he should be deployed on the left side of the defence, with Roberto being the right-back.

At the heart of the Barcelona defence, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet should continue, considering Barcelona will only play again next weekend. In midfield, Arthur has picked up a hamstring injury which is set to sideline him for up to four weeks.

In his stead, Arturo Vidal and Carles Alena are the available options to fill the third midfield slot, with Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets being certain starters. Alena is likely to get a chance to impress against Bilbao ahead what could be the most important four weeks of his Barcelona career thus far.

In attack, Valverde has all of his resources available to him, with Ousmane Dembele declared fit. The Frenchman is part of the travelling squad, but is likely to be eased back to action. So is Lionel Messi, who was another subject discussed by the Barcelona boss in his presser (h/t MARCA).

“As always, we’ll have to wait to see how training goes before we decide, but the other day we didn’t want to risk things. We’re in a similar situation again and we’ll decide based on how he is doing. At the moment he’s okay, but we’ll see what he says. It remains to be seen if he is going to be at 100 per cent or not.”

With a crucial run of games beckoning, Messi could be eased back to action as well, meaning the front trio becomes an automatic selection, with Malcom, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez starting. Malcom, in particular, will look to continue his run of form after a solid display against Real Madrid this week.

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