Ernesto Valverde is without just two first-team players ahead of Barcelona’s Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Barcelona will be hoping to reach the Copa del Rey final for a sixth successive year when they take on Real Madrid in the semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night. The match will be extra special for Ernesto Valverde, who will be overseeing his 100th game in-charge of the Catalans.
The Barcelona boss was quizzed on the subject of the momentous occasion during his pre-match press conference, and he iterated that he was honoured to have reached the landmark, “I would love to celebrate it with a victory and getting through in the Copa del Rey. I didn’t know about the figure but it is a stand out fixture.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) February 26, 2019
Valverde has been greeted with plenty of good news ahead of the third El Clasico of the season, with Jasper Cillessen among two players who have returned to training this week. The Dutchman has also received the all clear from the Barcelona medical team to return to action.
With Cillessen always being preferred for cup ties, when fit, it is likely that the Dutch international will start between the sticks, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen making way. The defence might see one shuffle, with Samuel Umtiti being replaced by Clement Lenglet, although Valverde said he was pleased with the progress that the Frenchman has been making (h/t Barca Blaugranes).
“He felt great yesterday. We were eager to see how he felt after his efforts. I won’t deny that playing him against Sevilla was risky. Now we see he is fine.”
But, playing a game every three days so early upon returning from a knee injury makes for a risky proposition, which is why Lenglet should partner Gerard Pique at the heart of the Barcelona defence against Real Madrid. Nelson Semedo and Jordi Alba ought to continue as the two full-backs.
There is some good news in midfield as well, with Arthur returning to training alongside Cillessen. But, Valverde’s comments on the Brazilian suggests that he might be preserved for the league Clasico, even though he has been included in the matchday squad.
“We’d like to have him back for Saturday. There’s a chance he’ll be ready. He’s a different kind of player, who offers us many things. He brings something different to our midfield. Yes, he’s different to any other player, but we have to accept it when he’s not there and try to deal with it. It’s a decisive game, and we’ll play the best team we can to win the game.”
Arthur should only make the bench, with Arturo Vidal, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic continuing as the midfield trident. Up ahead in attack, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are certain starters, with the final spot in the side being a toss-up between Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, with Dembele likely to get the nod for slot on the left flank.