Philippe Coutinho is likely to get a chance to rediscover his form when Barcelona take on relegation battlers Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
Barcelona will be aiming to strengthen their grip at the top of the table, when they welcome 19th-placed Rayo Vallecano to Camp Nou, in a matchweek 27 tie of the 2018-19 La Liga season on Saturday evening.
The all-important UEFA Champions League Round 0f 16 second leg clash against Lyon coming up might play on manager Ernesto Valverde’s mind when he picks his team for the league game. There are going to be a few changes to the side that defeated Real Madrid 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu last time out.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen should get the nod over Jasper Cillessen between the sticks as is the norm. Sergi Roberto is likely to be held back though, meaning Nelson Semedo starts at right-back, while Jordi Alba should hold on to his spot on the left side of the back four.
Thomas Vermaelen is out with an injury, while Clement Lenglet is suspended for the tie for accumulation of yellow cards. And with new signing Jean-Clair Todibo not included in the squad by Valverde, Jeison Murillo and Samuel Umtiti remain as the only options to partner Gerard Pique at the heart of the Barcelona defence.
Umtiti, who played 45 minutes against Girona in the Supercopa de Catalunya defeat earlier this week, is likely to get the nod, as he needs minutes under his belt after returning from a lengthy period on the sidelines. “He is coming back little by little and trying to recover his best level. But when it’s been a while, you always need some time,” Valverde said of the Frenchman in his press conference (h/t Barca Blaugranes).
The midfield is likely to see a lot of shuffling around on Saturday. Sergio Busquets has hardly been afforded a rest by the manager and could be given a breather against Rayo Vallecano, while Arthur Melo might also be held back for the Lyon game, considering that he returned from an injury layoff not long ago.
That would mean Ivan Rakitic is likely to take up the mantle of the defensive anchor for Barcelona in Busquets’ absence, with Arturo Vidal getting a rare start in the middle of the park. The third midfield slot is likely to be taken up by academy graduate Carles Alena, despite him playing the full 90 minutes against Girona earlier in the week.
Club captain Lionel Messi should start in attack on Saturday, but is likely to be given an hour at the most, depending on the state of the game. With back-up striker Kevin-Prince Boateng not part of the matchday squad, Luis Suarez should again spearhead the attack for Barcelona.
On the left side of the attack, a change is on the cards, with Ousmane Dembele likely to make way for Philippe Coutinho in the starting XI. The Brazilian has been struggling for form of late and the game against a struggling Rayo Vallecano side could prove to be the catalyst for him to turn things around moving forward this season.