Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique are set to return to the starting lineup when Barcelona welcome Atletico Madrid to Camp Nou on Saturday.
Barcelona will be hoping to stretch their lead atop the La Liga table to 11 points when they play hosts to second-placed Atletico Madrid on Saturday night. Ernesto Valverde though, will be missing a couple of key players for the crunch tie that will quite possibly be the last game that will directly influence the title race.
The Barcelona boss will definitely be without Ousmane Dembele, Arturo Vidal and Rafinha Alcantara, while there are doubts over the availability of Jasper Cillessen, even though he is part of the matchday squad.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 5, 2019
The Dutch goalkeeper has been struggling with a hip complaint and Valverde provided an update on him during his pre-match press conference, “We’ll have to see about Cillessen. It isn’t a major injury and he’s been taking part in most of the training sessions. If he’s not fit for tomorrow he will be by Wednesday.”
Even if Cillessen is not fit, there aren’t any major concerns for the Barcelona boss, as regular first-choice custodian Marc-Andre ter Stegen would have lined up to face Atletico Madrid anyway. In front of him, there should be a couple of shuffles.
The big change will see Gerard Pique return to the starting lineup in place of Samuel Umtiti, who was rather disappointing in the 4-4 draw against Villarreal. And, the veteran defender was one of the topic of discussions for Valverde, who also talked about Umtiti’s poor performance (h/t Barca Blaugranes).
“Gerard Piqué has been playing a lot of games and I thought the Villarreal game was a good day to rest him. I hope he hasn’t lost his form. Umtiti has been on the sidelines for a long time because of his injury. Now he has to integrate and adapt to the group again.”
Pique should be partnered by Clement Lenglet, while Jordi Alba should be the left-back. On the opposite flank, it is likely that Sergi Roberto will be rested, with Nelson Semedo replacing him.
In midfield, Arturo Vidal is the major absentee due to a suspension accrued after an accumulation of yellow cards. Valverde was quizzed about the Chilean during his presser and he said, “With Arturo Vidal suspended, we are missing a player with energy and character.”
In Vidal’s absence, the midfield trident of Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Arthur picks itself, with Carles Alena being a backup option. Upfront, the big bone of contention is the availability of Ousmane Dembele, especially with the UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie against Manchester United in mind.
As per Valverde, the game against Atletico Madrid has come too soon for the Frenchman, who is now battling to be fit for Wednesday’s European fixture, “Dembelé won’t play against Atlético and I don’t know about the Champions League. We don’t want to take any risks.”
Lionel Messi, who made a big difference off the bench against Villarreal, should return to the starting lineup, with Luis Suarez leading the line for Barcelona. The final spot in the side should be taken by Philippe Coutinho, with Malcom missing out.