Neto is set to start in place of the injured Marc-Andre ter Stegen when Barcelona take on Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium on Saturday.
Barcelona will be looking to start off in the new calendar just as they had ended 2019, on a winning note, when they lock horns with Espanyol at the RCDE Stadium on Saturday night. And, Ernesto Valverde has a fresh injury concern to contend with following the end of the winter break.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is sidelined for the foreseeable future due to his ongoing recovery from a knee injury. The German goalkeeper is a certainty to miss out against Espanyol and Valverde also added during his pre-match press conference (h/t Barca Blaugranes) that ter Stegen could also be unavailable for the Spanish Super Cup next week.
“It’s true that he’s had some tendon problems for some time now. He won’t play against Espanyol and probably won’t be ready for the Spanish Super Cup. I don’t know [if he needs surgery] the doctors haven’t discussed it. We haven’t reached that extreme just yet.”
The 1️⃣8️⃣ for the Barcelona Derby!! pic.twitter.com/zezcfQlwwD
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) January 3, 2020
In the absence of ter Stegen, Neto becomes a certain starter, although Barcelona B goalkeeper Inaki Pena has also been included in the travelling squad. Neto, though, should make his La Liga debut in Barcelona colours, and Valverde was all praise for the summer signing, who has had to bide his time at Camp Nou so far.
“He [Neto] has got a great attitude in terms of training every day and coming in when needed. He played at a very high level against Inter Milan. We have no doubts about him, we see him train everyday. We believe in him.”
The back four protecting Neto should see a couple of changes, with Valverde likely to name his strongest possible side for the first game of 2020. Nelson Semedo should replace Sergi Roberto at right-back, while Jordi Alba is a certain starter on the left flank. Clement Lenglet is likely to partner Gerard Pique at the heart of the Barcelona defence.
Changes are in the offing in midfield as well, with Frenkie de Jong expected to return. Ivan Rakitic is also likely to come into the starting lineup, replacing Arturo Vidal, with Sergio Busquets providing him and de Jong company in the middle of the park.
As far as attack is concerned, Ansu Fati is fit and available for Barcelona after recovering from an injury. For now, though, there is no looking past the in-form trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Antonio Griezmann.
Predicted Barcelona XI: Neto; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; de Jong, Busquets, Rakitic; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann