Lionel Messi is poised to make his much-awaited return to the starting eleven when Barcelona face Rayo Vallecano in Copa Del Rey on Wednesday.
Barcelona are hoping to take advantage of the elimination of two Madrid giants as they lock horns with Rayo Vallecano in the Round of 16 tie in Copa Del Rey this midweek.
Despite the importance of this clash, Ronald Koeman is tipped to make quite a few changes to his starting eleven, with the Barcelona manager having one eye on the important La Liga fixture against Athletic Bilbao on the weekend.
A huge positive for the Catalans heading into this game was the return of Lionel Messi, who is available again after serving his two-match ban. “Leo really is eager to play. He is a winner and wants to be in all the games. We have to wait until tomorrow to find out if he will play or not,” Koeman told the media during the pre-match press conference when asked about the Argentine’s potential return to the game.
After an absence of two games, Messi will rightly be eager to get back into the action and may spearhead the Barcelona attack this midweek alongside Martin Braithwaite and the young Francisco Trincao. However, it remains likely that the Barcelona captain will not feature the full ninety minutes, with Ousmane Dembele and Pedri serving as potential alternatives.
Koeman has a few decisions to make in midfield as well, primarily surrounding Sergio Busquets. The veteran midfielder will not be eligible to feature in the next league game due to suspension. It means the Dutchman could fancy starting him alongside Miralem Pjanic in an attempt to offer more steel in the middle of the park, as the Catalans look to avoid this game going into extra-time.
Alongside these two experienced midfielders, Barcelona are likely to field one youngster, with Riqui Puig emerging as the favourite. The exciting Ilaix Moriba made his senior debut in the previous round but might have to settle for a place on the bench due to Busquets’s presence in the side. The youngster could, however, replace Pjanic around the hour mark, with Matheus Fernandes also an option.
Finally, in the defensive unit, Clement Lenglet might make his return after being benched against Elche. He should replace Samuel Umtiti in what could be one of three changes at the back.
Koeman does not have many options to work with, unfortunately. In the right-back slot, in particular, both Sergino Dest and Sergi Roberto have failed to make the cut. “Roberto trained twice with us, and still needs more time to come back. Friday, we have a training session and will see whether he is ready,” the Dutchman told the press regarding the return of Roberto.
So, we can expect Oscar Mingueza to continue at right-back while Junior Firpo could come in for Jordi Alba. One final change in defence is the obvious one that sees Neto come in goal, at the expense of Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Barcelona Predicted XI: Neto; Mingueza, Araujo, Lenglet, Firpo; Pjanic, Busquets, Puig; Messi, Braithwaite, Trincao