Barcelona midfielder Denis Suarez has been ruled out for two to three weeks after sustaining a hamstring injury during the Supercopa de Catalunya.
Having been named by Ernesto Valverde in the starting line-up against Espanyol, Suarez had to come off at half-time and was replaced by Cristian Rivera.
The 24-year old has been in and out of the squad due to injuries, and is often overlooked as Valverde opts for Paulinho or Andre Gomes to fit alongside Barca’s midfield of Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. Philippe Coutinho’s arrival too has made his road into the first team a tough ask.
Now Suarez will definitely take no part in Barca’s upcoming games against Malaga, Chelsea and Athletic Club.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 8, 2018
A second-string Barcelona side overcame city rivals Espanyol 4-2 on penalties to win the Catalan Super Cup on Wednesday evening, following a goalless draw in normal time.
While the big names enjoyed a well-deserved breather, it was a chance for some of Ernesto Valverde’s forgotten men to use the platform as somewhat of an audition.
Here, we look at three fringe squad players who could be in contention to play against the Premier League outfit and two who will likely miss out following the glorified friendly.
Harsh to include the Colombian powerhouse as a complete back-up, but he is slowly but surely proving his worth after arriving in Catalonia in January.
Displayed plenty of confidence to convert from the spot in the shootout win (celebrating with a dance) and was at the heart of a clean sheet – adding to his two previous defensive shutouts in his only two appearances to date (90 minutes v Getafe in La Liga and a cameo in the Copa del Rey victory at Valencia on debut).
With plenty of doubts over Gerard Pique’s lingering long-term knee injury and lack of rest, the 23-year-old seems ready to come in when needed. Could feature against the Blues and should play a part in what looks likely to be Barcelona’s procession to the league title.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 8, 2018
With Philippe Coutinho suspended for the second-leg against Chelsea, it’s another chance for the Portuguese man to step up to the plate.
Despite being whistled by the home faithful in last weekend’s victory over Atletico Madrid, with Andres Iniesta likely to be sidelined through injury, that’s another reason why the 24-year-old could land a spot in the midfield.
Indeed, it may have been part of the reason why he only played some a bit-part in the win at Espanyol, but got more minutes under his belt all the same.
The French left-back has come in for some heavy criticism when called upon this season, though he has only started in 13 matches.
Prone to lapses in concentration, the occasional ball watching and some positional naivety, Digne has failed to oust Jordi Alba but is still a good enough squad player to fill in when necessary.
The ex-Paris Saint-Germain and Roma man hasn’t found it easy since joining Blaugrana in 2016 but showed signs he is getting his confidence back.
AND TWO WHO DIDN’T IMPRESS…
Write-off the third most expensive player ever at your peril, perhaps, but the former Borussia Dortmund ace can’t seem to get back to full fitness. Lasted 63 minutes after an up and down display, which saw one wonder lung-busting run in the opening minutes but poor end product – a staple of his performance.
The 20-year-old, who is yet to score for Blaugrana, has apparently been criticised for how he looks after himself off the field though it just appears to be a case of too much expected, too soon. Unlikely he will be trusted against Chelsea, with a place on the bench most likely.
This campaign felt like it would be the Spaniard’s coming of age as a Camp Nou player and although it started well, the forward has faded into the shadows.
A muscle injury at the back-end of last year curtailed his form heading into the winter break after he had started to offer an alternate option to Luis Suarez, who at the time, was struggling for sharpness. Since the start of 2018, he has featured just four times and failed to add to the five goals he netted in all competitions in the first-half of the season.
Guilty of missing two clear-cut opportunities in mid-week, it’s unlikely he will get many more chances in Barca’s front two should everyone else stay fit.
AND ONE FOR THE FUTURE…INTRODUCING MARCUS McGUANE
The 19-year-old midfielder only spent just over 15 minutes on the field but in the process became the first Englishman to play for the Spanish giants since Gary Lineker 29 years ago.
The former Arsenal man, who moved to Catalonia in January, is developing at a good rate and is clearly rated highly by Ernesto Valverde. We shouldn’t, however, expect him to feature in the Barcelona first-team between now and the end of this campaign.
Dembele has had a rough start to his Blaugrana career with serious hamstring injuries wrecking his debut campaign in Spain.
The 20-year-old is back to full fitness but remained on the bench in Sunday’s defeat of Atletico Madrid.
However, he was in the starting XI for the Supercopa de Catalunya clash with Espanyol on Wednesday night and showed glimpses of what he can offer with his blurring speed giving his side attacking thrust.
The €147million deal to take Dembele from Borussia Dortmund has weighed heavy on the Frenchman’s young shoulders but the pressure could have been emanating from Paris had the Ligue 1 giants got their way.
“I met [PSG president] Nasser [Al-Khelaifi],” Dembele told Onze Mondial (h/t ESPN). “We had set up a meeting. It went really well. He’s a great president.
“What struck me about him is that he is very humble, he’s calm – I had never seen that. Honestly, he’s a good guy.”
Dembele also defended the nature of his controversial Dortmund exit. The winger went on strike to force through his move to Camp Nou after a stand-off with the club and he said: “I had the impression I was missing out on my dream.
“I had the reaction that I had, I totally accept that.
“What did you want me to do? That I say ‘no’ to Barcelona a second time? That was impossible for me.
“I’m at a crazy club here, alongside the best. Every year, the club’s in the Champions League semifinals or the final.
“I would like to see how the people who criticised me would have reacted if they had been in my position.”