Barcelona’s hopes of winning the Copa del Rey on Saturday have been boosted by the return of midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
Rakitic trained with the first team on Thursday ahead of the final against Sevilla, having recovered from a broken finger.
A Barcelona statement read: “One of the available first team players was Ivan Rakitic, who has been given medical clearance to return to training following a metacarpal operation.”
Rakitic has not played since sustaining the injury during Barcelona´s shock 3-0 defeat to Roma in the Champions League last week.
Barca will hope to soften the blow of that loss by beating Sevilla at the Wanda Metropolitano and clinch the first part of a domestic double this season.
The Catalans are 12 points clear at the top of La Liga, having played one game more than Atletico Madrid.
Denis Suarez has no intention of quitting on his Barcelona dream despite his lack of game time, after he was handed a rare start in the 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo on Tuesday night.
In their absence Barca just about had the strength in depth to extend their unbeaten La Liga run to 40 games, with midfielder Suarez handed just his 10th start for the club this season.
The Celta youth product returned to Barca from Villarreal in 2016 and insists he will remain in Catalonia for the duration of his contract as he continues his fight for a regular place.
“That possibility does not exist,” the 24-year-old replied when asked if he will leave in search of more games.
“I’ve said it many times and I never tire of repeating it: I have two years left on my contract, I want to succeed here and that is how it will be.
“I think we have played a competitive and positive match, especially those who don’t play much. Remaining unbeaten at this point is incredible.
“I don’t think I had been a starter for three months and, when it has been so long, it is always difficult. My goal is to succeed here and to keep trying.”
With lethal forwards Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez among those put on the substitutes’ bench because of Saturday’s Copa del Rey final against Sevilla, France flyer Ousmane Dembele, 20, took advantage of a start to expertly produce his first Spanish top-flight goal.
But twin errors from the sinking Portugal midfielder Andre Gomes led to left-back Jonny Castro’s deserved, close-range leveller a minute before the interval.
Ernesto Valverde’s visitors then went ahead through stand-in striker Paco Alcacer’s tap-in on 64 minutes. But a 26th league win of 2017/18 was controversially denied when Spain forward Iago Aspas bundled home – with the help of his arm – little more than 10 minutes after Roberto’s red card for a tug back.
COPA IS KING
Head coach Valverde was good to his word – and then some – at Estadio Municipal de Balaidos.
Pre-match comments about the need for changes after a draining recent run and with the weekend showpiece in mind led to eight alterations from Saturday’s nervy, record-breaking 2-1 victory against Valencia. Gaining silverware was prioritised over protecting a historic 39-match unbeaten run in the top flight.
One of the most-star-studded substitutes’ benches in the history of the game featured the likes of Argentina icon Messi, Uruguay predator Luis Suarez (who was so animated when no one shared his instincts to follow in Paulinho’s header which crashed against the post), France centre-back Samuel Umtiti and Spain left-back Jordi Alba.
The XI that started had never been utilised before – and it showed in a predictably disjointed display.
Spain forward Denis Suarez ran into blind alleys on his old stomping ground. France left-back Lucas Digne contributed one accurate cross.
They will be among the number lucky to survive the summer.
Goal scorer Dembele and the execrable Gomes had contrasting nights.
Barca had to thank one of three established starters for protecting their unblemished standing. Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was utterly outstanding and made eight saves against opponents who boasted the better chances.
GOMES MISERY CONTINUES
There is a cruelty to watching Gomes’ continued presence in the Barca set-up.
The harrowed Portugal centre midfielder experienced yet another nadir with Celta’s leveller.
His under-hit pass into the middle played Dembele into trouble. This error was then compounded by a piecemeal recovery challenge as Uruguay bulldozer Maxi Gomez skipped past him to fire across goal for Jonny Castro to gleefully tap-in a merited equaliser a minute before the interval.
The first part of this horror reel was particularly unforgivable.
We are talking about a 24-year-old midfielder who has won Euro 2016 with his nation, previously played for sizeable clubs in Benfica and Valencia, plus been coveted by Real Madrid prior to a potential €55 million (Dh250m) switch to the Catalans. Such suicidal passes should not be played by someone of this experience.
There is something more than ability at play here. The drain on confidence searingly revealed by the player himself last month must remain an issue to be solved.
Overall, he contributed no key passes from 87.1-per-cent pass accuracy and just one tackle.
When Gomes was sacrificed on the hour mark with the scores level, this was an act of mercy.
OUS SHOWS HE CAN BE THE MANE
The main takeaway from this display was not Ter Stegen’s redoubtable nature or Gomes’ enduring torture in a Barca shirt.
A sign of better times came in the 36th minute. Within seconds of a woeful cross-field ball from Castro being intercepted, Dembele was finding the bottom corner on the bounce with his left foot and celebrating an opening La Liga strike at the 13th attempt madly with his enamoured team-mates.
The joy on the faces of all involved could not be disguised as the 20-year-old raced to international colleague Umtiti, before being subsequently mobbed.
Faith and belief in Dembele, clearly, remains high in the dressing room, despite the unflinching outside scrutiny.
Every kick and dribble by the €105 million (Dh462m) summer buy from Borussia Dortmund has been poured over, discussed and dissected. This comes with the territory when you join Barca – let alone as an emergency replacement for Brazil superstar Neymar.
A serious hamstring injury has not helped the assimilation. Neither has his relative inexperience or flamboyant approach that jars with the power of the Barca collective.
Dembele’s is a rare talent. And one that requires refining, especially when his undulating 78 minutes on the pitch are judged in total.
But his fine goal at Balaidos further proved what was already known.
This breakthrough could spark him into flourishing during the decisive final weeks – and the many seasons to come.