Barcelona can silence criticism of Messi dependency by building on El Clasico thrashing

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Fresh off a stunning 5-1 win in El Clasico, Barcelona visit Rayo Vallecano this weekend.

Ernesto Valverde’s side put all talk of a slump in form to bed with that win, after a four-game winless run in La Liga earlier this season, and they also won the first leg of their round of 32 Copa del Rey tie in midweek.

Here are the talking points for Saturday’s fixture.

ANOTHER TEST FOR MESSI-LESS BARCA

Lionel Messi‘s return to training this week was a welcome boost – though, do Barca really need him? They did just beat Real Madrid 5-1 without him.

Jokes aside, Barca are being prudent by leaving the Argentine out of the squad. They have a Champions League date with Inter Milan in midweek.

A win on Tuesday will seal qualification for the knockout stage as group winners with two fixtures left to spare, the ideal result from a tricky draw after Barca were grouped with Inter and Tottenham.

Barca have won all three games Messi has missed, and last week’s result should give them the confidence that they can play well without their talisman, which hasn’t been the case over the last year. An over-dependency on one of the best players in the world isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Barca previously struggled without him despite having plenty of other star names.

Putting that talk to bed will make this a Barcelona team one to truly fear.

MALCOM IN A MUDDLE

The Malcom saga has been one of the stranger ones in recent history. Barcelona went out of their way to sign him, hijacking a move to Roma that was completed despite the Serie A side having booked the winger tickets from Bordeaux.

Since then, he’s played 105 competitive minutes. Barca spent €41million and prevented him from moving elsewhere, only to keep him on the bench.

Big clubs stockpiling young talent is nothing new, but even in that light, this situation is surprising. Malcom came with plenty of hype after starring in Ligue 1, and he’s now 21, not just some promising teenager. He’s already proven himself in one of Europe’s top five leagues – enough to catch Barca’s eye, though apparently not enough to actually play in the famous Blaugrana colours.

The Brazilian has reportedly grown disgruntled by the state of affairs, and why wouldn’t he? A move to the Camp Nou is meant to be among the biggest steps up a player can make. Instead, he’s warming the bench.

He started in midweek, but has been left out of the squad for Saturday’s game, with Carles Alena’s impressive Copa del Rey showing earning him a spot. How long before Malcom wants out?

VIDAL GETS CHANCE TO DO HIS TALKING ON THE PITCH

One young Brazilian Valverde has had no problem trusting is midfielder Arthur. The 22-year-old arrived under the hype of being the next Xavi, a tag which would be burdensome even if he weren’t playing at the club where Xavi became a legend.

Yet, so far, Arthur’s lived up to it. He’s slotted seamlessly into Barcelona’s midfield, and the Arthur-Ivan Rakitic-Sergio Busquets triumvirate has been dominant.

But not everyone is completely pleased with Arthur’s rise. His form has kept out Arturo Vidal, who like his younger colleague, joined the club this summer with a big reputation. In his case, that came from starring for Juventus and Bayern Munich, not Gremio, and he must have expected a similar role at his new club.

Since that hasn’t transpired, the Chilean has been vocal in his demands for more playing time. And scoring Barcelona’s fifth goal in a Clasico win will always go a long way to endearing yourself to the club and fans.

He then started in the midweek Copa del Rey win, only his third competitive start in Barca colours. There’s a chance he gets a fourth on Saturday. Can he do enough to convince Valverde he should be first-choice?

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Lionel Messi and Samuel Umtiti nearing Barcelona returns

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Lionel Messi and Samuel Umtiti are back in training and nearing full fitness, but Barcelona will likely have to wait until next week for the huge double boost to their ranks.

The pair were both spotted during the open part of Friday’s training session at the Ciutat Esportiva de Sant Joan Despi on Friday.

However, it is not expected that they take any part in the squad that travels to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, though Messi is in with a chance of making the Champions League trip to Inter Milan on Wednesday.

France defender Umtiti has not been seen in Blaugrana colours since September after suffering a niggling knee injury, while Messi’s fractured forearm has kept him for two weeks since the 4-2 victory over Sevilla.

Ominously for their rivals, Barcelona have gone undefeated since Umtiti’s last appearance, including the 5-1 El Clasico thumping of Real Madrid last weekend.

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Barcelona at risk of losing out on Pelayo Morilla as Man City lurk

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Pep Guardiola

Barcelona have had their eye on Spain prospect Pelayo Morilla for some time – and they now need to act fast to ward off the attentions of Manchester City.

Morilla is a product of Spanish second-tier side Sporting Gijon and has recently broken through into their first team.

The 17-year-old is an attacking midfielder who is comfortable with both feet and already has a sturdy frame, which could withstand the rigours of Premier League football.

According to Sport, Barca have been monitoring Morilla’s progress for the best part of two years, but were unable to come to terms with Gijon over the summer.

City has a long record of poaching players from under Barcelona’s noses – Eric Garcia and Adria Bernabe are just two players to have swapped La Masia for Manchester – and they are poised to yet again thwart their long-term plans.

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