A much-changed Barcelona played like the strangers they are as battling basement boys Huesca dug out a 0-0 draw over La Liga’s champions-in-waiting.
There were full debuts for French defender Jean-Clair Todibo and La Masia youth product Riqui Puig in a side that had only retained keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen from the 1-0 victory over Manchester United in the Champions League last Wednesday.
Save for Ousmane Dembele drawing a good save and Malcom hitting the post, there was little goalmouth action – but a few encouraging performances nonetheless. Read on for our Barca ratings …
Marc-Andre ter Stegen – Did far more watching than playing, though he won’t have minded the rest with Manchester United coming up on Wednesday. 6
Jeison Murillo – Touched the ball more than any other Barcelona player – has a composed playing style from the back which fits the side he joined last summer very nicely indeed. 7
Samuel Umtiti – Encouragingly for the Blaugrana, Umtiti dealt with what was thrown at him with consummate ease. A clean sheet against Huesca may not go a long way in helping him win his place back in the first-team, though. 6
Jean-Clair Todibo – Made one great last-ditch tackle in particular on a scarpering Chimy, which had to be timed to perfection. Small step to showing he can be key part of Barca’s next generation post-Pique 7
Arturo Vidal – A rare start against relegation-doomed Huesca isn’t how Vidal would have seen his season going by April when he agreed to head to Catalonia. Full of the usual vigour, but lacking incisiveness. 6
Riqui Puig – Sumptuous reverse pass for Dembele in the first half showed just why he is so highly rated at Camp Nou. A polished display from the 19-year-old. 7
Carles Alena – A couple of potshots aside, kept it too simple when his side needed inspiration. This type of game demanded more risk-taking – the 21-year-old will have better days. 5
Moussa Wague – A little ragged from Nigeria’s breakout World Cup star on debut. Got the chance to stretch his legs as a wing-back, but committed four fouls against a side that had very little possession. 5
Malcom – Swerving shot with the outside of his left boot thudded the post, but in truth that’s the only time he drew the attention of the Huesca defence. 5
Kevin-Prince Boateng – There is little wonder that Boateng has barely got a game – he hasn’t even appeared for two months – since joining Barcelona in January. Non-existent is too substantial a description. 3
Ousmane Dembele – The Frenchman was the brightest spark of a rather dim Barca performance against Huesca’s stubborn defence, making a couple of probing runs and passes on his first start in a month. 7
Philippe Coutinho (66′) – Ambled around for half an hour, as if he had a big European fixture in midweek in mind. Dangerous game to play given Dembele is back and looking lively. 5
Jordi Alba (66′) – On for Dembele as the game was coming to a rather anti-climactic end. Did little of note 5
Arthur (80′) – 1o-minute runaround, introduced to a match that had a training ground feel. N/A
Lionel Messi leads an all-star cast of absentees for runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona when they play relegation-threatened SD Huesca on Saturday (18:15 UAE KO), enabling them to be fresh for Tuesday’s Champions League quarter-final decider against Manchester United.
Messi, 31, was left blooded by a collision with Red Devils defender Chris Smalling during the midweek 1-0 win at Old Trafford. The 33-goal forward was not part of the 18-man squad announced late on Friday night.
Spain anchorman Sergio Busquets has also been rested, while Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic (illness) and right-back Sergi Roberto (injury) are unavailable. Centre-back Gerard Pique and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez are suspended.
Attention will switch to Ousmane Dembele. The France winger was an unused substitute in Manchester after he recovered from injury, meaning he may feature for the first time since March 13.
Youngsters Jean-Clair Todibo, Riqui Puig, Abel Ruiz and Moussa Wague could all get minutes at the division’s bottom-placed side. Sassuolo loanee Kevin-Prince Boateng may get the nod for just a second top-flight start at Barca.
Huesca were beaten 8-2 when the sides last met in September. The Catalans come into the weekend with an 11-point advantage over second-placed Atletico Madrid.
Goalkeepers: Ter Stegen, Cillessen
Defenders: Semedo, Murillo, Todibo, Alba, Umtiti, Lenglet, Wague
Midfielders: Alena, Vidal, Puig, Arthur, Coutinho
Forwards: Malcom, Ruiz, Boateng, Dembele
After grinding out a result against Manchester United mid-week in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final, Barcelona are back in action in La Liga as they take on relegation-threatened Huesca.
The defending champions have practically laid their hands on the title and need just 10 points from the remaining seven games to mathematically retain their trophy.
Ernesto Valverde will be looking to take another step towards a consecutive league title while keeping in mind that a crucial Champions League clash against United awaits his team on Tuesday.
We take a look at the talking points as opposite ends of the league table lock horns at Huesca on Saturday.
BALANCED ROTATIONS – THE NEED OF THE HOUR
With the league in the bag and the fatigue of having played Atletico Madrid and United in a span of four days, Valverde is bound to rotate. But to what extent is he willing to shuffle his starting line-up?
It’s very likely that Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba will be rested. Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique will be missing the game due to suspension.
Clement Lenglet has been putting in solid shifts without much rest and he too could do with a pair of fresh legs on Tuesday. That leaves Samuel Umtiti with one of Jeison Murillo, Jean-Claire Todibo and Thomas Vermaelan in central defence.
While it’s likely that Busquets will be rested, it would be wise to provide the Spaniard with a few minutes to let him feel the game and hit the reset button after a series of underwhelming performances.
Ivan Rakitic has been overused – like every manager who has ever managed him – and could do with some rest too. This means that Carles Alena is very likely to get a rare start.
Although he is still far from his Liverpool form, Philippe Coutinho has looked sharp in the past few weeks and a couple of goals against Huesca can surely raise his confidence for the second leg of the quarter-final.
Clearly, fatigue is not the only factor Valverde needs to consider while resting players. There are some regulars who could do with a few minutes or even a start to get their mojo back.
MASSIVE FIXTURE IN THE RELEGATION SUB-PLOT
While 11 points separate league leaders Barcelona and second placed Atletico, just 10 points separate bottom-placed Huesca and 14th placed Girona.
Villarreal (30), Rayo Vallecano (27) and Huesca (24) are currently in the relegation zone, but Valladolid (30), Celta Vigo (32) and Levante (33) are not entirely safe either.
An unlikely win against Barcelona could provide a huge boost for Huesca’s chances of survival. They face fellow basement dwellers Vallecano in the next game and that will surely be a huge fixture for both teams.
If Huesca manage to beat a potentially second string Barca, they will be in great spirits to take Vallecano on.
But if they fail to take advantage of a heavily rotated side, it could very well be the end of the road for the minnows.
Either way, this fixture could be huge in the relegation battle sub-plot of La Liga.
DEMBELE TO BE LET LOOSE
On Saturday, Ousmane Dembele could be taking the pitch for the first time since his cameo against Lyon in the Champions League a month ago.
This game will be particularly important for the Frenchman as it could go on to shape his and the team’s fortunes for the rest of the season.
When the Catalan giants were eliminated from the Champions League by Roma last season, they lacked a player of Dembele’s abilities – someone who can change the game with a moment of magic.
Against United in the first leg, Barcelona could probably have scored one more goal in the second half if it was Dembele who was chasing the ball in space instead of Sergi Roberto.
The 21-year-old could hence play a massive role in Barca’s quest for yet another treble. But first, he needs to achieve match fitness and get back up to speed gainst Huesca.
A solid performance – regardless of the opposition – is bound to place the youngster in high spirits ahead of the Champions League game. With Messi being crowded in the centre, Dembele could turn out to be Barcelona’s trump card.