Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde defended making sweeping changes after the La Liga leaders were held to a goalless draw at bottom club Huesca.
Lionel Messi was one of several star names missing from the trip to the Estadio El Alcoraz.
The Argentina playmaker had been given the all-clear after scans following a collision with Manchester United’s Chris Smalling during the Champions League match at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
However, with the quarter-final second leg against United to come this week and his side in control at the top of the table, Valverde felt it was the right opportunity to freshen up the side.
With suspended duo Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez also not available, defender Jean-Clair Todibo and 20-year-old Senegal international Moussa Wague were handed first-team debuts.
Midfielder Riqui Puig and Jeison Murillo also came in for starts.
Barca had chances to break the deadlock, the best of which fell to Ousmane Dembele during the first half, while Malcom later saw his shot come back off a post.
Huesca, beaten 8-2 when the teams met at the Camp Nou earlier in the season, battled bravely on to frustrate the leaders, who have now drawn two of their past three La Liga games.
“There were many changes and many debuts. We’re happy in this sense,” Valverde said at a press conference.
“We could’ve tried something more in attack, but we’re happy in general.
“It was a difficult situation because lots of new people came in, but I knew it’s what we had to do today. The three players grew into the game
“We’ve changed the shape because we had a problem with the full-backs and I didn’t want to play Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo today.”
The Barca coach added: “If we hadn’t won against Atletico Madrid (last week) then today would have been different in terms of the team selection, although I don’t know if the result would have been different.”
Despite not being able to break down Huesca, Valverde remained positive.
“I watched a very even game,” the Barcelona coach added at a press conference reported in the Spanish media.
“We knew that they were going to play at speed, with long balls and second balls.”
Huesca coach Francisco felt his side held their own in the face of quality opposition, despite the changes.
How many ❤'s for Moussa Wague's debut? 😍 pic.twitter.com/7v2eWjGcpp— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 13, 2019
“We knew we could not play Barca face to face. You had to make a long game, master the phases of the game and have options at the end,” Francisco said afterwards on the club website.
“The plan has not come out, but we have reached the 80th minute alive.
“We have faced a very different team than the one we had been playing, but they are very good.”
Francisco must now pick his side up for next week’s trip to relegation rivals Rayo Vallecano
“We will prepare another final as if it were the last one,” he said.
“There is pride and confidence, but if we do not win we are stuffed.”
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