Barcelona have been handed a big fitness boost ahead of next week’s crucial Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Sevilla at the Camp Nou with key defender Ronald Araujo back in training on Thursday.
The Uruguay international has missed Barca’s last five games after suffering a sprained ankle against Real Betis but is close to a comeback. Samuel Marsden at ESPN reports Araujo is “touch and go for Saturday but promising for Copa del Rey semi-final.”
Barca play at Sevilla in La Liga on Saturday and then host Julen Lopetegui’s side on Wednesday at the Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. The Andalusian side are 2-0 up after the first leg, meaning a big comeback from Barca is needed if they are to reach the final.
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Koeman’s Araujo Plan
Manager Ronald Koeman refused to put a date on Araujo’s return when he spoke about the defender before Wednesday’s win over Elche but does have a plan for the 21-year-old.
The Barca boss is keen for Araujo to play some minutes against Sevilla at the weekend with a view to starting the youngster in the Copa clash, according to Mundo Deportivo’s Jordi Batalla.
Aruajo also seems determined to return as soon as possible. The Uruguayan wants to be included in the squad to travel to Sevilla on Saturday, according to Javi Miguel at AS.
Araujo could line up in central defense alongside fit-again Gerard Pique. The veteran missed three months after suffering a knee injury against Atletico in November but has made a successful return and has started Barca’s last three matches.
The Barca defense has been hit by injuries this season but those problems are clearing with Sergi Roberto the only member of the backline currently sidelined. The 29-year-old is yet to return after suffering a recurrence of a thigh injury against Granada at the start of February.
Barca Finally Keep Clean Sheet
There’s no doubt that injuries have contributed to Barca’s defensive deficiencies this season, while individual errors have also cost the Catalans dearly and left Koeman frustrated.
A run of eight games without a clean sheet finally came to an end on Wednesday, as Barcelona beat Elche 3-0 at the Camp Nou. Koeman once again changed his defence for the game, bringing in Samuel Umtiti in place of Clement Lenglet at center-back.
The Frenchman had to settle for a place on the bench after conceding a late penalty against Cadiz last time out, while Oscar Mingueza came in at right-back in place of Sergino Dest.
According to journalist Gerard Romero, it was the 20th different defensive combination Barca have used this season in 36 matches. The stat simply highlights how Koeman has been unable to rely on a settled backline in his first season in charge.
The Barca boss may therefore have some tough decisions to make when all his defenders are finally fit again. Yet if Araujo does recover in time for the visit from Sevilla it does seem likely he will line up alongside Pique. Koeman would then have to decide whether to go with Dest or Mingueza at right-back.