Ronald Koeman has named a youthful squad and opted to rest some key stars for Barcelona’s Copa del Rey clash against minnows Cornella on Thursday.
Midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who has featured in every La Liga game so far in 2020-21, has been left out and given a breather along with first-choice left-back Jordi Alba.
Barcelona B youngsters Alex Collado, Ilaix Moriba, and Konrad de la Fuente are all in the squad to make the short trip to Cornella and will be hoping for some rare first-team minutes.
Key stars such as Gerard Pique, Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto, and Philippe Coutinho also remain on the injured list and miss out once again.
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Chance for Youngsters to Shine?
Koeman is expected to field a much-changed side against Cornella in a game that offers some of Barcelona’s young stars and fringe players the chance to impress.
Back-up goalkeeper Neto could come in for Marc-Andre ter Stegen, while young defenders Ronald Arauajo and Oscar Mingueza are both expected to continue in defense. Junior Firpo should replace Alba at left-back.
Riqui Puig will be hoping for his first start of the season in midfield, while Miralem Pjanic is likely to come in for De Jong and will add some experience in the middle of the park.
The game could also see Moriba make his senior debut. The highly-rated 18-year-old is the latest gem to emerge from La Masia and was included in the squad for the Spanish Super Cup but did not feature.
Elsewhere, Messi’s absence should mean good news for Martin Braithwaite in attack. Francisco Trincao could also make a rare start, while Konrad and Collado are expected to enjoy some game time.
Real Warning For Barca
Barca will be big favorites to win the match but were handed another warning ahead of the game by rivals Real Madrid. Los Blancos were knocked out on Wednesday after suffering an embarrssing 2-1 defeat to third division side Alcoyano.
It was an embarrassing night for Zinedine Zidane’s side, particularly as Alcoyano played the last 10 minutes of extra-time with 10 men after Ramon Lopez was sent off for a second bookable offence.
It’s not the first upset the Copa del Rey has seen this season either. Atletico Madrid were dumped out by Cornella in the second round, meaning Barca will need to be careful.
Thursday’s match will also be played on an artificial pitch, a detail that Koeman did not appear too happy about in his pre-match press conference, as reported by El Pais.
For me, playing on artificial grass pitches is not football. I understand that these teams have the advantage of playing at home and I like it that way. But it depends on the state of the pitch and on the light.
It’s already been a tough week for Barca as they head into the match following defeat in the Spanish Super Cup final. Thursday’s fixture offers the chance to return to winning ways in a competition the team will feel they can go on and win after seeing rivals Atletico and Real eliminated.