MADRID, (Rahnuma) —FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde will be hoping that a rare week without midweek football will help his side to a Liga Santander win when they entertain Valladolid on Saturday.
Barca go into the game after a 0-0 draw with Bilbao last Sunday in which goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen was their standout player.
Prior to their visit to Bilbao, they were held 1-1 by Real Madrid in the Camp Nou in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal, and 2-2 by Valencia in the league.
Barca looked tired in Athletic Club’s San Mames Stadium last weekend after playing two games every week since the start of the year, so this is the first time Valverde has had to help recover his players’ tired legs.
Friday morning saw the club extend Valverde’s contract to the summer of 2020 with the option of a further year in a public vote of confidence in his work ahead of what looks like a decisive month for Barca’s season.
The coming weeks see the league leaders play their Champions League last 16 tie against Olympique Lyon and visits to Sevilla and Real Madrid, who they face twice within just four days in the Copa del Rey and in the league.
On paper, Valladolid should be relatively straightforward rivals for Valverde’s men: they have just one win, against Celta Vigo, in their last eight league games and their last away match saw them thrashed 4-0 away to bottom side Huesca.
Valverde must be tempted to try and rest Leo Messi, who has continued to struggle with a thigh problem which he suffered a fortnight ago and who looked below par in Bilbao.
Ousmane Dembele will be able to start and should provide creativity if Valverde decides to rest Messi, while Philippe Coutinho has to start taking more responsibility after a series of disappointing displays.
Elsewhere Jordi Alba’s return to action gives Barca width down the left and Samuel Umtiti is working hard to be available after a long struggle with injury.
Three points are vital for Barca, who still have a 6-point lead at the top of the table, but with Real Madrid in their best form of the season and expected to brush past Girona on Sunday, Valverde can’t afford any more dropped points.