Barcelona face their first challenge since Lionel Messi tore his hamstring and was ruled out until the New Year when they welcome Granada to the Camp Nou on Saturday. The loss of Messi has since been compounded during the international break with goalkeeper Victor Valdes ruled out for a similar length of time.
The 31-year-old, who has been in the form of his career this season, tore a calf muscle during Spain’s friendly with South Africa earlier this week. Manager Gerardo Martino was under no illusions about the quality of the absentees, but is confident in the strength of his squad to cope.
“I don’t want to play down the fact that we have several players out or take away merits from those who will be brought in as their substitutes,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS.
“I have always spoken about what a complete squad we have and so I can’t see any reason why we would be weaker with players missing. If anything, it should serve to make us stronger. We’re without the best player in the world and the best goalkeeper in the world, but we have others who can stand in for them during the meantime.”
While Martino will not have wished for injuries to such key players, they arguably couldn’t have happened at a better time. Barcelona’s fine start to the season leaves them having already qualified for the Champions League and with a three point gap over Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga with great rivals Real Madrid a further three points back. Their next match against one of those rivals is the trip to take on Atletico on January 12, when both Messi and Valdes should have returned to fitness.
In the meantime, veteran goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto will step in for Messi, while, unlike in the past, Barcelona have good options to cope with Messi’s absence. Neymar and Alexis Sanchez have been crucial figures for Barcelona in recent weeks and both continued their fine form on international duty.
Martino explained that Neymar would have no problem dealing with the extra pressure brought on by Messi’s absence.
“Neymar’s response has been superb right from the start,” he said, according to Barcelona’s official website. “He’s also shown that he has the capacity to withstand the pressure."
Few will expect Granada to pose too much of a challenge at the weekend, with or without their absent stars. However, Lucas Alcaraz’s side come into their daunting trip to the Camp Nou on the back of victories over Levante and Malaga to move them up to eighth in the Primera Division standings. Forward Yacine Brahami is a doubt after being involved in Algeria’s qualification for the World Cup in midweek.
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream provided by beIN Sport Play TV.