Barcelona will rest a host of star names, including Lionel Messi, for the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-32 matchup with lower division Huesca on Wednesday. Luis Enrique’s side have recorded five straight victories to secure progress for the last 16 of the Champions League and maintain the pressure on Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. They now begin their attempt to win a trophy they lost out on in dramatic fashion in the final with Madrid last season with a trip to north-eastern Spain.
Against opponents from Segunda Division B, Barcelona are expected to have little trouble negotiating a two-legged tie. Duly, with important fixtures upcoming, including a match with Paris Saint-Germain next week to decide top spot in their Champions League group, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Xavi, Sergio Bisquets, Dani Alves and Messi have all been left out of the squad that beat Valencia on Sunday thanks to an injury-time goal. While insisting he isn’t taking the opponents lightly, Enrique is intent on giving some minute to those members of his squad who have featured seldom of late.
“That would be logical,” Enrique said, according to Spanish daily Sport. “I would like to count on 20 plus starters but that would be utopian."
“We are looking forward to it and want to do well in the cup. We've studied [Huesca], we know they were leading their table until recently. Of course there is a big gap in standings, but we will have to demonstrate that on the pitch because they will be up for it.”
One player who will be given some much-needed playing time is Andrés Iniesta. The 2010 World Cup hero for Spain has been out of action with an injury picked up in Barcelona’s defeat to Real Madrid at the end of October, but is back in the squad for Wednesday’s encounter.
“I hope he will bring a lot on his return, like always,” Enrique said. “He's more than special. 'Made in Barça 100 percent'. He's a key player. Tomorrow he will be with the team and he can get some minutes.”
The match is also expected to afford an opportunity for Pedro to impress. Once a key, if largely unsung, figure for Barcelona, the Spain forward has scored just once this season and has lost his place in the side following the availability of new signing Suarez.
Huesca have never played in Spain’s top league in their 54 year history, but were in the second tier until their relegation in 2013.
Prediction: Barcelona came through a grueling assignment against Valencia at the weekend, and rotating the squad seems like a wise move for Enrique. The players at his disposal still have plenty of quality, including youngsters like Munir El Haddadi, Sandro Ramirez and Sergi Samper. While there could be come early uncomfortable moments in in unfamiliar surroundings, Barcelona should ensure the second leg is no more than a formality.
Huesca 0-3 Barcelona
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EST
TV channel: BeIN Sports
Live stream: BeIN Sports Connect