Carles Puyol returns to the Barcelona squad for the first time since March for Barcelona’s trip to Pamplona to take on Osasuna on Saturday. The veteran defender and club captain has recovered from knee surgery and manager Gerardo Martino explained that he is ready to take to the field as Barcelona seek to maintain their perfect start to the season.
“It’s great news for everybody and even more so for him,” he said, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “He’s been nervous, knowing it was so close. If he’s in the squad, it’s because he can play. We’ll see if he comes on or not, but he’s fit. He’s excited to be with the team. And for someone with a career like his behind him, that’s brilliant.”
Puyol will be joined in the travelling party by Lionel Messi, with the forward having returned to full fitness after thigh strain suffered late last month. Another Argentinian is also back in the fold with Javier Mascherano being passed fit. He is likely to play too as Martino confirmed that Gerard Pique will be rested for the weekend. On the back of much traveling during the international break and with matches to come in the next week against Milan and fierce rivals Real Madrid, Daniel Alves and Alexis Sanchez have also been left in Barcelona. Despite their absence, Martino says that the focus is squarely on Osasuna.
“When the games are so important and the squad are coming back from a FIFA break, the first game is vital,” he explained. “These matches influence the future. We’re focused on Osasuna and the Sadar stadium, which is a tough place to go. Only after that game can we start thinking about Milan.”
A victory for Barcelona would see them equal the Primera Division record of nine straight wins to start the season, held by Real Madrid. Their opponents have very different concerns. Having stayed up by just three points last season, Osasuna have lost six of their first eight matches of this campaign, and lie in 18th spot. They do, though, come into the contest on the back of a 1-0 win at Malaga last time out.
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D: Bertran Loties, Arribas, Damia
M: Punal, Silva
Sisi, Cuuevas, Torres
D: Montoya, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano
M: Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta
F: Pedro, Messi, Neymar
Prediction: Barcelona’s defense remains a worry and a partnership of Mascherano and Marc Bartra is not one that Martino is likely to be eager to play on a regular basis. To his credit, though, Bartra has looked solid since coming into the side. He may also find himself with little work to do against an Osasuna team that has scored just six goals in eight matches. Going forward, Barcelona will, of course be boosted by the return of Messi. Alongside Neymar, who impressively assumed the attacking responsibility in Messi’s absence, Barcelona have more than enough quality to secure a comfortable away win.
Osasuna 1-3 Barcelona
Where to watch: The Spanish Primera Division match will kick off at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by beIN Sport, with a live stream available on beIN Sport Play.