Barcelona return to action from the winter break with a round-of-16 Copa Del Rey clash against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday night and the Catalans will be looking to continue their recent good run of form with a victory over the Basque side.
After a disappointing series of three draws in all competitions, the Blaugrana have gone on a great streak winning four consecutive games and would like to extend that run in the cup competition, especially coming on the back of a 7-0 thrashing of Hercules in the previous round. The Catalan outfit will look to make further progress in the progress in the Copa, but may rest some key players with an important contest against high fliers Villarreal in the La Liga three days later.
Here is the strongest possible Barcelona lineup for the clash against Athletic –
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Goalkeeper)
Jasper Cillesen has been the first choice for manager Luis Enrique in the Cup competitions this term. However, with him ruled out for the foreseeable future due to a calf injury, German keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen will start in goal for the La Liga holders.
Aleix Vidal (Right-Back)
Sergi Roberto has been ever present at right-back for Barca this term but it is Aleix Vidal who featured in both the legs against Hercules. The former Sevilla man has been reduced to a peripheral figure this term, but the cup competitions will give him some game time.
Gerard Pique (Centre-Back)
Pique has been a solid presence for the Blaugrana in defence this season and should start on Thursday against a strong Athletic Bilbao attack.
Samuel Umtiti (Centre-Back)
The summer signing has featured in the last four games for Barca post his injury and is likely to start ahead of Javier Mascherano, with Jeremy Mathieu still ruled out.
Lucas Digne (Left-Back)
The 23-year old scored in the previous Copa clash against Hercules and with a key clash coming up in the Liga over the weekend, Enrique will look to save Jordi Alba for that game.
Sergio Busquets (DM)
Busquets has been one of the better performers for Barca this term. The Spaniard did not feature in either legs against Hercules, but with the strength of Athletic, Enrique will look to call upon his best man.
Denis Suarez (RCM)
The summer signing featured the whole ninety minutes in both the Copa clashes earlier this season and with Villarreal up next, it is likely that the manager will look to protect Andres Iniesta for that match.
Ivan Rakitic (LCM)
Rakitic has been the creative hub for the Spanish giants and capped a fine performance against Hercules with a goal. We expect him to feature from the start on Thursday.
The 23-year old was in supreme form over the two legs against Hercules, scoring one goal and assisting three more. He should hold on to his place against Bilbao.
Arda Turan (LW)
The Turkish midfielder is finally beginning to prove his worth for the Catalans and was the wrecker-in-chief for Barca against Hercules in their 7-0 domination, scoring a fine hat-trick. He will be preferred over Neymar with an important Liga game coming up.
Paco Alcacer (ST)
The 23-year old summer signing has endured a very difficult start to life at the Camp Nou. He had to wait until last week of December, to score his first goal for the Blaugrana in the Copa clash against Hercules. Enrique will look to give him another start on Thursday as a confidence booster.