With Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen out, Ernesto Valverde has just two fit central defenders for a demanding run of fixtures.
Thomas Vermaelen’s thigh injury picked up while on international duty with Belgium, which is expected to sideline the defender for around four weeks, leaves Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde with just two fit senior centre backs for a crunch series of fixtures over the course of a week against Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Samuel Umtiti’s long-term absence with knee ligament damage means Barça can only call on Gerard Piqué, whose patchy performances have been under scrutiny in recent weeks, and summer signing Clément Lenglet for games against the Liga leaders, the eternal rival and the in-form Serie A side in the Champions League.
Any injury to one of the two will hand Valverde a serious headache at the back with Barça short on alternatives. One would be to play Sergio Busquets in central defence; although it is not the Spain international’s preferred position, he occasionally operated there in similar circumstances under Pep Guardiola but the experiment didn’t work out and eventually it was Javier Mascherano who made the switch to the back four from defensive midfield.
Barça B Valverde's final recourse if Piqué or Lenglet are injured
Nelson Semedo is another possibility in a pinch and due to his speed he could be a viable alternative to accompany the less mobile Piqué in the heart of defence. However, the Portuguese lacks experience in the position and is not an imposing figure at 5’8”.
Valverde’s final recourse would be to dip into Barcelona B. Central defenders Jorge Cuenca, Óscar Mingueza and Chumi accompanied the senior squad on the summer tour of the USA and Cuenca is a regular in senior training this season and like Vermaelen is a left-footer. Juan Miranda is also an option; although he is primarily a left back he has played in central defence before for Barça B and the Spain junior sides up to under-19 level.
Valverde, though, will be hoping it doesn’t come to that and aiming to keep Lenglet and Piqué operational until Vermaelen is back in action.