Valverde with plenty to ponder for key part of Barça's season
Maintain their good defending, rotate the centre-backs, rest his main players, recover Arthur and tweak his tactics for the upcoming games, Valverde has a lot on his plate.
Barcelona players will rest on Thursday but Ernesto Valverde will not be afforded such luxury. On his desk lies detailed information about their next two opponents, Sevilla and Real Madrid along with reports of the fatigue amongst his own players. They play for a large part of their season over the next eight days in LaLiga and the Copa del Rey with a second leg against Lyon just around the corner too.
The next few games demand a clsoe look at Valverde's plans and amongst the issues he has to resolve is how to rotate his centre-backs. Lenglet and Vermaelen are fit and Umtiti is ready to feature. If Pique, who has played every game in the league, is set to rest then it will be done during the Sevilla game. Valverde is a little stretched at left-back with Jordi Alba needing a rest but with no clear replacement. He is close to playing 3,000 minutes this season (2,937). At San Mames, Barcelona played two right-backs and it ended poorly with a 0-0 draw on the night and Barcelona potentially lucky to escape with a point. But an injury to Alba would be fatal and if he is to rest, it will come against Sevilla.
Arthur recovery and tactical tweaks
One of the manager's main priorities is to get Arthur back on the field. Sergi Roberto filled his role against Lyon but Valverde is keen to get the Brazilian back. If he is to give Alba a break, it means Roberto will be needed at the back and Rakitic, Busquets, Vidal and Aleñá will make up the midfield while the Brazilian remains out. Arthur's goal is to return for the Clásico on 3 March and while he is doing work on the field, his recovery is not a given.
Valverde has fewer problems in attack but what he needs in that area of the field is inspiration. Barcelona have only scored one goal in their last three games and none of his attackers are playing to their potential. Coutinho is struggling for form and Dembele has lost his rhythm after his ankle injury. Meanwhile, Messi and Suárez are not enjoying their finest moments and lack a little bit of clarity in front of goal. It could all click in one game and while Malcom and Prince Boateng are another level below even the under-performing core, they could feature too. Suárez is the one player who is least likely to play all three games and because Boateng didn't pass his one test against Valladolid, Messi could start as a false nine in one of the games if needed.
Barcelona have to attack the Copa del Rey game from the start after Real Madrid got an away goal in the first leg. In LaLiga, Barcelona have a seven point lead over Atlético and nine more than Real Madrid but if they don't beat Sevilla, it increases pressure on that Clásico in the league.
Sevilla have three big centre-backs, play with a dynamic attack that consists of Ben Yedder, Sarabia and Andre Silva while Real Madrid play with a back four and like to hold the ball at home. But they also proved at the Camp Nou that they can play on the counter. These games will require different tactical tweaks from Valverde. His squad and the players chosen will have to respond.