Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal are poised to make their long-awaited debuts for Barcelona in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey clash with city rivals Espanyol.
Signed from Atletico Madrid and Sevilla during pre-season, the duo have been forced to miss all of Barca’s competitive fixtures so far this term due to the FIFA-imposed ban on new signings being registered.
But with that sanction having now expired, Arda and Vidal, given the number seven and 22 shirts respectively, can make their first appearances for Luis Enrique’s side in the round-of-16 first leg at Camp Nou.
“I am happy that they are almost ready to make their debut,” the Barca boss said last week. “They have been waiting for this moment for a long time. They will add something extra to the team that we need.”
The game itself comes after an ill-tempered 0-0 draw between the two sides at the weekend, a result which allowed Atletico Madrid to move above Barca and into top spot in La Liga.
Barca stars including Lionel Messi were visibly frustrated at what they considered to be heavy-handed treatment from Espanyol defenders, while Neymar was allegedly subjected to racist abuse from a small section of the crowd.
Club president Joan Collet flatly rejected those claims and branded the reports as an effort to “start up the nationalist pro-Barca machinery” and place doubts in the minds of the officials ahead of Wednesday’s game.
Espanyol have not beaten Barcelona since February 2009 but Saturday’s result will give them confidence that an upset over two legs could be on the cards, though they only reached the last 16 thanks to an away-goals win over La Liga’s bottom club Levante.
Jose Canas (broken toe) will miss the game for the visitors, along with Anaitz Arbilla (Achilles), but Constantin Galca has few other injury concerns ahead of the short trip across the city.
Barca will likely be without Sergi Roberto, who sat out Monday’s training session with a thigh problem, but Rafinha (knee) is their only other long-term injury problem.
Goals remain a concern for Galca’s side – they have only scored twice in their last five away games in all competitions, and no current Espanyol player has found the net for the club against Barcelona.
Should he make his first appearance in the competition this season, Neymar will be desperate to get back to his own top form in front of goal, with the Brazilian looking to score for the first time since November just a week before he heads to Zurich for the Ballon d’Or gala.