Barcelona could be about to receive a boost in the form of Philippe Coutinho’s return in time for the crunch clash against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. The Brazilian picked up an injury in the 3-1 Clasico loss at the Camp Nou but now looks confident of being fit for the meeting with the other Madrid giant.
The international break came at a good time for Coutinho as the two weeks allowed him to fully focus on returning to fitness. The player suffered a hamstring injury against Real Madrid and has missed four matches: two in LaLiga Santander and two in the Champions League.
Before that injury, Coutinho was one of Barcelona’s top performers, enjoying the full trust of Ronald Koeman after a topsy turvy few years with the club since his big money from Liverpool.
If Coutinho is eventually passed fit, Koeman will travel to Madrid without Sergio Busquets, Ansu Fati and Ronald Araujo.
Barcelona trained on Tuesday and another session is scheduled for Wednesday morning. Koeman will now be keeping his fingers crossed that there will not be any new injuries to any of his players in the remaining international fixtures.
Only a few days have passed since Miralem Pjanic made it clear that he wasn’t happy to be playing a substitute’s role at Barcelona and now, as fate would have it, he’s set to start at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano.
Sergio Busquets’ absence is assumed, meaning that the Bosnian will deputise alongside Frenkie de Jong as the Catalans face off against Atletico Madrid.
At 30, Pjanic wants to succeed at the Camp Nou after making a 60 million euro move in the summer. The midfielder signed knowing that he would face stiff competition for a place in the team, but he wouldn’t have expected to make it this far into the season without having started in LaLiga Santander.
In the Champions League, though, he has started in each of their three games so far. He has played alongside De Jong twice in Europe, against both Ferencvaros and Juventus, and his return to Turin was the only match in which he has completed 90 minutes.
Against Dynamo Kiev he partnered Busquets in the middle, and he has just 77 minutes under his belt domestically. Now, against Atletico, Pjanic will face a tough test.
“I’m here to play,” he said on October 27, before insisting on November 9 that he was “not yet satisfied at Barcelona.”
A unique opportunity
Everything points towards him starting in the capital on Saturday, but Busquets is only expected to miss a match or two and he should return after Barcelona take on Atleti and Dynamo Kiev.
Pjanic, meanwhile, still has international commitments before then. He featured in the defeat to the Netherlands at the weekend, and he’ll likely face Italy on Wednesday.
The Bosnian won’t have a lot of time to prepare for the weekend’s crucial match, but it’s time for Pjanic to make the midfield position his own at Barcelona.