BARCELONA – FC Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said on Friday that defender Samuel Umtiti, absent for most of the season due to injury, is fit enough to start against Sevilla this weekend.
Since injuring his knee in September, the Frenchman has appeared in just eight matches in all competitions.
“We think he (Umtiti) is ready to start. (Clement) Lenglet is in danger of suspension and (Thomas) Vermaelen is injured,” Valverde said at a press conference on the eve of Saturday’s LaLiga encounter with Sevilla.
“We know we have difficult games ahead of us ... and we need to be prepared,” the coach said, alluding to next week’s clashes with arch-rivals Real Madrid
Barça will face the Blancos at Madrid’s Sebastian Bernabeu stadium twice in the space of four days.
On Wednesday, the sides will battle for a spot in the Copa del Rey final. After having managed only a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Camp Nou, Barcelona know they will have to do much better to prevail in the second leg.
New week’s other installment of El Clasico is set for Saturday, when Barcelona will seek to close the door on Real Madrid’s chances of catching up them in the race for the LaLiga crown.
In their first LaLiga meeting of the season on Oct. 28, Barcelona trounced Real Madrid 5-1, a defeat that cost Blancos then-coach Julen Lopetegui his job.
But Real Madrid are much improved under new manager Santiago Solari.
While it is easy to understand how the Catalan squad could be distracted by the upcoming battles with the Blancos, Valverde insisted that he and the players were focused on the match with Sevilla at Seville’s Sanchez Pizjuan stadium.
“Sevilla are fearsome opponents at home, it is one of the most complicated away trips we have left. We have already lost there this season,” the coach said.
Valverde acknowledged, however, that he was well aware of the importance of the LaLiga match with Real Madrid, as victory at the Bernabeu could reduce Barça’s lead over the second-place Blancos to just four points.
“Next week we will have two very important matches and we know what they mean to our fans and the soccer world in general but also we know what is at stake (this week), first Sevilla,” he said.