Barca set to welcome back quartet

Barcelona’s defensive crisis has eased ahead of Saturday’s La Liga

visit of Racing Santander as Pep Guardiola welcomes back four key

players.

Barca were down to the bare bones last weekend, with Gerard

Pique, Rafa Marquez, Dani Alves, Eric Abidal, Dmitro Chygrynskiy

and Yaya Toure all out.

And the Catalans paid the price for those absences as they

went down 2-1 at Atletico Madrid in what was their first league

defeat of the campaign.

While injuries to midfielders Xavi and Seydou Keita represent

a blow to Guardiola’s plans for the match against Racing, the news

regarding his defence is much brighter.

Pique and Marquez are both available again after suspension,

while Chygrynskiy and Toure have recovered from injury and will be

fit to face the Cantabrian outfit.

The return of those four players gives Guardiola many more

options ahead of Saturday’s game.

With Alves still sidelined, the Barca coach is likely to

shift captain Carles Puyol to the right-back position, with Pique

set to return in the centre of defence.

Toure could start in the defensive midfield role, although

Guardiola may prefer to reserve the Ivory Coast man for next week’s

Champions League last-16 tie against Stuttgart.

That scenario could see Marquez start in the role he occupied

successfully in the 2004-05 campaign, when Barca claimed the title

for the first time in six years.

But Guardiola admits he is concerned by the club’s growing

list of casualties.

“If so many players are injured, something is wrong – there

are several causes, although we don’t know exactly what’s wrong,”

he said.

Meanwhile, Guardiola reiterated his faith in out-of-favour

forward Thierry Henry, who has not featured in recent matches.

“He is one of the most important players in the squad,” he

said.

“Few people have as much faith in Henry as I do, but we have

20-odd players and I choose the team as I best see fit in each

moment,” he said.

And he added: “I am still behind Henry, but I cannot be

answering (questions) about the eight players that don’t play each

week.”

Barca could only draw at home to Racing last season in what

was Guardiola’s second game in charge of the first-team.

Saturday’s match is already his 100th competitive encounter

as coach of Catalonia’s finest.

“When I took over, I never thought about how many games I

would be here, but last year we played all the matches in the

world, so it’s normal to arrive so quickly to 100,” he said.

“Let’s see how many more I get to.”

Barca’s defeat at Atletico last weekend saw the Catalans’

lead over fierce rivals Real Madrid cut to just two points after 22

rounds of the championship.

Guardiola’s side are expected to return to winning ways

against a weakened Racing outfit, but the Barca coach highlighted

the Cantabrians’ positive away form.

“Since (Miguel Angel) Portugal took over, they have won three

away games and drawn another – they don’t sit back and defend, but

come and attack you,” he said.

Racing have indeed improved greatly since Portugal’s return

as coach, but the Cantabrians went down 3-0 at home to Malaga last

weekend.

That match was something of a cup hangover, following

Racing’s semi-final exit from the Copa del Rey at the hands of

Atletico Madrid just days earlier.

The Cantabrians start the weekend five points clear of the

relegation zone, but will be without three key players at the Nou

Camp.

Pedro Munitis, Gonzalo Colsa and Mohamed Tchite are suspended

after all three players picked up late bookings in the defeat

against Malaga.

Even without those three, though, full-back Christian

Fernandez believes Racing have a chance.

“Barca aren’t at their most brilliant at the moment, so we

have a chance,” he said.

And the defender believes halting Lionel Messi could be the

key to his side’s success.

“He is very unpredictable, with tremendous quality and speed

– you have to be alert all the time to stop him,” he said.

“Christian is recovering from a knock and, if fit, is likely

to have the task of marking the Argentina winger.

“I will try to make him uncomfortable,” he said.