Monday, 4 December 2017

Javier Mascherano still needed at Barcelona – Ernesto Valverde

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has closed the door on Javier Mascherano leaving the Catalan giants in January due to Barca’s lack of fit centre-backs, despite the defender suggesting that he wanted to end his time at the club.

Samuel Umtiti, who has replaced Mascherano as Gerard Pique’s regular partner at the heart of the Barca defence, was ruled out for two months after tearing a hamstring in a 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Mascherano himself is also currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, while former Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen has endured a series of injury problems since joining Barca in 2014.

“Masche is our player and we are counting on him. We want him to recover as soon as possible and a believe in him a lot,” Valverde said on Monday ahead of Barca’s Champions League clash with Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.

Mascherano had last week raised the possibility that his eight-year spell with Barcelona could be coming to an end due to his lack of game time this season.

“After so long it is clear I don’t have much more to give to the club in the future,” Mascherano told ESPN Deportes.

“I don’t say that with a heavy heart, it is the opposite. I have had the most marvellous years of my career at this club.

“I am the type of person that knows when it is time to end an era.”

However, Umtiti’s absence means Mascherano is in line to start Barca’s trip to Real Madrid on December 23, and Valverde is even evaluating whether to reinforce his central defence in January.

“We have time to assess. We know Sam’s injury is a long one but he will return in January,” added Valverde.

“When there are injuries it can change your plans, but, in principle, at the moment we are happy with what we have.”

Barca are already assured of their place in the Champions League last 16 as Group D winners, meaning Valverde is likely to heavily rotate his side for Sporting’s visit to the Camp Nou.

The Portuguese side could join Barca in the last 16 with victory if Juventus fail to win away at Olympiakos.

And Valverde raised the possibility that midfielder Sergio Busquets or left-back Lucas Digne could be called on as auxiliary centre-back options.

“Busquets has played at centre-back before, so has Digne. We know we have to look for solutions.”

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