By Tim Hanlon
BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona coach Luis Enrique will field as many youth players as the rules permit when his depleted side travel to third-tier Villanovense in Wednesday’s King’s Cup last 32, first-leg tie.
“My intention is to use as many youth players as possible and I would have liked to use more,” Luis Enrique told a news conference on Tuesday.
“The rules though state that we have to field seven first team players and that is the situation. It would have been better that more players didn’t have to travel.”
The Catalans have suffered a spate of injuries with Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Rafinha all out and, coupled with their FIFA transfer ban over two windows for signing minors, their resources are severely stretched.
Despite having to soldier on towards January, when they will be able to call on new signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, last season’s treble winners are joint leaders in La Liga with Real Madrid and top their Champions League group.
Barca start the defence of the King’s Cup they won last May against Athletic Bilbao with a tie brought forward due to Barca’s participation in the Club World Cup in December.
Neymar and Luis Suarez, who scored a hat-trick in a 3-1 La Liga win against Eibar at the weekend, are among the first team regulars left out of the squad to face Villanovense.
Luis Enrique said he was pleased with the way his side had coped with the challenges facing them this season.
“My job is to deal with the obstacles that you come across during a campaign and that is what we are doing,” he said.
“Situations are always changing and we are proud with our capacity to overcome these problems.”
Barca are still waiting to hear the length of the ban Javier Mascherano will receive after being sent off against Eibar on Sunday for verbally abusing an assistant referee.
The Argentine could be given four matches like Gerard Pique earlier in the season for a similar offence but Luis Enrique denied there was a disciplinary problem at the club.
“I spoke with Masche and the whole team,” he said. “I think there is an improvement in behaviour among the players and I don’t think there is any behaviour different to the normal protests that happen in a match and takes place with all teams.”
(Reporting by Tim Hanlon, editing by Ken Ferris)