Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has backed Paco Alcacer to replace the suspended Luis Suarez for the match against Malaga on Saturday (19 November) after confirming that the former Valencia striker is set to lead the attack alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Alcacer was brought to the Nou Camp in the summer, when Barcelona paid Valencia €30m (£25.9, $31.9m) plus add-ons for him, in order to serve as a back-up for the MSN trio. However, the 23-year-old forward is yet to justify that price tag, having failed to score a single goal in eight appearances for the club.
Luis Enrique, however, claims that he is happy with the Spaniard's work and is ready to hand him a chance against Malaga to cover the absence of Suarez, who will miss the game after picking up his fifth yellow card of the campaign in the 2-1 victory over Sevilla.
"[Suarez's absence] is a great opportunity for Alcacer," the Barcelona boss said in his press conference, ahead of the game. "But forwards can score goals only if they have minutes. If they do not play, it is difficult. Tomorrow [Saturday] he will start. I'm convinced he's going to do a good job, but Paco's target is not to score goals but to help the team to win."
Messi and Neymar are expected to partner Alcacer in the attack after Luis Enrique confirmed that the duo returned fit from their international commitments. Furthermore, speaking about Messi, the boss played down recent speculations that he could decide to leave the Nou Camp when his contract expires in the summer of 2018.
"I imagine that Messi will stay at Barça for many more years," he said. "It would be nice if he could end his career here. He's the best player of all time. There's so much difference between him and anyone else that it is almost ridiculous to question it."
Andres Iniesta and Samuel Umtiti are thus the only two major absentees against Malaga. However, Luis Enrique confirmed that Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Jeremy Mathieu are back, after the trio took advantage of the recent international break to recover from injuries.
"It is very important for us to have recovered some of the players, especially after this bad run of so many important players getting injured in a row. It is a positive thing to have each of those players back and it's good for the team. It'll improve our performances," the Barcelona boss added, as he anticipated another tough challenge against Juande Ramos's side before their Champions League clash with Celtic.
"Malaga have hit on their best run of form since the league started, so they'll be buzzing with confidence. Under Juande Ramos they are nothing like the Malaga team of recent years. They don't need to create many chances to generate danger.
"We expect the same kind of things as we get from most teams that come to the Camp Nou. They play a bit further back and won't create too much pressure up front. But they will cause danger in transitions and counter-attacks."