Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has defended his decision to snub Aleix Vidal for the trip to Real Sociedad on Thursday night (19 January), despite suggesting last weekend that he was ready to give the Spaniard more first-team opportunities. Meanwhile, Rafinha Alcantara is also set to miss the he first leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-finals at San Sebastian due to a hamstring injury, but his boss suggested that he could be ready to return to action for the weekend trip to Eibar.
Vidal has been heavily linked with a January move away from Barcelona in recent months after having barely featured for Luis Enrique during the first part of the season. However, the boss surprised fans at the weekend by handing the Spaniard a rare starting appearance ahead of Sergi Roberto during the 5-0 victory over Las Palmas.
Speaking after the game, the Barcelona boss was full of praise for the player, who scored one goal and also played a crucial role in Luis Suarez's opener.
"Aleix Vidal is physically very strong with a very high rhythm. He is in great physical condition and trains really well. He's proved his manager wrong and he's ready to compete. He was excellent today. It's great for me to have all of my players ready and I'm convinced that they can contribute," Luis Enrique said after the victory over Las Palmas.
However, doubts over Vidal's future at Barcelona re-emerged on Wednesday morning after the player was omitted from Luis Enrique's 18-man squad to face Real Sociedad.
The boss suggested that he still has trust in Vidal but has been forced to leave him out alongside Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jeremy Mathieu to make space for other players – as Gerard Piqué, Denis Suárez, Sergi Roberto and third-choice keeper Jordi Masip return to the squad following their absences against Las Palmas.
"My words [about Vidal] haven't changed at all. I still have the same opinion about Aleix Vidal and other players but it's the coach's job to make decisions and this is what I do," Luis Enrique said in the press conference ahead of the trip to Real Sociedad.
Rafinha, meanwhile, is also out, with a hamstring injury. Luis Enrique confirmed the news in the press conference but ruled out any major concerns as he expects the player to be back soon.
"Rafinha is going to be out for some days," the Barcelona boss said. "It's not a serious injury but his evolution will reveal if he can play against Eibar. For the moment the injury will prevent him from being at San Sebastian."
Rakitic's future at Barcelona has also come under some scrutiny after he slipped down the manager's pecking order behind Andre Gomes and Rafinha.
Recent reports in Croatia said Pep Guardiola is likely to take advantage of the situation to lure him to Manchester City, but Luis Enrique claimed that he is still a crucial player for the future of the La Liga giants.
"Ivan is a player who has been and still is an important player for the team and for the club," Luis Enrique said. "Regarding the renewals of the players it's not for me to give an opinion on. I only want all of the players at my disposal to perform whenever they are called on.
France Football recently published an interview in which Rakitic said he would willingly throw himself off a bridge for Luis Enrique as the current Barcelona boss was the man who brought him from Sevilla in the summer of 2014. But Luis Enrique joked about those comments after clarifying that, despite the interview has been published this week, it was made months ago.
"I think that interview is fairly old now. It's better not to ask him if he would now because maybe I go off the bridge alone! He's a great guy and I wouldn't read too much into those declarations," the boss added.
Meanwhile, the Barcelona manager has sent a warning to his side ahead of the trip to Real Sociedad, as the Catalans haven't won at the Anoeta stadium since 2007.
"Against Real [Sociedad] we have had games in which they have been the better side, we want to change that. We always go into matches with the objective of winning, being better than our opponents and creating more over 90 minutes, regardless of whether there is a second leg," Luis Enrique said "They are dangerous if you let them play, they get into the box, they have finishers and they can counter well. Eusebio is doing a great job and they are going to make it difficult for us."