Barcelona are ready to face Athletic Club on Thursday night. Getty


  • Catalans visit the Basque side before a La Liga trip to Villarreal.
  • Jasper Cillessen is the only expected absentee for the Copa del Rey encounter.

Barcelona continue the preparations for the first leg of the Copa del Rey last 16 match against Athletic Club Bilbao on Thursday (5 January) with only Jasper Cillessen absent. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar returned to training on Monday following a Christmas break and took part again during Tuesday's open-door workout alongside the rest of their available teammates.

The La Liga giants ended the 2016 year on a high after securing the qualification for the Copa del Rey last 16 with an impressive 7-0 victory over Hercules on 22 December.

Messi, Suarez and Neymar missed that game as manager Luis Enrique decided to give the South America trio an extended holiday to return to their homelands.

But the three members of the MSN returned to training for the first workout of the year on Monday (2 January) and could be ready to visit Athletic Club on Thursday night.

Yet, Luis Enrique may decide to rest some of his starters as only three days later the visit to San Mames, Barcelona will have another crucial trip to Villarreal in La Liga.

"FC Barcelona on Tuesday completed their traditional open door training session to kick off the New Year. In front of an excited public, Luis Enrique's men trained at the Miniestadi ahead of the Copa del Rey last 16 first leg match against Athletic Club. The session saw the return of Luis Suárez, Leo Messi, Neymar Jr and Javier Mascherano, who were given permission to return a little later than the rest of the group from South America," the club confirmed.

"It was a workout that was fun, festive but also serious with the cup match looming this Thursday. The team will hold one more session on Wednesday before travelling to Bilbao on Thursday morning."

Jeremy Mathieu, meanwhile, also took part of the session and could be back available to face Athletic following his long-term spell on the sidelines. The Frenchman is yet to play a game since the 4-0 victory over Manchester City on 19 October after having been hit by different muscular problems during the first part of the season.

Luis Enrique, however, will be without Cillessen after last week the club revealed that the former Ajax keeper returned from his holidays with a muscular injury which could keep him out of action for around two weeks.

The Dutchman has been the first choice keeper for the Copa del Rey following his summer arrival to the replace Claudio Bravo. Yet, the Barcelona boss has now to decide whether to give a chance to third keeper Jordi Masip against Athletic or play instead Marc Andre Ter Stegen.