Ousmane Dembele
Dembele has only made three appearances for Barcelona. Getty Images

Ousmane Dembele is expected to make his long-awaited return to action for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey last 16 first leg against Celta Vigo on Thursday night [4 January] after being included in Ernesto Valverde's 18-man squad alongside 19-year-old midfielder Carles Aleña and Barcelona B sensation Jose Arnaiz.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta have been rested by the Spanish boss while out-of-favour players Arda Turan, Rafinha and Gerard Deulofeu will also miss the game due to technical reasons.

Meanwhile, Paco Alcacer and Samuel Umtiti remain on the sidelines after they missed last month's victory over Real Madrid due to injuries.

Valverde is set to give a chance to his fringe players at Balaidos after the Barcelona boss made wholesale changes in his line-up during the previous round of the Copa del Rey against Murcia.

Dembele is back in the squad for the first time since suffering a serious muscle injury which required surgery during the Catalan's 2-1 victory over Getafe on 16 September.

Yet, Valverde suggested that the Barcelona record signing will only play a handful of minutes as a substitute despite also being without Messi and Suarez.

"It's very important for us to recover a player like Ousmane," Valverde said in the press conference ahead of the trip to Celta. "He has to adapt all over again but we are sure he's going to be an important player for us. We'll gradually introduce him to the team, but he needs time to adapt so we'll take things in our stride."

Aleña and Arnaiz may have a chance to start after the B team pair impressed in the previous round against Murcia, helping Barcelona to secure a 8-0 victory on the aggregate.

Messi, Suarez and Iniesta were rested for the last 32 clash but the absence of Rafinha and Deulofeu will surely spark speculation linking both players with a January loan move away from Barcelona.

Barcelona were held to a 2-2 draw at Balaidos in La Liga earlier this season but Valverde is confident his side can get a better result this time around.

"They're an aggressive team that'll put us under a lot of pressure. It'll be a game between two good teams. We have a lot of respect for them because of the trouble they caused us at the Camp Nou in the league and they'll be battling hard to qualify too," the Barcelona boss added.

"It's going to be different to the 2-2 draw here because it's not the same competition and this time there's another leg afterwards. The fact we've already played them makes a difference too because we know how they approached the first game."

"It's one of the hardest teams we could have been drawn against because they play well as a team and generate a lot of pressure. The games played in previous season are a reference for us, but less so because they didn't have the same coach then."