Jordi Alba is expected to be back when Barcelona visit Athletic Club Bilbao on Saturday (28 October) with Ernesto Valverde preparing for a special return to San Mames.

The Spanish international left-back is yet to play a game since the 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid on 14 October after suffering a thigh injury during the preparation for the Champions League clash with Olympiacos.

Lucas Digne has impressed during his absence but Valverde hopes to have his first-choice left-back available to visit his former side.

"He trained yesterday. We think he could be available," the Barcelona boss confirmed in the press conference ahead of the game. "We are going to wait (until the final training session) be we thing that he will be in conditions to play."

It will be Valverde's first visit to San Mames Stadium since his summer decision to leave the Vasque side to take over Luis Enrique at the Nou Camp. The Barcelona boss admitted it will be a special encounter but he will leave the feelings aside in order to win the game.

"For me it's a special game. A lot of things link me to Athletic, but tomorrow I am the opponent," Valverde said. "Athletic always find it tough at the start of the season, get used to changes and furthermore, they had have important injuries. They are a team who get better as the competition goes on and they always end the season well. It's obvious though that they have the quality to put in a great performance."

Meanwhile, Valverde will face a selection dilemma to form his line-up against Athletic Club after his fringe players impressed during the Tuesday's 3-0 victory at Murcia in the first leg of the Copa del Rey last-32.

The likes of Denis Suarez, Marc Cucurella or Aleña enjoyed a good night at the Nueva Condomina stadium while Paco Alcacer, Gerard Deulofeu and debutant Jose Arnaiz scored one goal each to put Barcelona on the brink of the last 16.

Valverde said in the preview of that game that he was more worried about the possibility of promoting some prospects from Barcelona B to the first-team than in the potential arrival of Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho or any other player during the upcoming January transfer window.

Asked whether the performance of his youngsters against Murcia has reinforced his theory ahead of the coming January transfer window, he said: "It is good that those who play less and the youngsters take a step forward when they have the chance to play. It is not the result that matters as much as the way they played. The performance [against Murcia] was very good and the idea we have is to focus on our team and try to improve the players that we have.

"Then, when the market arrives, if there is also possibility to improve the squad we will have the chance to go into it. But right now, we are in a moment where we have to focus on the competition rather than the signings. Now we have to focus on trying that our players respond as they did the other day [against Murcia]."

One way or another Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Samuel Umtiti are expected to start against Athletic after being rested during Copa del Rey match.