Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has warned his side to expect a very difficult challenge when they visit Alaves on Saturday (11 Februay) after hailing the Basque side as the "revelation of the season". Neymar and Marc Andre Ter Stegen return to the Catalans' 18-man squad after missing Copa del Rey semi-finals with Atletico Madrid but all Gerard Pique, Arda Turan, Rafinha Alcanta and Javier Mascherano will miss the game due to different injuries.
Alaves already shocked Barcelona in the third week of La Liga after securing a surprising 2-1 victory at the Nou Camp, thanks to goals from Deyverson and Ibai Gomez.
The newly-promoted side have since continued impressing in La Liga to arrive to their coming encounter with Barcelona in the 12th position of the table, 14 points above the relegation zone.
Furthermore, earlier this week the Basque side booked a place in the Copa del Rey final after beating Celta Vigo in the semi-finals, meaning that they will have to face Barcelona one more time on 27 May, as the Catalans also knocked out Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night.
Luis Enrique believes that there will be much time to think in that final in the future, but urged his side to focus first in their coming Saturday's visit to Mendizorroza.
"The fact we are going to play the Copa final against them in May is something which has nothing to do with tomorrow's game," the Barcelona boss said. "Alaves are the revelation of the season without a doubt, because of what they are achieving and how they are doing it. Their points total, their consistency, their position in the table....and all of this as a team who have just come up from the second division and have a new coach. They are getting some spectacular results playing at a great level in both the league and the cup,"
"They are a dangerous side, with Deyverson as a centre forward supported by Ibai and Toquero. On the wings, they have Theo and Kiko and behind that they have a great midfield in Manu and Marcos, who are great players. The team works hard and are 100% motivated. It will be a difficult match."
"We know they are a team who have caused us problems and could do so again," Luis Enrique pointed out following Barcelona 2-1 defeat to Alaves earlier in September. "Here they did so with a system they haven't used again, with a defensive five but normally they play a 4-2-3-1. We'll see what Pellegrino decides tomorrow."
Neymar and Marc Andre Ter Stegen are back after missing the Copa del Rey semi-finals, with the Brazilian serving a suspension and the German keeper being rested to make space for Jasper Cillessen.
However, the Barcelona boss will be without a number of key players, as all Pique, Turan, Rafinha and Mascherano have failed to make the squad due to different concerns. Yet, Rafinha already missed the encounter with Atletico Madrid while the Argentine international was forced off in the second half after sustaining a thigh injury.
Meanwhile, Turan suffered a groin problem but Pique's absence is expected to be only a precaution, after the Spaniard couldn't train with the rest of his teammates on Friday.
The news is a special concern for Luis Enrique, as only three days after the encounter with Alaves, Barcelona will visit Paris Saint Germain for the first leg of the Champions League last 16. The boss has promoted Carles Aleñá from the second team to complete his travelling squad to Vitoria.