Barcelona manager Luis Enrique has left Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto out of the touring party for the match against Sporting Gijon on Wednesday night (17 February), despite the pair both being fit to play. The Spaniard is expected to field most of his starters at El Molinón, but rested the pair ahead of a busy run of fixtures. The Catalans have La Liga matches against Las Palmas and Sevilla as well the crucial Champions League last 16 first-leg against Arsenal before the end of February.
Barcelona have the chance to extend their lead at the top of La Liga, which currently sees them four points ahead of Atletico Madrid, as the Sporting game is a game in hand delayed due to their participation in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Barca conducted their last training session before the visit to Luis Enrique's hometown on Tuesday morning, with Alba and Roberto both taking part. However, they were later excluded from the squad along with three out-of-favour players (Jordi Masip, Douglas and Sandro Ramirez) and long-term injury victim Rafinha Alcantara.
"[Alba and Roberto] are fit, they have trained with the rest but we have left these five players out of the squad," Luis Enrique confirmed in the press conference ahead of the game. Jeremy Mathieu and Ivan Rakitic are expected to fill those gaps in the starting line-up, one week before they face Arsenal.
"We have our idea [about squad rotation] and know the players and how are they responding to the burden of games. But right now we are only concerned about tomorrow's match. "
The Barca boss spoke up the importance of making the most of their game in hand, but played down suggestions that moving six points clear would be the effective end of the La Liga season.
"Winning would be a great result, but not a definitive one. We are playing the game we missed. It gives us an opportunity to open a gap on our rivals. It will not be easy. Sporting are a well-coached team with a serious defence, and it's a great stadium," Luis Enrique added.
"I'm a Sporting fan from birth until death, but in this profession you have to look at things in a different way. Of course it will be a special day, I have always identified myself with Sporting, but I have to focus on my job."
Barcelona 18-man squad to face Sporting Gijon: Marc Andre Ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Gerard Piqué, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, Arda Turan, Andres Iniesta, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi, Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra, Munir, Adriano , Aleix Vidal, Thomas Vermaelen and Jeremy Mathieu.