Athletic Bilbao
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Barcelona youth, fringe players will get chance in Copa del Rey - Ernesto Valverde

BARCELONA -- Ernesto Valverde will hand opportunities to Barcelona's fringe players and youngsters when they travel to Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

The Barca boss has given seven first team players time off this week, including Gerard Pique, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez, after Sunday's 5-1 win over Real Madrid.

Barca are also without the injured trio of Lionel Messi, Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen, who all sat out last week's double-header against Inter Milan and Madrid.

Valverde, therefore, will pick a young team when Barca, who have won the Copa del Rey in each of the last four seasons, kick off their defence of the cup this week.

Reserve team players Chumi, Jorge Cuenca, Juan Miranda, Oriol Busquets and Riqui Puig all trained with the first team on Tuesday and could be handed a chance to impress in Leon.

"Every game is a test, so of course it's a test for those [Barca B players] that play," Valverde said in a news conference. "It's a game with something riding on it. It's not a friendly when there's less importance put on the [result].

"The fact it's the first leg of a knockout game adds some pressure on the players. We are all looking forward to seeing some [of the youngsters] play."

It will also be a opportunity for those that have played less regularly to make their case for a spot in Valverde's team. Malcom, Denis Suarez, Carles Alena and Sergi Samper are all in contention to start the game.

"I am super happy with their attitude and their commitment in training every day," Valverde said when asked about the players that have not featured a lot this season.

"I understand when you're not in the squad or you're playing less [than you would like] that it's complicated. But the coach has to do his job; they have to do theirs.

"I expect a lot from all the players that play [on Wednesday]. It is not an easy game. It's one of those that if you don't focus 100 percent then you can get a big shock."

Valverde praised his team "taking a big step forward" in the last week with the results they picked up without Messi, but had sympathy for Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui, who lost his job after Sunday's Clasico mauling at Camp Nou. "I don't like it when other coaches get sacked," he said when asked about being the manager to decide Lopetegui's fate.

"[But] we are in the world of football, we know how this works -- it all forms part of the spectacle. There are ups and downs. If you win, you can relax, which is what we want. If you lose, there's an upwelling, although that's nothing that those in the job didn't already know."

Madrid have appointed Santiago Solari as Lopetegui's replacement for the short-term and Valverde expects them to be a dangerous opponent this season, knocking back the suggestion this could turn into a transition season for them.

"They're like us and they will respond, I don't doubt that," he added. "They will regroup and go again, like any other great team would. They are still in all competitions. They started badly in La Liga but they will try to win the league. There's a long way to go."


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