Tito confident despite Masch absence
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova remains confident his squad has enough depth to cope despite Javier Mascherano's suspension for Saturday's La Liga trip to Rayo Vallecano being confirmed on Friday morning by the Spanish league authorities.
Barca had twice appealed the controversial red card that Mascherano picked up in last weekend's 5-4 win at Deportivo la Coruna but to no avail. With Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol also unavailable through injury, Alex Song and Marc Bartra could form Barca's central defensive partnership at the Estadio Vallecas.
Vilanova said he had confidence that whoever played would do their job, and said that homegrown Bartra, 21, had impressed on his first start of the season in the 2-1 win against Celtic.
"It is not ideal to have so many people missing in the one position," Vilanova said, "but the people who have come in have done well. Against Celtic (Bartra) played a good game and before the game I told him he would play a good game. If he is in the first team squad it is because I decided it."
In better news for Barca fans, midfielder Sergio Busquets is available again after missing the Celtic game through suspension, while right-back Daniel Alves returns after missing two club games with a thigh strain picked up during the 2-2 draw with Real Madrid earlier this month.
Vilanova said during Friday's pre-game press briefing at the Camp Nou that Alves may not go straight into the starting XI as his form before his injury had not been up to his usual high standard.
"We need to judge Dani over the long term," Vilanova said. "He has had some physical issues and has not been able to perform at the level we know he can. He has been training well. I am convinced he will end up playing a great season."
Rayo currently sit 12th in the table after an up-and-down start to the campaign, which has mixed some impressive attacking with some haphazard defending under new coach Paco Jemez. Vilanova said he expected a difficult game as Jemez's sides would look to disrupt Barca's attacks at source.
"Rayo's stadium is always difficult - it is our toughest away trip so far this season," he said. "Jemez pressures you a lot from the front. We will not have time to think. We will not be able to bring the ball out easily."