Barca B's Jose Arnaiz, Carles Alena set for first-team chance in Copa del Rey
BARCELONA -- Ernesto Valverde will ring the changes for Barcelona's Copa del Rey first-leg tie against third-division Real Murcia on Tuesday, with B-team players Carles Alena and Jose Arnaiz likely to be given a chance to impress.
Alena and Arnaiz are two of seven players from Barca B -- who play in the Spanish second division -- who trained with the first team on Sunday and Monday.
And with seven regulars given time off, including Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta, Valverde could make as many as 11 changes from Saturday's 2-0 win against Malaga.
"The B team players are training with us with the idea that they will come with us [to Murcia] to help us," Valverde said in a news conference.
"We must have seven first-team players on the pitch at all times, but in principle we have [young] players that can help. It will be a game with rotations, but the important thing is to win and win well."
Arnaiz, a €4 million summer signing from Real Valladolid, is one of the B-team players who has excited the most this season, scoring four goals in nine impressive performances.
"He has good qualities: he's quick, he takes players on, he scores goals, he can create goals..." Valverde said of the 22-year-old winger.
"He has that spark. We are always looking for players who can add these attributes in attack.
"I hope the young players take a step forward. I ask them to be brave. It's better to go too far than to not get there at all. And, most importantly, I tell them: don't go unnoticed."
Valverde confirmed that Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will both miss the game because of injuries -- as will Jordi Alba and long-term absentees Ousmane Dembele and Rafinha -- but there could be a rare start for Thomas Vermaelen.
"I am happy with how Thomas is performing in training," the Barca coach said. "He is not playing much in matches, though, and it's not an easy situation. But we have four centre-backs and it's difficult to play them all.
"He has to wait for a chance, and hopefully he takes it when it arrives, which could be against Murcia. Mentally he looks good and he is training well."
Barca, who are looking to defend the trophy for a fourth successive season, required a second-half equaliser from Alena at this stage last season against Hercules and Valverde is expecting an equally tough game at the Nueva Condomina.
"It's one of the most difficult games of the season," he said of the round-of-32 tie. "You have to be well-prepared mentally because everyone knows how difficult it can be against a lower league side.
"It's their game of the year in certain ways. It's the typical game where the key to it all is to be well-prepared. It's true they're not going through a good spell. They're a historic team, but they're in the third tier. We respect them, but we want to defend the trophy."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.