Big game for Koeman and Barca at start of season-defining week

FC Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman faces another key game on Sunday at the start of a week that could well decide his future and the club’s entire season.

Barcelona entertain Valencia two weeks after suffering a 2-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid that virtually everyone expected to be Koeman’s last game in charge. However, a late U-turn by club president Joan Laporta (who has probably failed to convince anyone else to take on the cash-strapped club) means the Dutchman remains in his job for a decisive eight-day period.

Barcelona face Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League on Wednesday in a match they have to win to keep their hopes of reaching the last 16 of the competition intact after defeats to Bayern Munich and Benfica, before entertaining Real Madrid in the first ‘Clasico’ of the campaign next Sunday, Xinhua reports.

Even given the lack of alternatives, it’s hard to see how Koeman could survive another week of bad results.

Fortunately for the coach, he has some players returning after injury: Kun Aguero scored in a midweek friendly and should be able to play some role against Valencia, while Ousmane Dembele looks to be edging towards full fitness and two weeks of training could mean that Ansu Fati is considered fit enough to start a game after three substitute appearances before the international break.

However, Pedri (who on October 15 signed a four-year contract extension) is still out for an indefinite period of time, while central defender Ronald Araujo (arguably Barca’s best player this term) picked up a hamstring injury on international duty and joins Martin Brathwaite and Jordi Alba on the injury list.

Araujo’s injury means Koeman will have to reshuffle the Barca defense, with Eric Garcia partnering Gerard Pique. However, the fact that Garcia is suspended for the Champions League game could tempt the coach to give minutes to either Clement Lenglet or Samuel Umtiti.

Teenager Gavi is likely to keep his place in the side after impressing on his international debut and will partner Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong.

Valencia travel to Barcelona without a win in their last four games, but with Pepe Bordalas in charge, they can be expected to pack their defense and break up the play as much as possible. That’s the sort of tactic that Barca have struggled against in recent times and with the patience of fans in the Camp Nou already wearing very thin, Barca and Koeman need an early goal to settle nerves.