BARCELONA — Gerard Pique has been included in Barcelona’s squad for Thursday’s Copa del Rey semifinal second leg at Valencia despite injuring his knee during the weekend’s draw with Espanyol.
Initial fears were that the defender would be out for a month, but his grandfather, former Barca director Amador Bernabeu, allayed those fears earlier this week, predicting he would only be out for 10 days.
However, Pique has defied even that prediction, coming through Wednesday’s training session without any problems to be named in Ernesto Valverde’s squad.
There’s also a return for midfielder Andre Gomes, who has missed the past three matches with a stomach bug.
Denis Suarez and Lucas Digne have both been left out, while Thomas Vermaelen and Ousmane Dembele remain injured.
Valverde, though, is hopeful that Dembele will return soon, telling a news conference on Wednesday that “if it’s not this weekend, then it will be next weekend” when the Frenchman is back in action.
Valencia coach Marcelino said that he was not interested in Barca’s mind games over Pique’s fitness in the build-up to the game, suggesting Lionel Messi is the only player he would be happy to see missing from Valverde’s lineup.
“I’m not focusing on [Pique],” he said. “If they have to play hide and seek with us, it means they respect us. It doesn’t matter to us whether one player plays or another.
“I would only like it if there was one player not on the pitch, the most decisive one [Messi], but for the good of the spectacle it’s good that he’s there. The rest, it doesn’t matter.”
Barca travel to the Mestalla with a 1-0 lead from the first leg thanks to Luis Suarez’s second-half goal at Camp Nou last week.
The Catalans have won the Copa del Rey in each of the last three seasons and are looking to make the final for the fifth consecutive year.
Valencia, meanwhile, have not reached the final in a decade. But Valverde says his players remain as motivated as ever to progress in the competition despite the success they have had in it in recent seasons.
“It doesn’t mean they will be more up for it than us,” he said when it was suggested Valencia’s lack of recent silverware could give them an extra incentive on Thursday.
“The chance to get to a final is a big motivation. All the players see it in the same way. Everyone here does. The other finals are now in the past. It’s about writing the future this season. Our motivation is not less than theirs.”
The winners will play Sevilla or Leganes, who meet in the other semifinal on Wednesday, in April’s final at a venue yet to be decided.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.