The “FIFA virus” struck Javier Mascherano, who will be out for a month and will miss games against Leganés, Valencia, Celta, and Villarreal in the league, as well as Juventus in the UEFA Champions League and Real Murcia in the Copa del Rey.
Mascherano is expected back for the match against Deportivo La Coruña, one week before El Clásico against Real Madrid. But Ernesto Valverde’s situation is even more complicated as Gerard Piqué and Samuel Umtiti are both one yellow card away from suspension.
Thomas Vermaelen is the team’s fourth centerback but questions about his fitness remain after he has suffered through an injury-plagued last few years.
There is a nightmare scenario in which Vermaelen gets injured and one or both of the starting defenders get suspended.
David Costas, a 22-year-old centerback who plays for Barcelona B, could be receiving call-ups soon. He has experience in La Liga having played with Celta Vigo.
Valverde could also shift Lucas Digne into the middle, or perhaps Sergio Busquets could do a job there in an emergency.
How Valverde manages the defenders in the coming weeks will be important. It would also be a good time for Vermaelen to remain fit for a run of games. If he isn’t, Barcelona’s decision to keep him and shift Marlon Santos out will be called, once again, into question.