Barcelona received some good news on Sunday morning with the club confirming that Samuel Umtiti is fit and ready to play for the first time in almost three months.
The French centre-back has not featured since November’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid due to knee trouble and has only made eight appearances for Barcelona this season.
However, he’s now back and in the squad for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg against Lyon, a match he’s openly admitted he’s desperate to play in.
“I will do everything possible to be ready for the Champions League game against Lyon at the Groupama Stadium,” he said.
“I’m really looking forward to reencountering the Lyon fans.”
Source | Sport
And his return to the squad will be warmly welcomed. Simply put, Umtiti is one of Europe’s best centre-halves and, fully fit, he is the best partner for Gerard Pique.
Yet that’s where it gets tricky because while there’s no denying Umtiti’s quality, the fact is he has not played a single competitive minute since November, and Tuesday is a crucial match where Ernesto Valverde simply cannot afford to get his team selection wrong.
To complicate matters even further summer signing Clement Lenglet has filled in well for Umtiti this term and has formed a good relationship with Pique in the heart of the defence.
He was rested against Real Valladolid on Saturday, with Thomas Vermaelen stepping in and predictably picking up another injury, which may just be a hint he’ll play on Tuesday.
Barcelona will need to be defensively strong against a Lyon side who have proved they can be tricky customers having beaten Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain this season.
They have scored 12 goals in six Champions League games and have only failed to find the back of the net once in their last 13 games in all competitions.
Valverde must be tempted to bring Umtiti back for Lyon, and the player will no doubt be desperate to play at his former home, but Lenglet deserves the chance to continue.