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Barca trio rested and readied for vital January – Luis Enrique

Barcelona (AFP) – Barcelona coach Luis Enrique insists his star front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar are in fine physical condition despite being allowed extended time off during the winter break.

All three were allowed to skip Barca’s 7-0 thrashing of Hercules in the Copa del Rey on December 21 to return to South America for Christmas and New Year and only returned to training on January 2, three days after the rest of their teammates.

“We have all been able to enjoy quite a few days on holiday,” said Luis Enrique ahead of Barca’s first game of 2017 away to Athletic Bilbao in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie on Thursday.

“Holidays mean not coming to the training ground, but not in terms of preparation because they have all followed their instructions and physical tasks.

“I am pleasantly impressed with what I saw on the 2nd with their return and on the 30th with the return of the others. I think we have returned better than how we left.

“I am happy they have been able to enjoy those moments with their families and with the response in training.”

Barca will need to be at their physical best with a gruelling schedule of 19 games across La Liga, Cup and Champions League to come in little over two months should they reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals.

“This month of January will be vital to remain in the Cup and keep aspiring to win everything,” added Luis Enrique, whose side have won the Copa del Rey in each of the last two seasons.

“The possibility of playing 19 games would be good news, first and foremost because we would continue in all the competitions.

“For that you need a big squad, not just because coaches like to rotate, but because there are injuries and suspensions that could be important.

“Therefore, we need to have a lot of resources, as I have at my disposal now, and know how to utilise them.”

Messi, Suarez and Neymar are all expected to start with goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen Barca’s only injury absentee.

With the Dutch international sidelined, Luis Enrique could change his usual strategy of rotating goalkeepers in the Cup and retain number one Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal ahead of third-choice Jordi Masip.

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