BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Luis Enrique will be forced to rejig his defence against Las Palmas on Sunday after centre back Gerard Pique was ruled out of their penultimate league game in a gripping La Liga title race.
Pique was left out of the squad for the long flight to the Canary Islands after the club announced the defender had been taken to hospital with stomach pains, leaving Barca short-staffed at the back.
As well as missing Pique, Barca will be without Sergi Roberto through suspension and Jeremy Mathieu and Aleix Vidal through injury although left-back Lucas Digne returned from a muscle problem to boost Luis Enrique’s side.
Pique, known for his business interests outside of soccer, was in the Spanish capital this week attending the Madrid Open and trying to progress his plan to set up a new international tennis tournament to rival the Davis Cup.
Luis Enrique could return to the 3-4-3 formation he used during March but which has fallen out of favour in recent weeks.
The coach, however, kept his cards close to his chest when asked how he will cope with the sudden scarcity of defenders.
“I have different options in how I prepare for the game and my players are ready and capable. It’s an exciting challenge to see how we overcome these difficulties.”
Champions Barca top the standings from Real Madrid due to their superior head-to-head record.
Yet Madrid, who are also on 84 points, have a game in hand and will win a first title in five years if they take seven points from their remaining three fixtures.
Even though Madrid are better placed in the title chase, Luis Enrique said his players still believe they can pip their rivals to the prize and are fully focussed on their last two games, against Las Palmas and Eibar.
“The players’ mentality is to exhaust our chances of winning all the trophies we can, and we’re going to fight for the title until the end,” he added.
“Anything can happen.”
Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Tom Hayward and Pritha Sarkar