Thiago Alcantara

This evening Barcelona travel to Ceuta, an autonomous Spanish city on the African continent, where they will face the region’s third-tier club in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey. Although Pep Guardiola will undoubtedly treat Ceuta with all due respect, the game does represent a chance for the Barça coach to give recent graduates of the cantera (youth academy, literally “quarry”) a taste of first team action.Victor Valdés, Gerard Piqué, Daniel Alves, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta and David Villa have all been left out of the squad in order to rest and recuperate ahead of the visit of Sevilla to the Camp Nou this Saturday and have had their places taken by various members of the ‘B’ team.

Marc Bartra (19) and Andreu Fontás (20), both of whom have impressed in Spain’s junior international sides, are expected to team up in the centre of defence this evening, each vying to be considered as a potential long-term replacement for Carles Puyol in the senior team.

In the midfield, meanwhile, there are likely to be starts for highly-rated 19 year-old defensive midfielder Thiago Alcântara and Jonathan dos Santos who will likely play in a similar role to that usually adopted by Andres Iniesta.

However, potentially the most interesting inclusion in Guardiola’s side this evening will be striker Nolito should he, as is expected, be given a starting role in attack. Having made his senior debut as a substitute in the 1-1 draw with Mallorca at the start of October, Guardiola will be keeping a keen eye on the impact the 24 year-old (who has now made almost 80 appearances for the ‘B’ team) can make from the start.

With the last generation of Barça youth players (Messi, Piqué, Pedro, Busquets ) now forming the spine of the senior side, much is expected of those that are to come. It is games like tonight’s against Ceuta that provide the opportunity for members of the cantera to show what they are capable of, and continue the club’s recent tradition of producing truly outstanding players.

The early stages of the Copa del Rey may not produce many shocks (last year being something of an exception), but there might just be a glimpse of the future on the North African coast this evening.

Probable Barcelona XI (4-3-3): Pinto – Adriano, Bartra, Fontas, Maxwell – Mascherano, Thiago, dos Santos – Bojan, Nolito, Jeffren