'We are still counting on Mascherano' – Valverde insists Argentine still has part to play

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The long-time Barcelona defender is rumoured to want an exit from the Catalan club ahead of next summer's World Cup

Ernesto Valverde says Javier Mascherano still has a part to play at Barcelona amid rumours he has asked to leave the club

Barca host Sporting CP in the Champions League on Tuesday, with their spot in the knockout stages as Group D winners already secured.

That might be just as well for Valverde, who only has Gerard Pique and Thomas Vermaelen to choose from as fit senior centre-backs after Samuel Umtiti suffered a hamstring injury during Saturday's 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo.

The France centre-back joins Mascherano in the treatment room – with the veteran defensive player recently speaking of his time at Camp Nou coming to an end .

Mundo Deportivo has since reported that Mascherano has put in a transfer request, with his eyes on a January move to the Chinese Super League and increased playing time ahead of Argentina's 2018 World Cup campaign.

Speaking ahead of the Sporting match, Valverde played down his transfer plans and insisted Mascherano remained an important member of the Barcelona squad.

"The transfer window hasn't arrived yet. We've been talking about the winter transfer window since August," said the former Athletic Bilbao boss, who batted back questions regarding a purported swoop for Colombia international Yerry Mina.

"When it comes we will talk about the winter transfer window. We are still counting on Mascherano. He is a member of the team, is committed to Barcelona and has been for a long, long time.

"I can't talk about hypothetical conversations really. I'm happy with Mascherano. I want him to be here with us. I've not got concern about him."

Barcelona announced Umtiti would be sidelined for eight weeks with his injury but Valverde suggested he could return sooner.

"We've got December to think about these things but Samuel Umtiti's injury is not a long-term one. By January, he should be coming back," he added.

"We have some injury problems that we have to think about but we have more analysis to do in that department [transfers] before I can make any official statement."

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Utility man Sergi Roberto distanced himself from suggestions he could fill in at centre-back when he addressed the media before his coach, who has already come up with back-up plans.

"Sergio Busquets has played there sometimes, Lucas Digne has done so as well," Valverde added. "We're going to have to find an answer, there's no doubt about that.

"At the moment we've still got healthy centre-backs. Let's hope they don't get injured. If they do, then we've got a problem."

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