Barcelona team news: Vermaelen starts against Valencia with Pique banned

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The Belgium international defender will make his first Liga start in two seasons in the top-of-the-table clash at Mestalla

Thomas Vermaelen has been handed his first Liga start since January 16 while Lionel Messi returns to the Barcelona line-up as Ernesto Valverde's side face Valencia in a top-of-the-table clash.

With Gerard Pique suspended for the contest and Javier Mascherano injured, Vermaelen has been given just his second start of the campaign alongside Samuel Umtiti, with his only previous start coming in the Copa del Rey against third-tier side Real Murcia in October.

Barca 4/6 v Valencia

The Belgium international defender's last Liga appearance came in March 2016 in a win over Getafe. His last start came in January of the same year, as the defender spent last season on loan in Serie A with Roma.

Sunday's match marks just his 12th Liga appearance in total, though Barca have never lost when the former Arsenal man has been on the pitch.

Meanwhile Messi, who came on as a substitute in the midweek Champions League clash against Juventus, is back in the XI. 

The rest of the line-up is as expected, with Nelson Semedo, Umtiti and Jordi Alba joining Vermaelen on the back line.

The midfield will be Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta while the forward three will be Suarez and Paulinho along with Messi. 

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Barca kick-off four points clear of Valencia at the top of the table, with both teams still unbeaten in the Liga this season.

Barcelona line-up: ter Stegen; Semedo, Umtiti, Vermaelen, Alba; Busquets, Rakatic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Paulinho

Valencia line-up: Neto; Montoya, Paulista, Garay, Gaya; Carlos Soler, Parejo, Kondogbia, Guedes; Rodrigo, Zaza

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