Barcelona v Elche: Copa clash proves welcome distraction

Barcelona hope to put a difficult few days behind them when they host Elche in the first leg of the Copa del Rey last 16 on Thursday.

In their first match back after the mid-season break, Luis Enrique's side went down 1-0 at Real Sociedad in La Liga on Sunday as Jordi Alba's second-minute own goal proved decisive at the Anoeta Stadium.

The head coach opted to leave star forwards Lionel Messi and Neymar on the bench at the start of that match, after the pair joined up with the squad late having been given two extra days' rest.

Both were introduced in the second half but to no avail, and the decision was questioned by the media in the aftermath.

Messi missed training on Monday with an upset stomach, while Rafinha was also absent due to an ear infection, and it remains unclear whether either will feature on Thursday.

Defeat at Sociedad was followed by the news that director of football Andoni Zubizarreta had been sacked, with the club under a transfer embargo until January 2016 due to their previous dealings at youth level.

Zubizarreta's departure was swiftly followed by that of another club legend, Carles Puyol, who left his role as assistant sports director to cap a tumultuous 48 hours for the Catalan giants.

The match at Camp Nou provides Barca with a chance to focus on matters on the pitch, as they continue their quest for a 27th Copa crown.

Midfielder Andres Iniesta hopes they can improve ahead of a busy schedule, with Elche's vist representing the first of four matches in 11 days.

"We want to play well this month because we have a lot of games," he said. "We play every third or fourth day so we have to look at our pluses and fix our minuses."

And Sergio Busquets echoed the sentiments of his team-mate.

"It's not easy to say now, but we still have to play the Spanish Cup, the rest of La Liga and then we've got the Champions League. We need to get better," he said.

Elche make the trip as huge underdogs, having lost 3-0 and 4-0 on their last two visits to the iconic stadium.

Fran Escriba's men - who progressed courtesy of a 1-0 aggregate triumph over Valladolid last month - sit bottom of La Liga, with just two wins from 17 matches, and the last time they found the net away from home in any competition came in a 3-1 league defeat at Valencia back in October.

Even given Barca's troublesome few days, Luis Enrique's side will be firm favourites to secure a healthy first-leg advantage to take to the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero for the return tie next week.