The Spanish Premiera Division is back for the culés as FC Barcelona travel away to San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao at 00:45 am NST on Saturday. The defending champions are out to bring the Spanish Championship home yet again, what will be their perfect score under manager Ernesto Valverde in La Liga. As the new season is set to kick off for the Blaugrana, Ernesto Valverde needs to fill the Champions League void, continuing the league triumph if he has to deliver a solid statement, and it all starts tonight against his formerly managed side.
The 19 man travelling squad includes Barça number 1 Marc André ter Stegen with Iñaki Peña as the back up goalie, along with experienced campaigners Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba on the backline. Clement Lenglet and new signing Junior Firpo complete the defenders travelling to Basque country, along with Nelson Semedo. The midfield consists of Philippe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Rafinha, Carles Aleñyá, Sergi Roberto and the man we’ve all been excited for, Frenkie De Jong. The forward line looks as strong as always, as Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele travel with newly signed Antoine Griezmann and Masia call up Carles Perez, following an impressive pre-season performance. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi, Arthur, Arturo Vidal, Jean-Clair Todibo, Neto, Moussa Wagué have not been included in the travelling squad for the season opener.
San Mames has always been a bridge burning stadium to play on for any travelling side. As Ernesto Valverde’s side open their league campaign tonight with this fixture, this might well be a tricky one for the team to build momentum on. Considering that Barça has always suffered against well organised defensive sides with physical prowess, it might be a tough job as always to penetrate and score against Bilbao. Iker Muniain’s role as a playmaker and regular chance creator might well trouble the Barca backline, with Iñaki Williams always present to poach infront of ter Stegen’s post.
However, Barcelona’s transfer market makes this fixture an exciting one to look upon as newly signed Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie De Jong are set to start and provide the flair with the likes of Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele. Lionel Messi’s absence might well go unnoticed provided that we get to see a proper team play and a smooth transition from midfield to the final third.
A fit Samuel Umtiti might be on the bench, as Clement Lenglet is likely to start this fixture following an impressive first season at the Camp Nou. Gerard Piqué will be pairing up with either of the mentioned ones. Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo will be taking charge as the wing backs for today’s matchup, with Firpo aligned to replace Alba if required. (Finally!)
What’s most interesting is the way Valverde will organise the three-man midfield for the day. Sergi Roberto might well start with Sergio Busquets and Frenkie De Jong, making the midfield horizontally distributed with regular creation of chances. Valverde might also want to go with his ace Ivan Rakitic or with Philippe Coutinho in place of Roberto. All in all, Frenkie De Jong and Busquets are the favourites to nake it to the squad, whereas the third place is still up for grabs, as Rafinha too might come handy as a substitute. Carles Aleñá can be a starter, provided Valverde opts to leave all the mentioned figures on the bench.
The forward line will be comprised of Dembele, Suarez and Griezmann, with Masia graduate Carles Perez and Philippe Countinho as the probable substitutes for the left flank.
All in all, a match to stay up for. League openers are always tricky, this might well be up for grabs with the squad we have.
Visca El Barça!