Barcelona's La Liga title defense gets underway with what should be a soft landing, as they will host Levante at Camp Nou on Aug. 18.
While Barcelona kept the majority of the team in tact from last year, Levante has undergone vast changes this summer. A rough season filled with controversy necessitated the change, as they finished 11th in La Liga last year—a full 54 points behind Barcelona.
In what should be no surprise, Barcelona has dominated the matchups between these two clubs. Dating back to the end of 2011, Barcelona has won four straight against Levante, and they have won by a combined score of 12-1.
They will look to notch a similarly impressive victory as they begin the latest La Liga season. I'm sure new Barcelona boss Gerardo "Tata" Martino will be looking for a strong debut.
He certainly has the pieces to accomplish this. Barcelona will largely return the same squad from last year, with one notable exception. Brazilian star Neymar made his way to Camp Nou, and an offense that was already prodigious just got more dangerous.
With Neymar making his La Liga debut as the defending champs begin their season, there is a lot to look forward to with this match. Check out the viewing vitals, and then we'll dig a little deeper into the preview.
When: Aug. 18 at 7 p.m. CET, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Camp Nou
TV Coverage: beIN Sport
Live Stream: beIN Sport Play
Barcelona Player to Watch: Neymar
Neymar is a scintillating talent, and he is joining an already dynamic attack. However, that doesn't mean there aren't going to be growing pains as he makes his adjustment.
For starters, he is going to have to learn to deal with the more physically imposing players La Liga has to offer. Neymar's strength is not his physicality. He is slight of build.
However, his amazing talent will allow him to work around this. What is of more a concern is his how he will fit in with this team.
Neymar is used to having room to create, and other than Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, Barcelona doesn't allow for freelancing. Either that is going to change, or Neymar will learn to adapt. Either way, it is going to be interesting to watch.
Levante Player to Watch: Keylor Navas
Keylor Navas is a solid goalkeeper, and at 26 he is just starting to come into his own. He is quick, agile and most importantly sure-handed.
I expect him to turn in a fine year. However, he is going to be blasted with a barrage of shots in this game. While there is a good chance that Barcelona will be playing without the injured Messi, it isn't going to matter all that much.
I'm sure Barcelona would like to showcase their new prized possession in Neymar, and he, and plenty of his teammates, figure to get off a few strong looks in this one.
If Levante stands a chance of keeping this match close, Navas is going to have to play the game of his life.
There is only one reasonable prediction here, and that is a comfortable win for Barcelona. I don't care if Messi plays or not; the defending champs will cruise.
Barca wins, 4-1.