Barcelona kick off their La Liga campaign on Sunday when they host Elche at Camp Nou. With new manager Luis Enrique leading the charge, fans are expecting an exciting start to the new La Liga season.
The likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are sure to be vital in the upcoming match, while new signings Jeremy Mathieu, Ivan Rakitic and either Claudio Bravo or Marc-Andre ter Stegen could all feature as well.
With that being said, let’s take a look at how the Blaugrana will line up in their first match of the La Liga season.
The first question is that of goalkeeper. Bravo and Ter Stegen are both in the running to start for the Catalan giants. Enrique couldn’t go wrong with either player, but due to his experience in Spain, Bravo should be handed the spot in the first match of the year.
Moving on to the defense, there are a few questions as well. With Gerard Pique suspended for the first game, Enrique has a tough decision to make.
New signings Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen have the top-flight experience to warrant a start, but putting them together would not be wise. They have not had the time to learn the system yet.
Expect Mathieu to be in the starting lineup due to the fact that he has had more training time with the team, but his center back partner will definitely be a player who has been at the club for a while now.
Either Javier Mascherano or Marc Bartra could partner the Frenchman in defense. However, if the goal is to use Mascherano as a defensive midfielder this season, starting the Argentine in defence for the first game would send the wrong message.
Look for La Masia graduate Bartra to partner with Mathieu in the middle of the defense, with Dani Alves and Jordi Alba flanking either side of the back line.
In the midfield, Sergio Busquets and Iniesta are sure to be handed a starting spot. Both Barcelona products are faces of the club and will surely have major roles this year.
Choosing the third midfielder is not as simple.
Surely Xavi could retain his place in the team and has the experience to do so. Yet new signing Ivan Rakitic was brought in from Sevilla to become a major player at the club. With this being the first game of the new season, look for Enrique to hand the spot to Rakitic in hopes of creating familiarity as quickly as possible.
After the club announced on its official website that Neymar had suffered an ankle sprain, choosing the attacking trident for Barcelona becomes much harder.
Of course, Lionel Messi will feature in the front three and will again be the focal point of the Blaugrana attack. But who will play alongside the Argentine?
From what we have seen this preseason, all signs point to Rafinha and Munir El Haddadi being Messi’s attacking partners. Both La Masia graduates have spent significant time playing up front for the club in pre-season friendlies, and they also have the talent to take on a rival like Elche.
Fans should expect to see Mascherano and Pedro get some minutes at Camp Nou on Sunday as well. Enrique is looking for a quick start to the domestic league, and putting his best players available on the pitch must be a priority.
Will the Blaugrana win their first match of the La Liga season? Who will feature in the starting lineup? Leave your thoughts and comments below!