The big question for new FC Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is who will partner Lionel Messi in attack in his team's season opener against Elche?
Things looked great for Barca in attack headed into the new campaign. But a Grade 1 ankle sprain suffered by Neymar Jr. has thrown Enrique's potential forward line into a state of flux.
How Enrique resolves his first real selection dilemma as Barca boss will help determine a game his side will be expected to comfortably win.
Here's all of the relevant schedule information, followed by a preview:
|Sunday, August 24||8 p.m. BST / 3 p.m. ET||Sky Sports 5 / beIN Sports en Espanol||Sky Go / beINSports Connect|
SkySports.com and FootballWorld.com
Messi Needs Partners in Attack
Missing Neymar is a problem Enrique is unlikely to have anticipated. However, it's been compounded by an illness suffered by Pedro Rodriguez. The 27-year-old Spain international is likely to miss the game, according to the English version of Marca.
Pedro's pace and cunning off-the-ball runs will certainly be missed. However, the same report in Marca hinted at possible involvement for Rafinha Alcantara as somebody who might support Messi from the wide areas. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder can drift well from central positions to the flanks.
However, the more intriguing option could be precocious 18-year-old Munir El Haddadi. He was wowed fans during several thrilling pre-season performances.
Enrique was quick to endorse the youthful forward's skills after he scored twice in the Joan Gamper Trophy, per the club's official website: "We knew that Munir has the quality, how far he goes depends on him. It’s a delight to have the reserve squad we have."
The budding teen star certainly offers pace and an eye for goal, qualities that would trouble the Elche defence. With his team playing in the comforting confines of the Camp Nou, Enrique might opt to risk playing both youngsters to bracket Messi.
That would surely be better than moving central schemer Andres Iniesta onto one of the flanks.
Ivan Rakitic Must Control Mario Pasalic
Barca new boy Ivan Rakitic is going to be key to Enrique's bid to recapture this season's La Liga title. The Croatia international is a gifted playmaker from a deep-lying position.
While the ex-Sevilla man can thrive pushing forward to thread defence-splitting passes, his main task in this game could be stifling a fellow countryman.
Rakitic must shackle 19-year-old Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic. The attack-minded youth is an impressive prospect who will look to break forward whenever he can.
It will be up to Rakitic to nullify those runs. A commanding display from the veteran should ensure Barcelona's usual dominance in possession.
Will Enrique's Barca win La Liga this season?
History does not bode well for Elche. The club has failed to win in 20 visits to the Camp Nou, per FCBarcelona.com. However, Elche did cling on for a goalless home draw against the Blaugrana last season.
But there'll be no such luck this time. Barca may take a while to get going, as new faces acclimate themselves to the team and the effect of injuries shows.
But eventually, Messi, Iniesta and company will ensure a commanding start to life under Enrique.