The Spanish League finally starts!!! La Liga is back for another exciting season, and Barcelona begin their title-defending campaign against a familiar side at a tough, familiar site: they'll face Athletic Bilbao, who beat the Blaugrana less than a week ago to win the Spanish Supercup and kill Barça's chances to win a Sextuple in 2015, at the San Mamés stadium, where the Catalan giants were defeated 4-0 last week.
But right now there's no title on the line between the two, and the situation looks a lot different for both sides. Here's a look at how they might line-up this Sunday:
Athletic Club (4-2-3-1):
De Marcos - Etxeita - Laporte - Balenziaga
San José - Beñat
Susaeta - Eraso - Williams
That's virtually the same side that beat Barça 5-1 on aggregate over the last few days, and since almost all those players were rested in the 3-2 Europa League loss last Thursday against Zilina, there's a pretty good chance coach Ernesto Valverde uses his ideal XI against the Blaugranes again. Up front, Aritz Aduriz, who scored four on the shaky Catalan defense, is certainly looking forward to Sunday's clash. The midfield gets a big return with youngster Iñaki Williams, who's one of the top prospects of this season. Playing at home, as we painfully know, this is a very difficult scheme for Barça.
Alves - Bartra - Mascherano - Alba
Rakitic - Busquets - Iniesta
Messi - Suárez - Rafinha
The bad news: there's no Neymar, who's getting ready to debut on Matchday 2 against Málaga, or Pedro, who moved to Chelsea and is not a Blaugrana anymore. The good news: two full days of rest following the madness of the three Super Cup games in 6 days. After that, three days of training with two Barça B youngsters, Gumbau and Camara, alongside Jordi Alba. With the suspensions of Gerard Piqué and Jérémy Mathieu, along with injuries to backups Douglas and Adriano, it seemed that Barça's problematic defensive system would suffer again, but the return of the star left-back, things look better.
Up front, Rafinha Alcântara is widely expected to return to the starting lineup, once again filling in for Neymar. The offense should look stronger with more rest and practice to deal with Bilbao's full-court press at San Mamés. With the defense looking better, Luis Enrique should be more confident ahead of Sunday's game. Let's see if his lineup choice pays off.