Today's match represents a chance for Barcelona to set things right and start the 2015/16 campaign with much-needed victory after the Supercopa debacle. The only positive from last week's sporting disaster at San Mamés would be the abrupt wake-up call the team received, emphasising the need to guard against complacency after all the talk of the Sextete. Today's opponents, Athletic Bilbao, are very much a personification of what it means to play as a team - with their ferocious team spirit and willingness to lay everything on the line for each other.
These are some battles on the pitch that would be key to kicking off the new season with a win.
Aritz Aduriz vs Barça centrebacks
Aritz Aduriz is a proven La Liga striker and will be looking to add to the 4 goals he scored over the past week. With his undoubted aerial threat, smart off-ball movement and high work ethic, the Barça centrebacks - expected to be Marc Bartra and Javier Mascherano - will be in for a tough contest. As Los Leones' spearhead in attack, Aduriz will be looking to get in behind the Barça defence as well as serve as the focal point for long passes which the Basque outfit use to trigger swift counter-attacks. After last week's happenings, we know just how important it would be to blunt Athletic's threat by neutralising the 34-year-old. Iñaki Williams will be constantly looking to link-up with Aduriz. The youngster will be a threat with his pace.
Another important factor is the need for Claudio Bravo to be confident and assertive when dealing with set piece situations.
Athletic press vs Barça CB-DM triangle(Bartra-Busquets-Mascherano)
How well Barça deal with the high intense pressing from Athletic will have a pivotal role in how the match plays out. Athletic's pressing in the 1st leg of the Supercopa resulted in mistakes from Barça when the team tried to build play from the back. Granted, that was an under-strength XI and so we should see a better performance against the Athletic press. Sergio Busquets will be key in this area, with his masterful reading of the game and ability to move the ball quickly as the link between defence and the likes of Ivan Rakitić and Andrés Iniesta further forward.
Athletic defence vs Luis Suarez
Athletic's back line are extremely well-drilled and organised, with Aymeric Laporte an obvious standout name. The holding midfielders have a good understanding with their centrebacks. This allows Athletic to squeeze the space between the defence and midfield lines. Luis Suárez adds a crucial dimension in attack by playing on the last shoulder and always looking for a way in behind the opposition defence. This threat that he poses often stretches defences, giving his team-mates more space to play in between the lines. If Suárez has a good game and is as dangerous a threat as we all know he can be, the Athletic defence would be forced to drop deeper and concede more space to Messi and Iniesta et al.
The battle down Athletic's right flank - Barça's left flank
Neymar's absence will be sorely felt, as it has been in the recent double-header against today's opponents. We all saw the destruction that the MSN trio can wreak on opposition defences. Any player that plays in Neymar's role today will be of a lower standard. The organic fluidity of MSN meant the entire opposition back line would have their hands full, allowing the likes of Rakitić to break forward into the box. Things should be better with Jordi Alba back in the side. Athletic's right-sided players - the effervescent Óscar de Marcos and the creative Markel Susaeta - provide good attacking thrust for Ernesto Valverde's men, with Beñat playing diagonal passes to the right flank. Their threat will have to be minimised by Jordi Alba and Rafinha.
Hopefully Barca win these key battles and we start this new 2015/16 season with a win!