Club football is finally back! Now that we are done with the awkwardly-timed international break, newly-promoted CD Alavés visit Camp Nou looking to cause a monumental upset against Luis Enriqué's men in Blaugrana. With the dust settled after an important transfer window, many key areas have been strengthened - including Paco Alcácer coming in to be the (previously) seemingly elusive 4th forward to play backup to the hallowed trinity of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Some key battles lie ahead of the team, as always, with this weekend's match against Basque outfit Alavés.
Messi unavailable, who comes in?
This is probably a decision headache that Luis Enrique would very much welcome. A short while ago, it would've been down to either Munir El Haddadi or Sandro Ramírez to be thrown into the fire when one of MSN were unavailable. Unfortunately, and with little fault of theirs as inexperienced youngsters, they did little more than impress in flashes. The array of options Lucho has at his disposal today marks a world of change from before. A number of players are options to slot into the forward line in place of La Pulga.
Arda Turan has been in great form and most definitely has a legitimate claim to a starting spot this weekend, be it alongside Busquets and Rakitić or up front with Suarez and Neymar. Denis Suarez proved his quality as an option out wide as an inside-forward at Villarreal last season, playing a big part in their impressive run to the Europa League SFs and top 4 finish in La Liga. Rafinha is another option but it is unlikely he would be thrown straight in after only recently returning from the Olympic Games in Rio with a gold medal around his neck.
Lastly, Paco Alcácer could be in for a full debut. Whilst Paco does his best work through the middle, him starting could present the tactical option of the team playing with a midfield diamond - Neymar with a free role behind Suarez and Paco. Whatever option Lucho decides to go with, each of these players would give the team something different.
Stubbornly resilient Alavés
There's something about the Basque country that makes their teams hard to beat and a pain to play against - Alavés are no different. With a respectable 2 draws from the 2 rounds of play so far, including opening 2016/17 with an away point at the Vicente Calderon, Alavés have made a decent start to life in La Liga.
Much of their play goes through Marcos Llorente, who has impressed since signing on loan from Real Madrid. The young midfielder is comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has displayed a good range of passing and contributing well in the defensive aspects of the game. Ibai Gómez, a summer signing from neighbours Athletic Club de Bilbao, is an experienced performer in La Liga and will be a threat on the counter. Deyverson, a powerful Brazilian forward, had a decent record last season for a relegated side - 9 goals in 33 games for Levante - and will look to be a nuisance to Piqué and his defensive partner. Alavés will likely be looking to sit back and play on the counter, but will pose an aerial threat at set piece situations.
Manu García, a youngster on loan from Manchester City, is a technically gifted young attacking midfielder who has that something special about him that gets fans on the edge of their seats.
Sergi Roberto - golden boy
This isn't what I'd consider a "key battle", but rather to give a special mention to Sergi Roberto - "one of our own". After a goal on his senior international debut for Spain, Sergi Roberto will be gunning to get back out onto the pitch at Camp Nou to deliver yet another impressive display as he slowly makes the right-back position at Barça his own.