After weeks of uncertainty, disappointment and El Clásico losses, Barcelona seem to have turned a corner and the mood around the camp is more optimistic. The strong performance against Real Betis in the La Liga opener last Sunday and the confirmed signing of Borussia Dortmund superstar Ousmane Dembélé on Friday lifted the spirits of everyone associated with the Blaugrana, and the future doesn’t look as bleak as it did less than a week ago.
Barça look to continue their positive start to the league season and head into the international break with even more optimism with the first away match of the La Liga campaign against Deportivo Alavés at the Mendizorroza Stadium in the Basque Country. The last meeting between the two sides was at the Vicente Calderón in Madrid in the Copa del Rey Final, which the Blaugrana won comfortably by a 3-1 scoreline.
Alavés kept most of the players from last season, but lost three key starters over the summer: Theo Hernandez and Marcos Llorente went to Real Madrid and top scorer Deyverson moved to Brazil. Manager Mauricio Pellegrino went to the Premier League to coach Southampton, and Alavés began the league season with a 1-0 loss to Leganés.
The Babazorros look like strong candidates for relegation this season, but they usually make things tough at home and will put up a fight against Barça on Saturday. This won’t be a walk in the park for the Catalan giants, but the Blaugrana are favorites.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Saturday, August 26, 2017, 6:15pm local time (CET), 5:15pm BST (UK), 12:15pm ET, 9:15am PT (USA), 9:45pm IST (India)
Venue: Mendizorroza, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country
Television: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), Sky Sports Mix (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA & Canada), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (USA, 7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
The best news of the week on the injury front is Andrés Iniesta being cleared to return having missed the last 10 days with a thigh problem. Iniesta wasn’t expected back until the international break after the initial diagnosis, but the captain is already fit to play and is likely to be on the bench on Saturday.
Another midfielder likely to be on the bench is new signing Paulinho, who was finally registered by the Spanish Federation after all the documents from China were sorted out. Paulinho has been training with the squad all week and is part of the squad that will travel to the Basque Country.
As for the starting lineup, it would be a shock of Ernesto Valverde made any major changes after the excellent performance against Real Betis, with only probable alteration being Gerard Piqué for Javier Mascherano. Piqué was on the bench against Betis because of a small groin problem but is completely fit and trained normally during the week, and is only natural that Geri regains his starting spot alongside Samuel Umtiti. Marc-André ter Stegen will be in goal.
We shouldn’t see any changes in the full-back positions, though. Nélson Semedo was on the shortlist for Man of the Match against Betis and should be in the starting lineup this Saturday as well, with Jordi Alba starting once again at left-back.
The midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Sergi Roberto worked well last week and will probably start again this weekend despite the availability of Iniesta and Paulinho, who are likely to come on in the second half if things go according to plan.
Up front, Lionel Messi as a False Nine worked perfectly against Betis, and even though Paco Alcácer is a little out of position as a winger, Gerard Deulofeu was fantastic last week and will start on the right side. Dembélé is not ready to feature yet and will only be presented as a Barça player on Sunday at Camp Nou, so we’ll have to wait until after the international break to see Dembélé in Blaugrana.
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Roberto; Deulofeu, Messi, Alcácer
Pacheco; Vigaray, Alexis, Ely, Pedraza; T.Pina, M.García; Ibai Gómez, Romero, Burgui; Sobrino
Alavés will make things tough for a while, but Barça will get a second straight league win: 3-0 to the visitors.