Barcelona return to action after the international break on Saturday night in Catalonia when they welcome crosstown rivals Espanyol to the Camp Nou for what is a historically tough match in the La Liga calendar. The Blaugrana won their first two matches and share first place in the league table with Leganés and Real Sociedad, and a win on Saturday will be a major boost for the Blaugrana in this young season.
With the Champions League opener at home against Juventus on Tuesday night, this match wouldn’t have great appeal to Barça fans, but one player will attract all the attention in this match: new signing Ousmane Dembélé, the most expensive transfer in club history who’s coming to replace Neymar and bring amazing skills and incredible potential to the Camp Nou.
The 20-year-old is Barça’s biggest hope this season: we all know Lionel Messi will be the player of the season, Luis Suárez will score 30+ goals, Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets will show their class in midfield and Gerard Piqué will continue to lead the defense, but for this team to truly compete in all fronts and achieve great things this season, Dembélé will need to deal with the pressure of his massive price tag and the fact he’s replacing Neymar and show all the things that made him great at Borussia Dortmund and led to his big-money move to Catalonia.
Dembélé is a special talent and will eventually become a world-class player for Barça, but if he’s able to showcase his talents early on, especially in his home debut, then all depressed Barça fans will have something to celebrate in what has been a very difficult summer.
MATCH INFO, TV/STREAMING
Date/Time: Saturday, September 9, 2017, 8:45pm local time, 7:45pm BST (UK & Nigeria), 2:45pm ET, 11:45am PT (USA), 12:15am IST (India, Sunday)
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia
Television: beIN SPORTS (USA & Canada), Sky Sports Main Event (UK), SuperSport 7 (Nigeria), SONY TEN 2 (India)
Online streaming: beIN SPORTS CONNECT (USA), Sky GO (UK), FuboTV (7-day free trial, click here to sign up)
(Listings via LiveSoccerTV)
Sergi Roberto will miss out with a minor knee problem and will be rested for the Juventus match on Tuesday. Andrés Iniesta is part of the squad but will likely start on the bench, and Luis Suárez might have his minutes managed as well with his knee injury still recent.
As for the summer signings, all of them are in contention to play on Saturday. New signing Ousmane Dembélé was not called up by France and spent the last two weeks training with Valverde, and although the club’s most expensive signing in history is fit to play, we’ll most likely see him on the bench.
Nélson Semedo will be the right-back with Aleix Vidal left out of the squad, and the Portuguese will start alongside Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti and Jordi Alba in a back four in front of Marc-André ter Stegen. Paulinho is likely to start in midfield if Iniesta is indeed rested, with Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic alongside him. The front three will have Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez (or Paco Alcácer if Valverde rotates), with Gerard Deulofeu starting on the left wing if Dembélé is indeed named only on the bench.
Luis Enrique was a big fan of rotations, but Valverde was not fond of making big chances before Europa League matches while at Athletic Bilbao. We don’t know what Valverde will do with a deeper squad and a game against Juventus coming up, though, so we’ll get a pretty good notion of how the new coach will manage his roster in this game.
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Paulinho; Messi, Suárez, Deulofeu
P. López; Sánchez, Naldo, D. López, Aarón; Jurado, Diop, Fuego, Piatti; Baptistao, Gerard
Barça haven’t been exciting this season, but that might change if Dembélé hits the ground running: 3-0 to the Blaugrana.