The 2019/20 season of La Liga kicks off on Friday with the champions in action as Barcelona will begin their journey to a three-peat as league winners when they face Athletic Bilbao at San Mamés.
Traveling to the Basque Country to face Athletic always proves to be a tough test for the Catalans, so Ernesto Valverde will no doubt field his strongest possible side to start the season with three points.
There will be no Lionel Messi as the captain is unlikely to travel with the squad due to his calf injury, but the team that destroyed Napoli in the last game of preseason last week showed it’s more than good enough to get a victory even without their best player.
Let’s take a look at the eleven Barça players more likely to start at San Mamés.
The preseason brought plenty of concerns at the back but the starting unit in the last match at Ann Arbor was solid and dominant, so there shouldn’t be any doubt about the back four on Friday.
Nélson Semedo, Gerard Piqué, Clément Lenglet and Jordi Alba are all healthy and sharp, although Samuel Umtiti will look to steal a place in the XI if Valverde wants a faster, more physical presence to deal with the pace of Iñaki Williams.
Ernesto Valverde mentioned a week ago that the starting XI against Napoli would be pretty much the same at Bilbao, with only a ‘couple’ of changes that will most likely come in midfield.
Frenkie De Jong is a lock after his incredible preseason, but the other two positions are up for grabs: Sergio Busquets should be getting one of them as he remains an integral part of Valverde’s plans, while three other players (Sergi Roberto, Ivan Rakitic and Arthur) battle for the final place on the right side of the midfield trio.
Both Rakitic and Roberto are favorites since Arthur has just 10 days of training, and Roberto deserves a reward for his amazing performance in Michigan with a start in the league opener. Don’t be surprised if the Croatian gets the nod, though, if the manager wants a more controlling midfield away from home.
Without Messi there is just no doubt who starts up front: D-S-G. Ousmane Dembélé, Luis Suárez and Antoine Griezmann were absolutely devastating in their first start together. All three scored against Napoli and looked unstoppable in the second half, and they seem to fit perfectly together.
Their pace, skill and eye for goal will be crucial against a solid Athletic defense, and if they replicate the overall performance in Ann Arbor we are in for a show on Friday.
Possible XI: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba; Roberto, Busquets, De Jong; Dembélé, Suárez, Griezmann
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Athletic? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and line-ups in the comments below!