Barcelona kick off their 2021-22 La Liga campaign on Sunday against Real Sociedad with the game set to be played in front of supporters at the Camp Nou for the first time in 17 months.
It’s also the first time in a very long time that Barca will kick off a campaign without Lionel Messi following the GOAT’s shock departure and subsequent move to Paris Saint-Germain.
Coach Ronald Koeman is also without some key players due to injury but will be desperate for a good start after a traumatic summer for the Catalan giants.
Let’s look at how the Dutchman may line his team up against La Real:
Neto will start in goal for Barca with Marc-Andre ter Stegen still out as he recovers from a knee injury. Sergino Dest looks set to start at right-back but will face competition for his place this season from Emerson, while Jordi Alba should feature on the opposite flank.
Gerard Pique looks a certainty in central defence and could be partnered by Ronald Araujo in the heart of the defense. Eric Garcia should be available after returning from the Olympics, if he’s registered in time, as too is Samuel Umtiti. However, Clement Lenglet is a doubt after picking up an injury in pre-season.
Koeman’s midfield should prove interesting reading with Frenkie de Jong a doubt because of a calf injury and Pedri only just back from Tokyo. It would surprise absolutely no-one if both featured even though it might not be the best idea.
What we do know is that Sergio Busquets will captain the side and that Sergi Roberto, Riqui Puig, and Miralem Pjanic are also fit and available and could play some part in the game.
Some of the club’s youngsters will also be hoping to make the squad after a bright pre-season. Gavi is likely to miss out with a fractured jaw but Nico Gonzalez could be named in the matchday squad.
There will be a big gaping hole in the attack for Barcelona with Messi missing and Koeman will need his attackers to step up this season and provide the goals and assists needed.
There will be plenty of focus on Antoine Griezman now Messi has gone, while Memphis Depay has enjoyed a bright pre-season with his new team and will hope to continue his goalscoring streak.
Pre-season has also seen some impressive showings from Yusuf Demir who has been tipped to be part of the squad. The teenager was signed for Barca B but you get the feeling already he’s going to spend most of the season with the first team.
Possible XI: Neto; Dest, Pique, Araujo, Alba; De Jong, Busquets, Roberto; Demir, Griezmann, Memphis.
How do you think Barcelona should line up against Real Sociedad? Let us know your thoughts, predictions and teams in the comments below!