La Liga is back and so are the players from their World Cup duties and vacations. Barcelona will be looking to conquer the domestic league once again after strengthening their squad over the summer. The champions face Alaves in their first game at Camp Nou, so let’s analyze the match and see what options the Blaugranes have at their disposal.
Barcelona will need no reminding that they were beaten 2-1 by a newly-promoted Alaves side at the Camp Nou in September 2016. Even so Saturday’s fixture provides the champions with an excellent opportunity to make a flying start to their league campaign. Ernesto Valverde now has a battalion of attackers at his disposal, and it’s time he chose 4-3-3 over his quintessential 4-4-2.
Whether Ousmane Dembele will start still remains a question, but Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez will slot into their usual positions. The middle three should feature Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. The defence pretty much picks itself with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal.
Like Tite did with Brazil, Coutinho should be allowed to roam free, it’s no secret he links up well with our attackers. The midfield can be experimented with though, but that depends upon the score after the first 45 minutes.
As for Alaves with Ibai Gomez missing out with hamstring problems and Munir rejoining his former club, Guidetti can be partnered by Sobrino or Borja Baston up front. There’s also a possibility that they shed their previous formation (4-4-2) altogether and show up with a 4-5-1.
Alaves have a surprisingly good record of 14 shots per game, but they lack game discipline as 102 yellow cards collected and 16 fouls committed per game last season shows (maybe a direct free-kick from Messi to win it? There is a good possibility).
Their distribution is quite questionable and reveals mistakes aplenty while spraying the ball to the right man: a 72 per cent passing success rate all season speaks volumes. Also, Alaves struggled for goals last season - a paltry 40 compared to Barca’s 99 in the league.
Regardless of what the stats point at, it would be fair to say that Alaves have a nice squad and with former Barcelona defender Abelardo Fernandez guiding from the dugout, things are set to get interesting. It’s obvious what their top game plan will be regardless of what strategies they chalk out: stop Messi from doing anything.
To do that, they might try to block the midfield from passing forward which will force Messi to come deeper for the ball and continue with the attack. Manu Garcia, Mubarak Wakaso and Tomas Pina are the men for the job.
Enter Coutinho, the new No. 7 who can be given license to roam along with Messi to leave their marking system in disarray. The battle is between the Barca attackers and the Alaves defenders, but the war is between both sets of midfielders.
Busquets and Rakitic should look up for stray passes and capitalize on the rather occasional mistakes the opposition makes. The most vital thing for Barcelona however, is the perfect reception of the ball by their attackers. Alaves do have a shaky defense and Rodrigo Ely’s absence extends the invitation for Barcelona to press their defense with a higher success rate.
Barcelona have won 9 out of 10 games they have faced against Alaves in all competitions and have also managed to win in 28 of their 31 home matches last season, so there’s a great chance to win this fixture. That being said, Barcelona will want a strong start to their title defence. A win against Alaves can do just that.