21:15 BST, Saturday 25th August, Estadio Jose Zorrilla (Valladolid), Eleven Sports
The reigning champions head on the road for the first time this season, aiming to make it two wins out of two with a trip to newly-promoted Real Valladolid.
Not for the first time – and no doubt not for the last – Lionel Messi came to Barcelona’s rescue last weekend, breaking down the resistance of dogged Alaves with two goals at the Camp Nou in a 3-0 win.
But the extent of the Catalan club’s reliance on their emblematic all-time leading goalscorer is already being questioned and coach Ernesto Valverde could do with somebody else stepping up to carry the load and prove he is not overseeing a one-man team. Luis Suarez, in particular, is coming under increasing pressure after a poor personal start to the season.
Valladolid could not have asked for a more high-profile occasion for their first top-flight home game in four years. They would be overjoyed to come away from the game with anything to show for their efforts.
Last Time Out
Girona 0-0 Real Valladolid (La Liga)
Valladolid ground out a point from an underwhelming opener in the first game of the new La Liga season last Friday night.
The stalemate appeared to be the limit of the visitors’ ambitions with Valladolid rarely venturing beyond the halfway line and rarely mustering any kind of threat on the Girona goal.
Girona were on top throughout the game but struggled to turn their superiority into clear chances, with Valladolid mounting a well-organised defensive effort as they defended in numbers on the edge of their own area.
The only player who looked capable of causing problems for the home defence was left winger Toni Villa with his direct and skilful running but Valladolid’s only shot on target was an easily-saved speculative long-range effort from midfielder Ruben Alcaraz.
Barcelona 3-0 Alaves (La Liga)
Barcelona’s title defence began with a game which was much closer than the final scoreline suggests, with Alaves holding on until midway through the second half before being undone by a piece of magic from Lionel Messi.
The Argentine wizard had already hit the bar with a first-half free-kick when he was given another set-piece opportunity from a very similar position. With everyone expecting a similar shot, Messi took advantage instead rifled low shot underneath the leaping wall to break the deadlock.
REUTERS/Albert GeaAlaves were forced to chase the game and with space starting to open up, Philippe Coutinho netted a fine solo goal inside the last ten minutes before Messi stroked home from close range with the very last kick of the game.
Real Valladolid Lineup
Valladolid set up with a cautious 4-5-1 formation in last weekend’s drab draw at Girona and their approach is unlikely to be much different when Barcelona’s superstars roll into town.
However, they have made three new loan signings this week with strikers Duje Cop (Standard Liege) and Eres Unal (Villarreal) joined by midfielder Leo Suarez (also Villarreal). All three are in contention for their debuts this weekend.
Ivi Lopez, another striker, is unlikely to recover from injury in time.
Valverde has plenty of options to rotate his squad, especially in midfield where Arthur and Arturo Vidal could be handed full debuts after coming off the bench during last weekend’s win over Alaves.
Coutinho also started that game on the bench but will surely be elevated to the starting line-up after helping change the game in the second half.
Nelson Semedo is battling with Sergi Roberto for the right-back role, and back-up strikers Paco Alcacer and Munir El-Haddadi will hope to return to the squad.
Key Battle: Jordi Masip vs Luis Suarez
Valladolid goalkeeper Jordi Masip will have been delighted to mark his first game of the season with a clean sheet to secure a point at Girona last weekend. But facing the firepower of Barcelona is an altogether different matter.
Masip, however, knows exactly what he will be facing: he joined Barcelona’s youth system as a teenager and spent a decade with the club, eventually serving as third-choice keeper during the treble-winning 2014/15 campaign.
In this time, though, he only made one league appearance – conceding twice in a 2-2 home draw with Deportivo La Coruna when the trophy was already won on the final day of the season.
REUTERS/Albert GeaLuis Suarez will be in no mood to show any sympathy to his former teammate with the Uruguayan eager to get his season up and running after a frustrating couple of games in the Spanish Super Cup and the league opener against Alaves.
Suarez clearly has the full support of coach Valverde, who didn’t even name a back-up striker on the bench last weekend and he will be allowed to play himself into form.
So Masip knows what’s coming… but can he stop it?
Sergi Roberto back at the back?
According to reports emanating from Catalonia during the summer, Valverde is eager to remove utility man Sergi Roberto from the right back role and decisively insert him into his old position in midfield.
That intent was made plain from the team selection last weekend against Alaves, with Roberto selected in a midfield trio alongside Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, while Nelson Semedo occupied the right back role he is now expected to make his own.
REUTERS/Albert GeaHowever, the plan only lasted for 45 minutes as a lacklustre opening period forced Valverde to shuffle his pack at the break and introduce Coutinho, who came into the midfield while Roberto replaced Semedo in defence.
So what now? Is Valverde really committed to the idea of Semedo establishing himself at right back, or does he still not yet sufficiently trust the Portuguese to move away from the idea of Roberto playing in the back line? We might find out this weekend.
Toni Villa carrying Valladolid’s charge?
Whether it’s Roberto or Semedo who gets the nod from Valverde on the right-hand side of the visiting defence, they will face an examination from the only Valladolid player who looked capable of creating anything during last weekend’s stalemate in Girona: left winger Toni Villa.
The 23-year-old is a product of Valladolid’s youth system who took a while to progress through the ranks, spending a season away on loan at third-tier Cultural Leonesa before finally becoming a first-teamer for his boyhood club during last season’s promotion campaign.
On the evidence of last weekend’s season opener, the talented wide man is ready to continue his development this season, and he could make no better statement of intent than masterminding a goal or two against the reigning champions.
Prediction: Valladolid 0-3 Barcelona
Valladolid need to show a lot more positive intent than they mustered against Girona in their season opener to have any chance of living with Barcelona, who will surely dominate the possession and territory against the cautious hosts.
There is too much-attacking quality in the visiting ranks to be held at bay and this should be a comfortable away win.