Sunday, August 18, 20:00 GMT
FC Barcelona will start their defense of the La Liga title at home against Levante, in what will also be Tata Martino’s first official match as the new Barcelona manager. On paper, it doesn’t seem to be too tricky an opener; Levante have been known to upset the Big 2 in the past few seasons, but on their home ground, not on the road. Still, the Catalans can’t afford to take the match lightly; considering how tight the league is expected to be again, any points lost, even on the first match, can prove costly in the end.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The defending champions will be looking to start the new season triumphantly in front of their home crowd, in what will be the debut match for new manager Tata Martino and potentially star signing Neymar. While those are the main points of interest ahead of this match, namely seeing Neymar and Messi in action together, the focus is obviously on getting the three points and a good start to the title defense. With the winner of each of the past two leagues racking up 100 points, it’s pretty obvious that there’s no room for slow starts: Barcelona either hit the ground running or risk being left behind.
With that in mind, Martino should field his best XI available. Valdes will start in goal, with Alba, Piqué, Mascherano and Alves in defense; in midfield, the ‘golden trio’ of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta should get the nod, while up front the only question should be who will play with Messi and Neymar, with either Pedro or Sanchez likely to get the nod. Cesc Fabregas might also get a start, but there are some question marks about his fitness at the moment so he is bound to sit this one out.
The strategy will be the same as always, overwhelming Levante with quick, intricate passing from the get go and trying to create gaps in their defense. Scoring early will be key as these matches tend to be quite cagey when the first goal doesn’t come soon.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Victor Valdés [GK]; Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, Neymar, Lionel Messi
Levante have been punching well above their weight for quite a few years now, even participating in the Europa League last season – an incredible achievements for a club that is the poorest in the first two divisions of Spanish football and hasn’t spent money on signings in years. Their goal for the new season is not more than avoiding relegation, but they might very well have another great season due to their good management and organization.
The Camp Nou isn’t exactly the best place to start the new campaign, but Levante won’t offer anything; they will be compact and well organized in defense and look to exploit fast counterattacks whenever possible. Joaquin Caparros will be looking to continue the incredible work of his predecessors and will surely stick to the concepts that brought so much success to the club in recent years.
The departures of veterans like Iborra, Juanlu and especially the charismatic captain Sergio Ballesteros will be tough to overcome and this will be the first big test to the squad in this new season.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Keylor Navas [GK]; David Navarro, Hector Rodas, Juanfran, Pedro Lopez; El Zhar, Pape Diop; Ruben Garcia, Pedro Rios, Simao; David Barral
Key Match Facts
- This will be the debut match for both Tata Martino and Joaquin Caparros as managers of their respetive clubs.
- Barcelona won 18 matches and tied one out of 19 home matches in last year’s La Liga
- The corresponding fixture last season ended 1-0 to Barcelona, with Fabregas scoring the late winner.
Player to Watch Out For
Neymar (FC Barcelona)
The Brazilian’s official debut with the Barcelona jersey is undoubtedly the main point of attraction in this match. All eyes will be on him, everyone will be expecting to produce the sort of magic people have come to expect from him in his time at Santos, and will be anxious to see how well he gels with the world’s best player – Lionel Messi.
FC Barcelona 2-0 Levante
It will not be the easiest of openers, but Barcelona will eventually get the better of the Levante defense, with both Messi and Neymar getting on the score sheet in the second half after a nervy first 45 minutes.