FC Barcelona open their 2018-2019 La Liga campaign against a Deportivo Alaves side which finished in 14th position last season and go into the first match day as massive underdogs.
Lots of changes occurred during the summer for last season’s champions, not least being the departure of Andres Iniesta to China. The exit of the legendary number 8 left a big hole in midfield which will hopefully be covered by the new players brought in during the break. The captain’s armband now belongs to Lionel Messi meaning this is now his team and it’s not a bad supporting cast by his side.
World Cup winner Ousmane Dembele scored the winning goal in the Spanish Super Cup against Sevilla and that should definitely boost his confidence even more after lifting football’s greatest prize with his country. Coutinho finally had a pre-season with the Catalan club and new signings Arthur, Malcom, Lenglet and Arturo Vidal will bring some much needed depth to the team.
Luis Suarez hasn’t particularly looked very good and if his on-and-off form continues, fans will be left frustrated with the Uruguayan. But Munir, who ironically spent last season on loan at Alaves, is another option up front. Though one would think with Messi, Dembele, Coutinho, Rakitic, Rafinha, Arthur and Vidal in the side, there should be enough firepower in the team should Suarez hit a rough patch this season.
At the back, there’s another World Cup winner in Samuel Umtiti who will partner Gerard Pique. The right back position remains a question mark between Nelson Semedo and Sergi Roberto, but left back Jordi Alba has his spot locked down as does goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Who will feature for Barcelona vs Deportivo Alaves?
Coach Ernesto Valverde didn’t put much trust into last season’s big summer signing Dembele but surely following his performance against Sevilla on Sunday, the 21 year old has played his way into the starting eleven. Looking at Saturday, up front should be the front three of Dembele, Suarez and of course Messi.
In midfield, Arthur has impressed during all of pre-season including the match in the Spanish Super Cup but it’s difficult to see him replacing Coutinho come kick off. Busquets will no doubt play the holding midfielder role, which would leave either Rafinha or Ivan Rakitic to fill in the last remaining spot in the middle. Rakitic had a fantastic World Cup, as we can see in the chart below. Coach Ernesto Valverde appears to be a fan of the Croat which means we could see Rakitic as the third midfielder.
Jordi Alba has had the left back position as his own since joining the blaugrana and while Lenglet did start against Sevilla, Umtiti should partner Pique with possibly Sergi Roberto as right back. And of course the goalkeeper will be the big German figure of ter Stegen.
There’s probably no room in the Barcelona starting eleven for former Bayern Munich man Vidal or any of the other new signings as Lenglet, Arthur and Malcom will also be watching from the bench.
With all due respect to Alaves, Lionel Messi’s men should run out as victors in what is expected to be a routine win.