The La Liga opening weekend is upon us and ‘los cules’ open up their season at the Camp Nou against Elche CF. A fresh face on the sidelines in Luis Enrique, he will be hoping to start off with three points and keep ground on the always tight La Liga race for the title. FC Barcelona will look to forget a trophyless season, while Elche will look to improve on last season’s finish as they just avoided relegation.
FC Barcelona’s Attack
Over the summer Barcelona lost an important player to last season’s attack in Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez was important in keeping Barcelona in the title race last year, hence why they splashed the cash for Luis Suarez, but nobody counted on him biting Giorgio Chiellini and being suspended for four months. His absence leaves a big void in the attack and Cristian Tello is no longer around either.
The most likely candidate to supplement Luis Suarez at least until he returns is Rafinha. Rafinha played well while on loan at Celta under you guessed it, Luis Enrique. Enrique utilized him in various roles and a few times on the right wing where he could be featured in the absence of Sanchez. He’s been given the chance all throughout pre-season and I’d expect for him to start or be involved as a substitute.
Pedro could also be considered on the right as well. Neymar has been ruled out for the season opener, and Messi is expected to start. Neymar is coming back from a back injury suffered in the World Cup and Messi is coming off a less stellar season and an even less stellar World Cup to be fair. If both play to their abilities and regain form, with the help of either Rafinha or Pedro, this attack is devastating.
Elche CF’s New Look Squad
Last season Elche managed a goalless draw, but that was on their home turf. At the Camp Nou they took a beating from Barcelona however. Fran Escriba has stayed on as manager and brought in many new players, most notably Polish goalkeeper Prsemyslaw Tyton, formerly of PSV Eindhoven.
He will have to prove his worth against an always dangerous Barcelona side. They have also acquired an interesting prospect in Mario Pasalic on loan from Chelsea to reinforce the midfield. Chilean defender Enzo Roco also arrives to supplement the back line, among others. The departure of Carlos Sanchez to Aston Villa takes the steel and grit out of their midfield, which would be so useful when playing against Barcelona.
Elche’s squad did go through pre-season undefeated which means that the players have adapted nicely to Escriba’s philosophy. Escriba will hope that his team can grind out a positive result with all the fresh faces.
Last season was viewed by many as a disaster and much of the blame was placed on Tara Martino. I’m all for a manager taking responsibility when his team doesn’t produce. However the players have some blame as well. Martino obviously didn’t come in with that Barca DNA that Guardiola and Vilanova had, but he was was a manager with plenty of experience and a winning mentality.
It’s just tough teaching something new to a bunch of players that have played one style all their life with the same teammates. There are many ‘la Masia’ graduates in the first team and they only know one way to play. The team suffered and didn’t collect any trophies. Enrique is a former Barca player and knows the philosophy, the feel of the club, and the expectations. In a way Barca hope they can go back to their identity that brought them so many years of success.
Messi didn’t look his best last year, perhaps because of the fresh air. Barca needs a breath of old, dirty air. That air that will bring them back to being feared in Europe. Enrique is that air, or in theory he should be.
Barcelona Projected Lineup
Elche Projected Lineup
The game takes place today at the Camp Nou, 20:00 GMT.
Prediction – Barcelona 3-0 Elche