The new season is upon us. Just eleven weeks since Barça’s last competitive game on June 1, the 2013/14 campaign begins with a game against Levante Unión Deportivo at Camp Nou tomorrow evening (Sunday 7pm). Messi, Alves, Valdés, Fabregas and Pedro have all overcome their minor injury problems and been named in Tata Martino’s first 18-man squad for the game. Only Carles Puyol misses out due to injury while Martino has no room on his first list for Oier, Montoya, Sergi Roberto and Johnathan dos Santos.
Martino has a difficult job to follow last season’s record haul of 100 points and it will be interesting to see how he manages his squad. There were times last season when Tito Vilanova stuck with a fixed XI while he also showed a reluctance to rest players such as Busquets and Messi and this was seen to be a possible cause for their injury problems at key points of the season. Martino will need to know when to use rotations if he is to get the best from his players.
It seems likely, however, that tomorrow we will see Barça’s strongest possible line-up. Valdés should start between the posts with a back four of Alves, Piqué, Mascherano and Alba. In midfield we should see the classic trio of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta, while up front it is a close call between Pedro and Alexis for who gets a place alongside the new attacking duo of Messi and Neymar Jr.
Tomorrow morning at 11 am, the players will have a final training session at Camp Nou. In a change from the routine used by Guardiola and Vilanova, after training the players will have lunch at the Princesa Sofia hotel followed by a rest until it is time to make the short trip to Camp Nou for the match.
Our opponents Levante, have lost important players this summer such as José Barkero, Sergio Ballesteros and goalkeeper Gustavo Munua. Yesterday (Friday) they suffered another blow just 48 hours before the new season when Sevilla paid the €6 million buy-out clause of key midfielder Vicente Iborra. Joaquin Caparrós has replaced Juan Ignacio Martinez as coach and he will be hoping to improve on last season’s finishing place of 11th. Pape Diop will miss the game through injury while bureaucratic problems are reportedly delaying the transfer of ex-Sporting de Gijon striker David Barral who is returning to Spain after a spell playing for Orduspor in Turkey. However, Ruben Garcia seems to be fit again to lead the Levante attack along with Nabil El Zhar, while there should be a place in midfield for new signing from Elche, Jordi Xumetra.
Barça and Levante last met back in April when Vilanova put out a weakened side due to the imminent Champions League semi-final against Bayern in Munich. The game was most memorable for the promising 90 minutes from Eric Abidal, playing his first full game after his liver transplant. However, Barça’s front three of Tello, Fabregas and Villa found it difficult to break through Levante’s defence though Fabregas finally broke the deadlock in the 84th minute, shooting home from Alexis’s assist to earn Barça a 1-0 victory. Tomorrow, with Neymar and Messi playing their first official game together, we should hope for a few more goals to get us off to the best possible start.
Barça’s 18-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Bartrá, Mascherano, Adriano, Alba, Busquets, Song, Xavi, Fabregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Neymar.
Levante: Keylor Navas; Pedro López, Vintra, David Navarro, Juanfran; El Adoua, Simao, Xumetra; Pedro Rios, Ruben Garcia, El Zhar.
Prediction: Barça 4 Levante 0
Date: Sunday 18 August 2013. Kick off: 7 pm local time.