Luis Enrique’s Barça play their first official game tomorrow when Elche visit Camp Nou in the first round of the 2014/15 Liga (Sunday 9 pm). It will be a new look Barça with five players looking likely to make their league debut for the club. Rafinha appeared for the first team once in the Copa del Rey and twice in the Champions League before his year on loan at Celta but now looks set for his first Barça league game. New signings, Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu and Ivan Rakitic will probably start and there could also be some minutes for rising star Munir El-Haddadi depending on the fitness of Pedro and Neymar.
In today’s (Saturday) lunctime press conference Luis Enrique claimed that both Pedro and Neymar could still be included in tomorrow’s team but in a change from previous seasons the new coach did not give the squad list for the game, saying he would name the squad tomorrow and inform the players of the starting XI an hour and a half before kick-off. Pedro trained normally today after suffering gastroenteritis this week, while Neymar worked out in the gym. As well as Munir, youngsters Sergi Samper and Sandro from Barça B have continued training with the first team this morning and could therefore be included in the match squad. Luis Enrique seems determined to make things more unpredictable this season which doesn’t help journalists or bloggers but it will be beneficial to the team.
The short preseason due to this summer’s World Cup has offered few clues to our prospects this year. Luis Enrique has maintained the basics of Barça’s 4-3-3 formation and possession based game though some slight changes have been seen, most notably in the narrower forward line with the width being provided by the full backs. The team also seems more compact while the addition of Rakitic and Mathieu has given the team more physical presence.
Tomorrow’s opponents Elche finished 16th last season in their first year in the top flight after gaining promotion in 2013. Fran Escribá continues as coach but there are plenty of changes in their squad. The most important players that have left include Alberto Botia, Ruben Perez, Javi Marquez, Carles Gil and Richmond Boakye. Of the players coming in the mostly likely to make an impact are keeper Przemyslaw Tyton, central defender Enzo Roco, midfielders Mario Pasalic and Faycal Fajr, and striker Johnathas de Jesus who scored 15 goals for Latina in Italy’s Serie B last season.
When Elche visited Camp Nou last season they were comfortably beaten 4-0 with Alexis (3) and Pedro scoring the goals. However, Barça could only manage a 0-0 draw the last time the teams met in the penultimate game of the 2013/14 league at the Martinez Valero stadium.
Possible starting XIs:
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Mascherano, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Rafinha, Messi, Pedro.
Elche: Tyton; Damian, Enzo Roco, Pelegrin, Edu Albacar; Pasalic, Mosquera; Rodrigues, Faycal Fajr, Victor; Johnathas.
Prediction: Barça 5 Elche 1
Date: Sunday 24 August 2014. Kick-off 9 pm local time.