Luis Enrique will wait until after tomorrow morning’s training session before naming his squad for tomorrow’s league clash at Camp Nou against Bilbao’s Athletic Club (Saturday 4 pm). Leo Messi, along with Andrés Iniesta, Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen, trained again with the group today but all four players will have to wait until tomorrow for medical clearance though it expected that the first three at least will get the green light to play. The afternoon kick-off means it is going to be very hot (predicted temperature 27ºC) which with the humidity in Barcelona will make conditions very difficult for the high pressing game of both teams.
Opponents Athletic have qualified for the Champions League this season for the first time in sixteen years. The fact that they play their first game in Group H on Wednesday night against Shakhtar Donetsk at the magnificent now-completed new San Mames may make full concentration on tomorrow’s game more difficult. Whether or not Ernesto Valverde decides to reserve players for Shakhtar or modify his system for Camp Nou remains to be seen but the Basques will still provide a tough test. Barça will have to find a way to stop Athletic’s dangerous centre-forward Aritz Aduriz, and the aerial threat is assured at set pieces with centre-backs San José and Laporte pushing forward.
With the aerial threat in mind it would make sense for Luis Enrique to choose Gerard Piqué rather than Javier Mascherano to partner Mathieu in central defence. The Barça coach says he has his XI decided but he won’t reveal his team sheet until he tells the players the line-up shortly before kick-off. He will have made some other important decisions in team selection such as which goalkeeper to use, who to play in midfield and who will support Leo Messi up front. The fact that Barça will now play seven games in the space of 22 games means Lucho will surely use some rotations for these games, but with a relatively easy start in the Champions League at home to Apoel on Wednesday he seems likely to pick his strongest side for Athletic.
Claudio Bravo seems likely to continue between the posts. The Chilean keeper has had little to do in Barça first two league victories but having kept two clean sheets it would seem harsh to drop him now. I feel Ter Stegen will eventually win the goalkeeping spot but he will have to wait for his opportunity. Luis Enrique may decide to give the German a first chance in the Champions League on Wednesday. If Piqué and Mathieu are picked tomorrow we will see a repeat of the back four of Alves, Piqué, Mathieu and Alba that won 0-1 at Villarreal two weeks ago.
Sergio Busquets looks sure to continue in midfield but then there are five players, Xavi, Rakitic, Iniesta, Rafinha and Sergi Roberto fighting for two places. Luis Enrique has said he will take the journeys for international games into account but Rakitic, who with Rafinha and Neymar was the last to return to Barcelona, and Iniesta are probably still the most likely pair to start. Messi and Pedro will probably start up front but the big question again is whether Neymar will get his first start of the season or will Munir El-Haddadi get another chance.
Barça will play tomorrow’s game in the yellow and red striped shirt of the Catalan flag La Senyera to celebrate yesterday’s Diada, the Catalan National Day which this year was the 300th anniversary of 11 September 1714 when Barcelona fell to Borbon king Felipe V’s army at the end of the Spanish War of Succession. Curiously, due to Barça’s change of shirt Athletic will play in their second kit which is based on the green red and white of the Basque Ikurriña flag.
Barça’s 23 players who trained today:
Bravo, Ter Stegen, Alves, Montoya, Douglas, Adriano, Alba, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Mathieu, Vermaelen, Busquets, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Rakitic, Iniesta, Rafinha, Pedro, Messi, Neymar, Munir, Sandro.
Barça: Bravo; Alves, Piqué, Mathieu, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Neymar.
Athletic: Iraizoz; De Marcos, San José, Laporte, Balenziaga; Iturraspe, Mikel Rico; Susaeta, Beñat, Muniain; Aduriz.
Prediction: Barça 3 Athletic 1.
Date: Saturday 13 September 2014. Kick-off 4 pm local time.