Alaves vs Barcelona Preview: Team News, Key Battles, Classic Encounters and More
In the first competitive fixture since the Blaugrana defeated Alaves in the Copa del Rey final, the two sides will do battle at the Mendizorrotza Stadium in the second round of games in La Liga.
The visitors will be hoping to put all the negative energy surrounding the team behind them, while keeping the pace with rivals Real Madrid, who started the season with a comfortable 3-0 victory last weekend.
Hosts Alaves started the season with a 1-0 defeat away to Leganes, so will be hoping for a better performance against the likes of Lionel Messi.
Look no further than last season's Spanish Cup final, where five time Champions League winners Barcelona defeated the Babazorros in a great match - with a professional performance from talisman Messi ending coach Luis Enrique's final game with the only trophy of their season.
Despite coming up short in La Liga and the Champions League to Los Blancos under Zinedine Zidane, Barca ensured they didn't end the season empty handed as a packed Vicente Calderon in it's final fixture witnessed a Messi masterclass.
The Argentine captain notched his 54th goal of the season and set up former Valencia man Paco Alcácer in a 3-1 win.
Lionel Messi vs Alexis
Barcelona are struggling lately in the attacking department, as their identity has been called into question. Bids for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé show their intent after losing Samba star Neymar, but until that happens Messi will need to make every effort to impress on his own to defeat Alaves.
Star defender Alexis, formerly of Valencia and Sevilla, is an experienced centre half, but will obviously have his work cut out against Messi, who can bring any defender to his knees with his close ball control and ability to turn the game on it's head.
Nélson Semedo vs Ibai Gomez
€30m summer capture Semedo started off his career at the Camp Nou in a routine 2-0 victory against Real Betis, showing his attacking intent with a foray of lung-bursting runs down the right side, while also demonstrating the pace needed to cover in defence.
He will have his work cut out against former Athletic Bilbao starlet Gomez, who offers the main attacking outlet on the left-wing for Alaves. The 27-year-old is known for his high work-rate, which will be needed if he hopes to protect his defence against the threat of Semedo.
Who will come out on top could decide which way the pendulum swings in the second La Liga game of the season.
Hosts Alaves have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the crunch match against Barcelona, with new manager Luis Zubeldia able to select from a full squad after taking over from Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino, who performed admirably to give his side a chance in the Copa del Rey final, while also finish comfortably in mid table.
With key players Theo Hernandez and Marcos Llorente both making their way to Real Madrid during pre-season, Zubeldia will have to figure out a new way to break down the formidable talents Barcelona have to offer.
The major miss for Ernesto Valverde's men at the moment is former Liverpool star Luis Suarez, who will be out for a month at least with a knee injury. Diminutive playmaker Andres Iniesta could return to the side after proving his fitness in training in recent weeks.
Key defender Gerard Pique is also expected to return to first team duties, after leaving the pitch against Real Betis. As they remain short of attacking options, the Spanish international's presence at the back will be needed, with the possibility of Javier Mascherano moving into midfield.
Alaves: (4-4-2) Pacheco; Vigaray, Alexis, Ely, Pedraza Sag; Burgui, Mubarak, Sanchez, Gomez;
Barcelona: (4-3-3) Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Gomes; Messi, Deulofeu, Paulinho
Alaves will prove a tricky outfit at home, but only seven wins in a possible eighteen home matches last season showcases their weakness in front of the home crowd. Nevertheless, they demonstrated last season that they are not to be messed with, punching above their weight with a shocking 2-1 win away at the Camp Nou in La Liga.
However, with Barcelona struggling in the transfer market and some way behind rivals Real Madrid, the away side will be keen to prove that they mean business in the league this season, wanting to wrestle back the title of the best in Spain after last season's disappointments.
With that in mind, I believe Barcelona will just sneak a win to gain revenge for last year's embarrassment at home against Alaves.
Alaves 1-3 Barcelona