Barcelona host Huesca at the Camp Nou for their third match of La Liga season on Sunday, and Ernesto Valverde’s side will be hoping to build on what has been a bright start to the campaign as the defending champions.
The Catalan giants earned a narrow 1-0 victory away at Valladolid last weekend and will be hoping to enjoy a more comfortable outing at home against La Liga newcomers Huesca on Sunday.
Huesca earned promotion from the Segunda Division last season and will be handed a true introduction into the Spanish top flight at the Camp Nou this weekend.
It is a potentially overwhelming task for Leo Franco’s side, though the newly promoted side have made a greatly encouraging start to life in La Liga, having earned four points from their first two matches of the season. Sunday’s match, though, promises to be their toughest task yet.
Having begun their title defence on the back of a 2-1 victory over Sevilla in the Supercopa de Espana, Barcelona asserted their champions status with a 3-0 success over Alaves at the Camp Nou, as newly appointed club captain Lionel Messi stepped up to the plate with a brace to inspire his side to victory.
Philippe Coutinho added to the positive start with a goal in that match, and Barca continued to build on the momentum as their other mega-money signing from the past 12 months, Ousmane Dembele, struck the winner in the 1-0 win over Valladolid last weekend.
Huesca began their campaign under very different circumstances to the champions but proved they would not be a side to be taken lightly upon their promotion to the top flight, as Leo Franco’s side battled to a 2-1 victory away to Eibar on the opening weekend.
La Liga's new boys followed up their opening success with an inspired fightback from 2-0 down away to Athletic Bilbao, upsetting the odds to strike twice within the final 20 minutes to earn an unlikely 2-2 draw and continue an excellent start to life in the top flight.
With Huesca becoming the 63rd side to appear for the first time in La Liga this season, the two sides have not previously met in the league.
However, the last meeting between the two in cup competition is one which the newcomers will want to forget ahead of this Sunday’s match.
Four seasons ago, Barcelona met Huesca in the first round of the Copa del Rey during the 2014/15 season, and it was a memorable tie for the Catalan side. Luis Enrique’s side won the first leg away from home 4-0 with goals from Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Adriano and Rafinha.
The second leg at the Camp Nou saw the Catalan side blitz their opponents in an 8-1 hammering with a younger side, with Pedro hitting a hat-trick in amongst goals from Sergi Roberto, Iniesta, Adriano, Adama Traore and Sandro Ramirez. Huesca will be keen to avoid anything close to a repeat experience as they head back to the Camp Nou on Sunday.
Lionel Messi showed on the opening day of the season that he is in no danger of slowing down as far as his consistency in front of goal is concerned, as the Argentine hitman struck a decisive brace to see off Alaves during Barcelona’s 3-0 opening day win.
Now captain of Ernesto Valverde’s side following the departure of Andres Iniesta, Messi is the main man at the Camp Nou more than ever, and Valladolid displayed last weekend that keeping the diminutive attacker quiet is key to having a better chance against the Catalans.
Unable to breach the home side’s goal, Barca needed a solitary strike from Dembele to secure a narrow 1-0 win over Valladolid. Huesca must seek to keep Messi at bay on Sunday in similar fashion if they are to avoid being on the wrong side of an emphatic result.
Xabier Etxeita plays on the left side of the Huesca defence, and will therefore be the man primarily tasked with shackling Messi’s trademark cutting inside from the right-hand side onto his famed left foot. Stopping the Argentine at source will be key to a solid match for the away side on Sunday.
Barcelona have a relatively full squad at their disposal, with backup keeper Jasper Cillessen the only high profile absentee from Ernesto Valverde’s side. The Dutch goalkeeper continues to recover from a bruised rib.
Midfield duo Carles Alena and Sergi Samper also remain absent, as the pair continue to recover from a torn muscle injury and a sprained ankle respectively.
Huesca, meanwhile, have a full squad available for selection on Sunday.
Though Huesca have already showed that they have the resolve to survive in the Spanish top flight with an unbeaten start to their campaign, Barcelona will provide a different class of opposition on Sunday and the Catalan giants will certainly enjoy a return to home comforts following a more difficult away encounter last weekend.
Ernesto Valverde has managed to find a successful formula to accommodate both Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele in an attacking Barcelona setup, alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, and the home side should have too much in offensive terms for Huesca to deal with.
Score prediction: Barcelona 4-0 Huesca