The 2019/20 La Liga season gets underway on Friday night with a clash between Athletic Bilbao and reigning champions Barcelona at the Estadio San Mames.
La Blaugrana have added firepower to their frontline with the €120m purchase of Antoine Griezmann from last year's runners-up Atletico Madrid. Silky Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong has also joined the club's ranks, switching from Ajax for a fee of €75m, and coach Ernesto Valverde will be hoping the new signings can take his men to a third successive title.
There were no concerning casualties for Barça during the summer, with the Catalans clearing out the deadwood in their squad. Brazilian winger Malcom has been shipped off to Zenit St Petersburg after one underwhelming season at the Nou Camp, whilst second-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and midfield outcast Andre Gomes have likewise been moved on.
Opponents Bilbao were agonisingly close to securing a Europa League spot for the upcoming campaign, but ultimately missed out on goal-difference to Espanyol.
Where to Watch
|When Is Kick Off?||Friday 16 August|
|What Time Is Kick Off?||20:00 (BST)|
|Where Is it Played?||Estadio San Mames|
|TV Channel/Live Stream?||Fubo TV - Free Trial|
Lionel Messi is a serious doubt for La Blaugrana as the Argentine magician continues to recover from a calf complaint. The issue has seen him miss much of the team's pre-season preparations and his absence looks set to continue as competitive action gets underway.
Back-up goalkeeper Neto is the only other squad member unavailable for Valverde through injury, though the manager could face a minor revolt from Philippe Coutinho, who has been pushing for a move away from the Nou Camp all summer.
With the transfer window due to close on 31 August, the Brazilian could well force an exit by refusing to play. However, whether he does so remains to be seen and there have been no signs as yet that he will be quite so problematic for his employers.
Bilbao, meanwhile, have no missing personnel and can field a full-strength side on Friday evening. They have been ghosts with regards to transfer activity, deciding to neither sell nor purchase any players, though they have lost several individuals after their contracts expired.
|Athletic Bilbao||Herrerin; de Marcos, Alvarez, Martinez, Berchiche; San Jose, D. Garcia; Muniain, R. Garcia, Ibai; Williams.|
|Barcelona||ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; de Jong, Rakitic, Vidal; Dembele, Griezmann, Suarez.|
Head to Head Record
The teams couldn't be separated in either of their La Liga meetings last term, drawing 1-1 in Catalonia and 0-0 at the San Mames Stadium. Oscar de Marcos had given Athletic a surprise lead on the stroke of half-time at the home of the champions, but his side were unable to hold out as Barça cranked up the heat.
The Bilbao woodwork was rattled twice in the second period, yet it would take a late Munir El Haddadi tap-in to draw La Blaugrana level. Having performed well in that encounter, De Marcos turned villain in the reverse fixture as he was sent off in the closing stages of a stalemate in the Basque country.
Those results took the overall record to nine draws apiece, with Barcelona far ahead with regards to victories. They have triumphed in 29 of their games against Friday's opponents, losing on just four occasions.
The Catalan giants hammered Italian outfit Napoli 6-1 over the course of two games in early August, Luis Suarez, Ousmane Dembele and Griezmann all getting on the scoresheet in the latter meeting.
Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic got the goals versus the Partenopei at the Nou Camp, Barcelona's brace of wins leaving them with four wins from their pre-season adventures. Chelsea defeated them 2-1 in Japan at the beginning of their preparations, but the Spaniards have since rediscovered some confidence and form.
Bilbao have also only lost once over the summer, whilst recording impressive victories over West Ham United and Borussia Monchengladbach. Iker Muniain has been a standout in the side and will be tasked with taking the game to their opponents on Friday.
Here's a look at how each team got on in their last five matches:
|Numancia 1-1 Athletic Bilbao (01/8)||Barcelona 1-2 Chelsea (23/7)|
|West Ham United 2-2 *(2-4 pens) Athletic Bilbao (03/8)||Vissel Kobe 0-2 Barcelona (27/7)|
|Racing Santander 2-1 Athletic Bilbao (04/8)||Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal (04/8)|
|Roma 2-2 Athletic Bilbao (07/8)||Barcelona 2-1 Napoli (08/8)|
|Mirandes 1-2 Athletic Bilbao (08/8)||Napoli 0-4 Barcelona (10/8)|
Barcelona are the reigning champions of Spain and they are firm favourites to win the 2020 title. With arguably the world's greatest footballer at their disposal, the wonderfully-talented Griezmann in their squad and the ever-developing De Jong bolstering the midfield, it would seem that the trophy is their's to lose.
In order to lift it once more, Valverde's recruits will need to fend off Real and Atletico Madrid. The former have strengthened significantly since the close of last season and La Blaugrana will not want to risk being left in their wake, whilst Atleti always look able to challenge for the number one spot.
It won't be a walk in the park for Barcelona, so they must get off to a strong start to avoid playing catch up. They will be eager to show their credentials against Bilbao, though the absence of Messi is hardly ideal. Nevertheless, they will expect three points and should collect them, too.
Prediction: Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Barcelona