FC Barcelona put Spain's title back on Friday at the opening of the La Liga in Bilbao (9 pm), where coach Ernesto Valverde has to solve his first puzzle this season: composing without Lionel Messi, uncertain, and making abstraction of Neymar, if desired.
On the field of Athletic, a club he has long coached, Valverde is forced to put aside the mercato that has captured the spirits in Barcelona since the Brazilian Neymar has expressed his desire to leave the PSG and come back Catalonia.
"I remain on the sidelines of these issues, I focus absolutely on the team and the players I have to play this game," summarized Valverde in a press conference. "We want to start on the right foot and win our third Liga in a row."
In two seasons on the Catalan bench, the technician has each time won the Spanish Championship and his team is a favorite in his own succession to Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, which are in full reconstruction.
The sums spent to attract Antoine Griezmann (120 million euros) and Frenkie de Jong (at least 75 million euros) are however additional pressure for the technician, back to the wall after being weakened by the stunning elimination in the semi-final of the last Champions League against Liverpool (3-0, 0-4) last season.
- Messi touched on the calf -
In May, Captain Messi was even forced to defend his coach: "Sincerely, I think the + Mister + has done an impressive job," said the Argentine, calling for his retention. He was listened to.
Top scorer of the C1 and major European leagues the past season, Lionel Messi remains the main offensive asset of Valverde. But the small striker, hit right calf, should miss the call Friday in the "cathedral" stadium San Mamés Bilbao.
"We're going to wait a bit, he's doing a pretty good recovery process and we're going to see," Valverde said. "We do not take chances with any player, let alone with Leo."
Without him, the Barcelona coach would be forced to reorganize his line of attack and he could renew the offensive trio Dembélé-Suarez-Griezmann who shined against Naples last weekend in a friendly match in the United States (4-0) .
After this mouthing Friday night, the schedule of the first day of Liga Saturday provides a complicated trip for Real Zinédine Zidane on the ground of Celta Vigo (15:00 GMT). The Madrilenians, disturbing during their pre-season matches, will they be ready?
As for Atlético Madrid, it receives Sunday night Getafe (22:00) in front of its audience at the Metropolitano stadium, which is thirsty to discover the club's flagship rookie: the Portuguese striker Joao Felix, acquired for 126 million EUR and already very legs during preparation.
The program (in French hours):
(9 pm) Athletic Bilbao - FC Barcelona
(5 pm) Celta Vigo - Real Madrid
(19h00) Valencia CF - Real Sociedad
(20h00) Majorca - Eibar
(21h00) Leganés - Osasuna
Villarreal - Granada
(5 pm) Alavés - Levante
(7:00 pm) Espanyol Barcelona - Sevilla FC
(9 pm) Betis Seville - Valladolid
(22h00) Atlético Madrid - Getafe
© 2019 AFP