Questions to answer as Barca prepare for league kick off
Posted on Aug 23 2014 | IANS
Madrid, Aug 23 : A new era for FC Barcelona kicks off Sunday when the side now coached by Luis Enrique entertains Elche in their first game of the Spanish Primera Liga season.
Barca will kick off knowing that their rivals Real and Atletico Madrid have already lifted one trophy each this season while they have been putting the finishing touches to their preparations, reports Xinhua.
And the Catalans will have the frustration of also knowing that although change is underway, they are not ready to fire on all cylinders given that Luis Suarez is suspended until the end of October, Neymar will miss out with an ankle injury and recently signed central defender Thomas Vermaelen is not fully fit after arriving with a hamstring problem.
Even taking into account the injuries, Luis Enrique's first starting 11 will be fascinating. A back injury to newly signed Ter Stegen means that former Real Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo will get the nod, knowing he needs to perform well to help forget a bad error against Napoli in pre-season.
At right back Dani Alves has been forced to defend his role at the club after recent criticism and if Barca want to show him the door, the best way to do so would be to leave him on the bench.
Meanwhile, Gerard Pique has already admitted he has been well below his best in recent seasons and a 'joke' involving a stink bomb on a recent flight to play in Finland will not have seen his coach laugh very much.
New arrival Jeremy Mathieu will probably start in the heart of the defence with the question being who he partners - Pique, Marc Bartra or Javier Mascherano - who showed in the World Cup that his best position is central midfield.
Sergio Busquets will almost certainly kick off in the holding role, while new arrival Ivan Rakitic should also get the nod. So will Xavi Hernandez, who said Friday he was more convinced than ever of his decision to stay and fight for a place, start in the side or on the bench or will Luis Enrique decide to play Mascherano and give more steel to the midfield, while taking away some speed in ball movement?
Without Suarez or Neymar, what will the options be in attack? Luis Enrique could push Andres Iniesta into a more advanced role or he could decide to play with four men in midfield and pair up Leo Messi and Pedro Rodriguez.
If he decides to play with three strikers then former Under-19 player Munir, who has been outstanding in pre-season could find himself leapfrogging the B-team to go straight into the first team, although Rafinha, who is back after spending last season with Luis Enrique at Celta Vigo, could also be in with a chance.
Meanwhile, Elche come to Camp Nou looking to 'fish in muddy waters' as the Spanish saying goes. Their coach, Fran Escriba will aim to keep it tight at the back and hit Barca on the break.
It's the start of a new season and that means there are always questions to be answered, but this Sunday in Camp Nou, the list is a lot longer than usual.