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Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona: Messi-less Champions face tough opening test

Athletic Bilbao vs Barcelona: Messi-less Champions face tough opening test

Barcelona will begin their 2019/2020 season with a tricky trip to Athletic Bilbao on Friday evening as La Liga begins.

Not as many changes to Barca’s squad have been made as expected this summer with the likes of Ivan Rakitic, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho remaining put, but one change is that Ernesto Valverde has allowed some of the club’s youth players to progess.

Rique Puig, Carles Alena and Moussa Wague are all expected to gain minutes in both La Liga and the Copa del Rey this coming season, whilst Jean Clair-Todibo looks a real promising asset at the back for the Catalan side.

Arguably the biggest transfer in world football this summer is that of Antoine Griezmann to the Camp Nou, leaving Atletico Madrid under a cloud after a successful stint with Diego Simeone’s side.

Griezmann netted his first goal of the club in a pre-season win over Italian side Napoli last week and adds a different dimension to what is already a frightenining attack line.

Lionel Messi is yet to feature in a single pre-season game for Barca and returned to training last week – only to pull a muscle and face time on the sidelines. The Argentine is expected to miss the trip to San Mames, but is the only absentee for Valverde, who has a largely fit squad to select from.

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Athletic have had a moderately busy summer, remaining restricted by there policy not to sign foreign players but they have handed front-man Inaki Williams a brand new nine-year contract at the club.

The speedy forward was a superb performer last term and is expected to go even better this season, alongside Aritz Aduriz, who will be featuring in his last season after announcing he will retire next summer.

Team News via WhoScored.com

  • Gaizka Garitano is not expected to make any alterations to his usual style or system despite facing the reigning league champions on the opening day.
  • Inigo Cordoba and Inigo Martinez both have knocks, but should feature from the start at San Mames. Unai Nunez could deputise alongside Yeray at centre-back if required.
  • Ander Capa is expected to get the nod at right-back ahead of Oscar de Marcos, while Inaki Williams will lead the line as Athletic’s No.9
  • Lionel Messi misses out on the opening weekend after picking up a calf injury that should rule him out until the end of August.
  • Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele are expected to start on the wings of Ernesto Valverde’s 4-3-3 system as a result.
  • Summer signing Frenkie de Jong is expected to get a start in midfield ahead of Sergi Roberto, though the Dutchman hasn’t been fully involved in training this week.
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Expected XI’s

Athletic Bilbao: Herrerin, Capa, Martinez, Alvarez, Yuri, Lopez, Garcia, Cordoba, Muniain, Garcia, Williams

Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba, Busquets, Rakitic, de Jong, Griezmann, Suarez, Dembele