Barcelona kick off their LaLiga Santander campaign away to Athletic Club on Friday night, but there are one or two doubts for head coach Ernesto Valverde to deal with before the match itself.
The pre-season was hectic with trips to Japan and the United States sandwiched between the Joan Gamper Trophy, yet it allowed Valverde to test out his squad and see who is the most prepared to face Athletic at San Mames.
Of the new signings, Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann both got better as the pre-season went on and there is little doubt that they will both start on Friday night.
Lionel Messi’s injury means that Valverde is likely to opt with a front three of Ousmane Dembele, Luis Suarez and Griezmann. The attacking trident played very well in the second friendly against Napoli in Ann Arbor and the hope will be that they replicate that performance at San Mames.
However, in the middle of the park is where Valverde’s main doubt lies. The coach is going to continue to have a headache when it comes to selecting his three midfielders, at least until the technical secretariat reduces the number of midfielders at the club.
As seen in pre-season, De Jong has performed so well that not selecting him seems incomprehensible. The Dutchman has been one of Barcelona’s best players and deserves to start against Athletic, but that will mean that one of last year’s starters will be forced to sit on the bench.
Arthur Melo and Arturo Vidal joined Barcelona’s pre-season preparations late after competing in the Copa America with Brazil and Chile respectively, so they come into the season at a disadvantage. Thus, with De Jong and Sergio Busquets being almost indisputable in the line-up, Valverde will have to choose between Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha Alcantara, Carles Alena or Riqui Puig for the third position in midfield on Friday night.