Barcelona vs Villarreal After a summer of crises
Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona adventure officially starts on Sunday, or at least his second adventure with the Catalan club, and the football itself will actually prove a welcome break after a season of disaster and controversy.
Lionel Messi‘s future has dominated much of the focus within the club this summer, whilst there has been the small matter of shedding the squad of talent and lowering the annual wage bill coming out of Barcelona‘s account.
However, Barcelona couldn’t wish to start the season with a tougher challenge, they are facing a promising Villarreal team whilst also having to take on board and adapt to the methods of new coach, Koeman.
For 90 minutes there will be no discussion about Messi‘s future beyond 2021, the motion of no-confidence against Josep Maria Bartomeu or the controversial departure of Luis Suarez for minimal fiscal return, only for him to sign for title rivals, Atletico Madrid.
After a summer of action off the pitch, the ball will once again roll at the Camp Nou, as Barcelona play football for the first official time since the fateful 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Koeman‘s team is still under construction and he hasn’t been able to bring new signings in as yet, although Philippe Coutinho‘s return will be seen as a positive by some, whilst Francisco Trincao and Pedri can expect to be involved this term.
This may well be the youthful resurgence the squad needs, and for those within the club it will be a welcome relief that people will now be talking about such matters related to on-pitch proceedings.
Messi is obviously still hurt at how he has been treated by the club and made his latest remark against the Bartomeu administration when reacting to Suarez‘s departure, yet all eyes will be on him to carry the team forward on the pitch, even if he longer wants to be there.
Despite a rather frank meeting with his captain earlier in the summer, Koeman has confidence in Messi and the level of his performances, and he will trust that the Argentine’s professionalism outweighs his obvious misery.
The 4-3-3 formation which has become intrinsically linked with Barcelona will be dropped by the former Feyenoord coach, in favour of the 4-2-3-1 which he has used in previous jobs.
The attacking players will be given a great deal of freedom, although this does little to address the shambolic nature of the defensive errors which gave Bayern Munich a memorable night en route to Treble success.
Ansu Fati is in line for a start after impressing Koeman in training, whilst Antoine Griezmann will be given a central position next to Messi.
Miralem Pjanic and Frenkie de Jong will make up the preferred double-pivot, with Sergio Busquets looking at his first spell out of the team for years at the Camp Nou.
The only selection doubt for Villarreal is Raul Albiol, who suffered a facial injury in their clash with Eibar, although it’s likely he will play against the Blaugrana, albeit whilst wearing a protective mask.
The former Real Madrid defender suffered a septum fracture and has only been able to train twice during the week, and the mask is designed to protect his nose from further damage.
Unai Emery made it clear in his pre-match press conference that he decision will depend on how the player feels, but if he can’t play then his position will be taken by Ramiro Funes Mori.