Barcelona hit by injuries before opener
JAVIER Mascherano has joined the queue to the Camp Nou treatment room with champions Barcelona hit by a spate of injuries before they begin the new season in La Liga against Betis today.
Luis Enrique’s side paid a high price for winning the Spanish Super Cup against Sevilla, with captain Andres Iniesta and defenders Jeremy Mathieu and Mascherano sustaining injuries over the two legs that will keep them out of today’s game.
“I’m very happy and satisfied with what I saw on the pitch and the performances of the players who are joining the team. I’m very happy about everything except Mascherano’s injury,” said Luis Enrique after Wednesday’s second leg of the Super Cup, as Barca won 3-0 to secure a 5-0 aggregate success.
Barcelona are also without star forward Neymar, who is at the Olympics, while goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is still recovering from a minor knee injury.
Meanwhile, France international Samuel Umtiti is in line for his La Liga debut after impressing against Sevilla and will be paired with Gerard Pique.
This could be goalkeeper Claudio Bravo’s last game for Barcelona as reports suggest he is close to joining Manchester City, and the Camp Nou is sure to give him a rousing send-off for his services over the past two seasons.
Gus Poyet’s Betis have added several players in the summer, including Roma striker Antonio Sanabria, who was on loan at Sporting Gijon last season.
Real Madrid have to wait until tomorrow to kick off their campaign, making the trip to Anoeta to face Real Sociedad, which has been a problematic venue for La Liga’s top teams in recent years.
Coach Zinedine Zidane will be without his star player Cristiano Ronaldo, who is still recovering from a knee injury suffered in Portugal’s Euro 2016 final win over France.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is still out injured, with Kiko Casilla filling in, although better news comes in the form of Gareth Bale’s return to action on Monday in a friendly against French side Reims.
He is likely to start against La Real, but French hitman Karim Benzema is set to miss out due to a niggling hip problem.
Summer signing Alvaro Morata should lead the line, while youngster Marco Asensio may also earn a start after impressing in the Uefa Super Cup win over Sevilla.
“He knows what he will have here, and all the players know it, I’m not going to trick anyone. I am going to try and pick the best team possible for each game. I have the great squad that we need to have a great season,” said Zidane of Asensio.
Los Blancos are looking to win a league title for the first time since 2012, while their capital rivals Atletico Madrid will hope to again feature prominently.
Diego Simeone’s men host promoted Alaves at the Vicente Calderon as they attempt to bounce back after a crushing defeat by Real Madrid on penalties in the Champions League final last season.
Atletico have signed Argentine midfielder Nicolas Gaitan from Benfica and French striker Kevin Gameiro from Sevilla, but the biggest boost for them over the summer was Simeone’s decision to stay in the job.
He had hinted at a departure after the Champions League final setback, saying he needed “time to think”.
“I was referring to time to think about how I can deal with taking my responsibilities with Atletico Madrid forward. If I’d left, I wouldn’t have been able to go with peace of mind. I never said I would leave, just that I needed time to think,” he told Canal Plus.
Malaga and Osasuna got the action underway yesterday, while eyes will be on Fran Escriba’s Villarreal at Granada today.
The Yellow Submarine sacked coach Marcelino just before the season started and lost to Monaco in their Champions League play-off first leg on Wednesday in Escriba’s debut. — AFP