Barcelona v Elche: With Luis Suarez absent, defence will be key


View gallery

Barcelona's signing of Luis Suarez from Liverpool was arguably the biggest deal of the summer.

But, given the Uruguayan cannot play until late October, it could be Luis Enrique's defensive reinforcements that make the difference as they look to win back the Liga title.

We continue our extensive live coverage of Europe's top teams this season with ALL of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich's matches this season getting the live commentary treatment. We will also be covering the biggest matches in Italy and France across the 2014-15 campaign.

The club's first trophyless season in six years has sparked an overhaul with new coach Enrique bringing in fresh faces for many positions ahead of a campaign that kicks off on Saturday; Barca's opener against Elche is on Sunday night.

All eyes will be on Suarez, signed from Liverpool for £65m or £75m, depending on who you believe, when he finally makes his competitive bow for Barca after he was handed a four-month ban for biting at the World Cup.

View gallery


The prospect of him lining up with Neymar and Lionel Messi in attack is mouthwatering, yet the club's title hopes are likely to depend on them shoring up a rearguard that looked vulnerable at key times last season.

The backline has been neglected in recent years with close-season recruits Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen the first centre backs to be signed since Dmytro Chygrynskiy in 2009.

The club had previously attempted to paper over the cracks by converting midfielders into centre backs, with the idea being that they would be comfortable in possession and bring the ball out of defence.

The combative Argentine Javier Mascherano has done relatively well in this role, despite his lack of height, but Sergio Busquets and Alex Song have also been tried out in the position with little success.


Barca have now added strength and depth to their defence but there are still question marks over the signings of Mathieu and Vermaelen ahead of the Catalans' curtain-raiser against Elche.

The club paid around £15m for the 30-year old Mathieu while Vermaelen arrives at the Nou Camp with a poor injury record, having fallen down the pecking order at former club Arsenal. Goalkeepers Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, signed to replace Victor Valdes, would appear to be sound investments.

Barca struggled to adapt last season to the new tactical ideas introduced by coach Gerardo Martino, who resigned after one campaign in charge. They have gone back to basics with Enrique whose teams play the club's typical short passing football.

"We will play the attacking style that has caught the imagination of millions of people around the world but we also need to defend," he said. "We have an incredibly talented squad.

"My work and that of my staff is to find a system that fits. We will look at all possibilities and consider the qualities of the players. Basically, the three forwards will play centrally but at times they will vary this and a lot will depend on the approach of the opponent. We will do different things.

"The team is prepared physically but as regards the football I would have liked two months more as we have a new coach, seven or eight new signings and youth players coming in."

Enrique coached the Barca B (youth) team for three seasons until 2011 and is keen to give the young players a chance. Eighteen-year-old forward Munir El Haddadi has shone during pre-season and is pushing for a chance in attack.

It's a good thing Barca were busy in this window, and have their youth programme to fall back on - after an appeal failed this week, the club cannot sign any new players until January 2016.

"It will depend on his performances if he is in the first team. I think he has done well and it is clear he has a lot of quality.

"It is the same with the other youth players. I am always saying it is great to have young players like we have that have plenty of drive and ambition."

View gallery


MATCH FACTS: Barcelona v Elche

- Elche have never won an away league game against Barcelona (D7 L13), conceding 3.8 goals per game over their last five visits.

- Elche have failed to score on their last three league trips to the Camp Nou.

- Elche have not won any of their last seven opening La Liga games (D1 L6), failing to score in six of these games.

- When starting the season at the Nou Camp, Barcelona have only lost one of 41 inaugural matches (W35 D5), losing to rivals Espanyol in 1939.

- Luis Enrique’s first home defeat as a La Liga manager was to Elche at the Balaidos in September 2013 (1-0).

- Barcelona scored the second most La Liga goals last season (100), while Elche were the lowest scorers (30).

- Barcelona have scored in their last 52 home league games; they are one away from equalling their third best run of all-time (53 between 1995 and 1998).

- Los Ilicitanos ended last season with just one victory from their last 14 away league games (D4 L9); 1-0 against Malaga in May 2014.

- New Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic made a league-high seven assists from set plays while at Sevilla last term.

- Barcelona conceded the highest proportion of goals from corner situations in 2013/14 (27%).



Bayern Munich v Wolfsburg - 19:30

Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid - 21:30


Barcelona v Elche - 20:00

View comments (4)