However, while Valverde believes that result, which included a remarkable 4-0 win in the home leg, might give them a slight mental advantage over Barca, he is expecting a tough game against the favourites for the title this season. However, not only did they hold on but they were once again able to tame the best team in Europe, claiming an away 1-1 draw to win the Spanish Super Cup 5-1 on aggregate.
And Messi almost sealed the three points with a stunning individual run past a host of exhausted Athletic defenders, reminiscent of his opening goal in the Copa del Rey final between the sides in May, but his finish lacked the accuracy needed to beat Iraizoz.
Luis Enrique’s side suddenly looked more like their usual selves and went close to adding a second when Roberto rattled the crossbar with a fierce effort from the edge of the box.
Many are wondering whether Athletic prodded the lion via their Super Cup win over Barca, and whether Barcelona will come out today with a score to settle.
Whereas the exit of legend Xavi was lengthy anticipated and comprehensible, the choice to promote Pedro to Chelsea this week is extra curious.
“La Liga has not started yet, and it seems we are carrying a weight on our shoulders”, he said. Valverde apologized for his decision afterwards, but the midfielder will be sorely missed, together with the forward Kiko Sola, who also picked up a red card in the meeting at Camp Nou, only 7 minutes after he went into play. He’ll need to be spectacular again if his team wants to make it three in a row without defeat against Barca.
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea has been strongly linked with a move to Real, but that deal has yet to materialise.
Claudio Bravo is now Luis Enrique’s number one choice in goal for league games, leaving Ter Stegen with only cup outings, but has said that he will try his best to earn a La Liga starting spot.
Barca face Malaga and Atletico Madrid in their next two league fixtures, so it will be important for them to have Alves and Busquets back sooner rather than later.
In the 2013-14 season, Atletico Madrid won the La Liga title. This time however, Barcelona put all the negatives behind them, controlled the game and got a solitary goal to seal a good display despite Lionel Messi missing a penalty. Should the team not click from day one, it will be interesting to see who bears the brunt of the criticism – Rafa, Florentino, Cristiano or Gareth.
At the other end, newly promoted Las Palmas and Sporting Gijon look likely to struggle, with Eibar and Deportivo La Coruna also among the probable relegation candidates. With the season set to kick off this weekend, the Catalans will be looking to ward off the challenge from clubs like Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid as they hope to repeat their heroics from last season.