Graphic: Why Luis Enrique should select this Barcelona XI versus Athletic Bilbao

Athletic Bilbao

Barcelona begin their La Liga defence at Spanish Super Cup champions Athletic Bilbao.

In a rather ironic twist of fate, Barcelona open up their defence of their La Liga title against a familiar opponent in Spanish Super Cup winners Athletic Bilbao.

The Basque outfit notched their first title in 31 years with an astonishing 5-1 aggregate win over the Catalan giants, with star striker Aritz Aduriz proving almost impossible to stop.

Barcelona coach Luis Enrique got it badly wrong in the first leg by opting for a largely second-string side, and on Saturday he must opt for his strongest XI with plenty of height at the back.

The back five

The biggest question Barcelona face is stopping Aduriz. The 34-year-old is as dominating in the air as Lionel Messi is on the ground. To stop him, the Blaugrana need to stop Bilbao at their source.

Claudio Bravo retains his spot in goal, but the back four is again a problem with Gerard Pique expected to be suspended for receiving a straight red card in the clash at Camp Nou on Monday.

As such, Jeremy Mathieu must come into the centre with his height an important factor, while Marc Bartra should play at left-back in Jordi Alba’s absence, again solely for the Spaniard’s height.

From goal kicks, Sergio Busquets ought to drop a little deeper in order to provide extra cover.

The midfield trio

Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Andres Iniesta are the trusty trio in the middle and despite expected tiredness; they must start again on Sunday due to the distinct lack of quality competition for places.

Croatian international Rakitic needs to get forward in support more, as the Barca midfield can’t afford to allow the hosts to push forward unchallenged and bombard the area with long balls from deep.

It’s going to be a tough ask, but to stop the threat at source Luis Enrique’s side must press harder out of possession and further up the pitch.

The attacking trio

With Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez forming two-thirds of the potent trident, Neymar’s absence is causing Barca a bit of problem with Pedro disappointing over both legs of the Spanish Super Cup tie.

Rafinha played in midfield during the first-leg, yet he has the ability to play further up field and did so with great effect during the 5-4 European Super Cup victory over Sevilla, scoring once.

While he may not offer the same sort of threat as Neymar, the Brazilian star isn’t afraid to pull the trigger and with chances expected to be limited, his more direct approach could be exactly what Barca need.

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