18 min: A clever reverse pass from Dembele puts Griezmann in a bit of space on the right of the penalty area. He backheels inside but no one is there. All Griezmann has done so far is upset the crowd.
16 min: Williams races clear on to a straight ball over the top. He’s past the last defender and takes one touch on his knee before shooting with his right foot. Ter Stegen stands up before plunging to his left to make a smart but comfortable save.
14 min: Alena shows his class with a lovely turn in midfield. There are high hopes for the graceful 21-year-old midfielder.
12 min: The crowd whistle and shout after a late tackle from Griezmann. That’s one for each side. Lenglet clears the free-kick.
10 min: The hosts are pressing with some verve and this time it is De Jong who loses the ball to leave Williams in space again. Barca finally get some possession and find Alba on the left. He forces a corner, then another but it comes to nothing.
7 min: Williams is gifted the ball between the lines after a wayward ball from Dembele. He lets fly but Ter Stegen leaps to his right and palms the ball out for a corner. That was a fine effort but Barcelona need to wake up quick.
6 min: Williams steals the ball off Alba and surges down the right. His centre is put out for a corner but De Jong clears. It’s an underrated part of his game. His passing is supreme, but his screening of the defence is just as good.
4 min: A lovely weaving run from Williams leaves two Barcelona players chasing shadows. Unfortunately he’s heading backwards but he’ll be important tonight. Athletic have begun on the front foot.
2 min: De Jong gets a very late welcome to La Liga challenge from Raul Garcia. That didn’t take long.
Peep! Athletic get us under way at San Mames and immediately show their intentions with a long ball forward. It comes to nothing.
“Is Barcelona still cool?” muses Charles Antaki. “They’ve gone down steadily in the coolness stakes ever since they took cash for the front of the shirt and relegated Unicef to somewhere round the back. Subsequent designs have ranged from the quirky to the laughable and now the checkerboard squares have edged into simple naffness. Maybe the actual football will be entertaining.”
One man who does not seem to be going anywhere is Gareth Bale, despite his relationship with Zinedine Zidane seemingly having broken down beyond repair just days ago. Read the latest in that soap opera here …
Philippe Coutinho is not even on the bench tonight, despite travelling with the squad. Reports suggest Bayern Munich are in talks with Barcelona about taking Coutinho on loan. Who would benefit most from that move? Email me with your thoughts.
The most impressive article I’ve read in a while was today’s first person piece by our very own Nicky Bandini. The response has been touching and Rob Graham’s email is typical. “Can you pass on my, and hopefully a lot more than 1056 others, very best wishes to Nicky Bandini,” he writes. “A top class football writer, and writer in general as the beautiful piece proved.”
For those who missed it, here it is …
For the true lowdown on the new La Liga season, you will not get better than this from Sid Lowe …
Barcelona have gone with a very young midfield for this game, with Rakitic and Busquets left on the bench by Valverde. A front three of Suarez, Dembele and Griezmann looks menacing though. For Athletic, Iñaki Williams will lead the line and provide the main goal threat after signing a nine-year contract extension with a buy-out clause of £125m. Who knows, that may seem a snip in a couple of years?
Athletic Bilbao: Unai Simón, Capa, Yeray, Núñez, Yuri, Dani García, Unai López, De Marcos, Raúl García, Muniain, Williams.
Subs: Herrerín, Beñat, Larrazabal, Aduriz, Balenziaga, Vivian, Sancet
Barcelona: Ter Stegen, Semedo, Piqué, Lenglet, Alba, Aleñá, Roberto, De Jong, Suárez, Dembélé, Griezmann.
Subs: Rakitic, Busquets, Rafinha, Umtiti, Junior, Iñaki Peña, C. Pérez.
La Liga is back, and back with a vengeance. Alarmed by the Premier League takeover of Europe’s major competitions last season, Spain’s top clubs have spent and spent big. Atlético have splashed €256m to revamp an ageing team while Real Madrid’s total is closer to €300m. Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann lead the incomings at Barcelona and the battle to secure Neymar’s signature is still raging.
Barcelona are the champions and remain the team to beat but a trip to Athletic Bilbao is a tough way to start, especially without Lionel Messi. The Argentinian was injured in the Copa América and Ernesto Valverde has decided not to rush him back for the season’s opener. How will Barça cope? Is Dembéle ready to step up? Will Griezmann slot in seamlessly after his controversial move from Atlético? Or can Athletic give the chasing pack an early shot in the arm? It’s the Basques v the Catalans to see who will draw first blood in Spain’s top division.
Kick-off is 8pm BST.