MADRID, August 21- Barcelona won’t have to wait long to try to correct the errors that saw them lose the Spanish Super Cup to Athletic Bilbao as they return to San Mames on Sunday in their La Liga opener.
The European champions were thrashed 4-0 in Bilbao just a week ago as an under-manned Catalan defence failed to cope with the presence of Aritz Aduriz, who struck a hat-trick and then also netted in the return as the Basques won the final 5-1 on aggregate.
Barca coach Luis Enrique has even more defensive problems as his side look for revenge on league duty.
Gerard Pique has been banned for four matches after being sent off in Monday’s 1-1 draw in the return leg of the Super Cup for verbally abusing the match officials.
Jordi Alba remains a doubt with a hamstring injury, while Neymar hasn’t returned to training since he was diagnosed with the mumps two weeks ago.
The coach must also decide who to play in goal. Claudio Bravo made his first appearance of the campaign in the home game against Athletic after Marc-Andre ter Stegen had been selected for the first two matches of the season in which Barca conceded eight times.
Bravo was the number one in La Liga last season, while Ter Stegen kept guard in the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
“It would be nice for me to play in La Liga, but I don’t know if I will. It is a decision that the coach has to take. For the moment, we need to train and work hard.” said Ter Stegen.
“Pique is an important player for us, we will miss him, but we have to try and do our best without him.”
Athletic have injury problems of their own with Inaki Williams and Ander Iturraspe doubtful and they could pay physically for a busy schedule over the past week as, after a parade through Bilbao to celebrate their first trophy for 31 years, the Basques were back in action in the Europa League on Thursday away to MSK Zilina in Slovakia.
– Benitez’s bow –
Real Madrid begin life under Rafael Benitez away to newly-promoted Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
Los Blancos have had a less than impressive pre-season, adding to doubts over whether Benitez was the right man to replace the popular Carlo Ancelotti after a season in which Madrid failed to win a major trophy.
“I saw plenty of positives and if we play like that I will be happy, but we still have plenty of margin to improve which is positive,” said Benitez after Marcelo’s late winner saw off Galatasaray in their final friendly in midweek.
Benitez is likely to be without both Pepe and Karim Benzema as they have missed the majority of pre-season through injury, so Gareth Bale could be paired with Cristiano Ronaldo in attack with the Welshman expected to play in a more central role this season.
Given Real’s unusually quiet summer in the transfer market and Barcelona’s ban on registering players, it is 2014 champions Atletico Madrid who have been the biggest spenders in the close season.
Diego Simeone’s men look well prepared to launch another bid for the title thanks to the signings of Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto from Porto and Villarreal respectively to complement Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres in attack.
Atletico face another newly-promoted side in Las Palmas at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday as the islanders make their return to the top flight for the first time in 13 years.
Valencia got their season off to a flying start with a 3-1 win over Monaco on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League play-off, but face a tricky trip to Rayo Vallecano for their league opener.
Malaga and Sevilla have the honours in getting the league season underway as they face off on Friday night in an Andalusian derby.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Malaga v Sevilla (1830)
Deportivo la Coruna v Real Sociedad, Espanyol v Getafe (both 1630), Atletico Madrid v Las Palmas (1830), Rayo Vallecano v Valencia (2030)
Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona (1630), Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid (1830), Levante v Celta Vigo (2000), Real Betis v Villarreal (2030)
Granada v Eibar (1830)