Barcelona open their campaign with the chance to build on an impressive trophy haul from last season when they face Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
However, they will have to do without one of their star triumvirate up front as Brazilian forward Neymar has been ruled out for two weeks after contracting the mumps.
The 23-year-old had only just returned to action after a disappointing Copa America, but he and Lionel Messi’s presence sparked Barca into life after a bad run of pre-season results as both scored in a 3-0 win over Roma in their final friendly outing last week.
Messi will be fit to start alongside Luis Suarez in attack having returned a week early from his summer break after guiding Argentina to the Copa America final.
Manchester United target Pedro Rodriguez is expected to take Neymar’s place.
Having equalled the club’s most successful ever campaign with the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League last season, the Catalans can now repeat the feat of Pep Guardiola’s side six years ago that won six trophies in a calendar year by adding both the European and Spanish Super Cups to the Club World Cup.
And former Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic insists Barca’s hunger for more trophies has not been eased by their success last season.
“There is nothing better than starting the season with a title,” said the Croatian.
“No one has more desire to win than us. We want to continue making history and win all six trophies, but we will go step-by-step.”
A ban on registering new players means that there will be no new faces in the Barca team despite the signings of Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid and another buy from Sevilla in the form of Aleix Vidal.
The latter wasn’t the only key player to depart the Sanchez Pizjuan over the close season with top scorer for the past two years Carlos Bacca moving to AC Milan.
Their absence has been compensated by the arrival of nine new players including Ukranian star Yevhen Konoplyanka, but Unai Emery’s men have also endured a torrid pre-season and are plagued with injuries.
“The truth is that having a final in the midst of pre-season is very nice,” said Emery after his side were held 1-1 by AEK Athens in their final warm-up game.
“It excites us and motivates us, but it is also true that we are confronted with adverse circumstances.
“We know the opponent we are facing will demand a lot of us. We will prepare the team for that and, despite the adverse circumstances that we have, we cannot give up.”
Emery has particular problems at centre-back with Nico Pareja definitely ruled out, whilst new recruit Adil Rami, Timothee Kolodziejczak and Daniel Carrico are all doubts.
“I think you can make a case we can play a good game, but if we can recover some of those for that position then I think we will have a better chance,” added Emery.
Photo Credits : AFP