Athletic Club v Barcelona - Sun 17:30 GMT
Barcelona begin their La Liga season back at Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames, where the Catalans were hockeyed 4-0 in the Spanish Supercopa first leg just over a week ago. That result and performance was the nadir of what has been a tough and unhappy pre-season for last term’s treble winners.
By contrast, Athletic have had quite a time - in the last seven days they have drawn the second leg 1-1 at the Camp Nou to win the Supercopa 5-1 on aggregate, returned to Bilbao to celebrate the club’s first trophy in 31 years, travelled to Slovakia to face Zilina in the Europa League, lost a 2-0 lead to go down 3-2 in their play-off round first leg, and then had to quickly get back home to prepare for their La Liga opener.
Not helping at all for coach Ernesto Valverde have been injuries to key players Mikel San Jose, Ander Iturraspe, Inaki Williams and Xabi Etxeita. Better news is that centre-forward Aritz Aduriz – scorer of four goals in those two games against Barca - was among those rested for the Zilina match, and is sure to start on Sunday.
Barca have this week been mostly keeping their heads down and preparing for some revenge. Gerard Pique’s four match ban for insulting a linesman during the Supercopa second leg means the centre-back is out, but Jordi Alba makes a welcome return from injury at left-back. Coach Luis Enrique’s biggest call is whether to stick with last year’s La Liga starter Claudio Bravo in goal, or promote Marc Andre Ter Stegen to first choice. Pedro Rodriguez’s exit for Chelsea, and Neymar still being out with the mumps, means that midfielder Rafinha is likely to start on the left wing.
Athletic were full value for their Supercopa victory, and even though the win was deserved, the 4-0 result was quite a freak. Barca will be much better prepared for Sunday evening’s game - when the score should be much closer and talisman Lionel Messi should tilt things his side’s way.
Predicted score: Athletic 1-2 Barcelona at 9.5
Best bet: Barca to be ahead at both half-time and full-time at 2.18
Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid – Sun 19:30GMT
Rafa Benitez debuts as Real Madrid’s first team coach with a tricky enough looking trip to newly promoted Sporting Gijon on Sunday evening.
Former Blancos fan, youth player and reserve coach, Benitez is clearly really happy to be back at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in the top job. However, Madrid’s summer has been pretty turbulent, with long-serving captain Iker Casillas’ exit badly handled, Sergio Ramos’ new contract dragging on and on, and over €80 million spent on a variety of new players but top target David De Gea still not arriving.
The evidence from pre-season, especially Tuesday's underwhelming 2-1 Trofeo Santiago Bernabeu win over Galatasaray, is that Benitez is likely to pick Keylor Navas in goal, with Danilo getting the nod at right-back. Karim Benzema is injured, so Jese Rodriguez looks set to play at centre-forward in a 4-2-3-1. Most interesting from the warm-up matches has been Gareth Bale given a new roving number 10 role - a decision not unanimously welcomed by Blancos fans and pundits.
Sporting are back in the Primera after three years away battling serious financial issues. Coached by locally born former Barcelona and Spain centre-back Abelardo, they fought their way to promotion last year losing just twice and conceding only 27 goals in their 42 games. A close-knit squad contains 15 players who have come through their youth ranks, and is the youngest [average 23.5 years] in the division. Their summer business has been limited to just three loan moves, the most exciting arrival being Barca’s teenage Croatian playmaker Alen Halilovic, and none of the new players will start on Sunday.
El Molinon is a 29,000 sell-out, and a raucous home crowd should boost their team, but Madrid look likely to get away with a narrow win for Rafa to celebrate.
Score: Sporting 0-2 Real Madrid at 8.0
Best Bet: Less than 2.5 goals at 2.6