Evening all! Sports Mole
's live La Liga coverage for the 2018-19 campaign opens from Camp Nou as the Spanish champions Barcelona
welcome Basque outfit Alaves. Ernesto Valverde's side will be looking to start their title defence with a win, but Alaves are sure to provide tricky opposition tonight. Stay tuned for live minute-by-minute updates of the La Liga action from Catalonia!
Barcelona needed a late Lionel Messi
strike to beat Alaves in the corresponding league match last season, while the clash in the Basque Country earlier in the campaign was also tight - Messi scoring a double in a 2-0 Barcelona win. Alaves famously recorded a 2-1 success at Camp Nou back in September 2016, however, with the then newly-promoted outfit shocking Spanish football.
Right, without further ado, let me bring you up-to-speed with the all-important team news from Camp Nou. How many new arrivals make their La Liga debuts in this match? Let's run through the two XIs...
BARCA: Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Rakitic, Busquets, Roberto; Messi, Suarez, Dembele
ALAVES: Pacheco; Martin, Laguardia, Maripan, Duarte; Manu, Wakaso, Torres; Jony, Sobrino, Ibai Gomez
So there we have it. Barcelona have boosted their squad this summer with new arrivals, but there are no debutants in the XI tonight. Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique will start as the two centre-backs, while Sergi Roberto - who missed the Sevilla clash through suspension - features in central midfield. Lionel Messi will skipper the home side, and he is joined by Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele in attack.
As for Alaves, Martin starts at right-back having been promoted from the club's B team, while there is a spot in attack for Jony, who joined the club on loan from Malaga this summer. There is no John Guidetti tonight, meaning that former Real Madrid youngster Ruben Sobrino will lead the attack.
So there we have it. The two teams are in, and we are now just about 40 minutes from kickoff at Camp Nou. I shall speak about the away side a little bit later, but let's start with Barcelona. As mentioned above, Valverde's side beat Sevilla 2-1 in Morocco last weekend to win the Spanish Super Cup, before recording a 3-0 win over Boca Juniors in the Juan Gamper Trophy on Wednesday night.
Barcelona reclaimed the Spanish title from Real Madrid last season, and they did not really need to break a sweat. Indeed, the Catalan giants won 28 of their 38 league matches – suffering just one defeat – to collect 93 points. Second-placed Atletico Madrid were 14 points behind, with Real Madrid ultimately finishing the season 17 points off the top of the table, which is quite incredible.
Real Madrid have now lost a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, and looked all over the place in their 4-2 defeat to Atletico in the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday night. Barcelona have been installed as the favourites to win yet another La Liga title, and will be confident of opening with a win tonight.
Malcom, Clement Lenglet, Arthur and Arturo Vidal have all arrived at Barcelona this summer, and all have settled well at the club. Barcelona ultimately fell short in the Champions League last season, and there is no question that the supporters will be expecting a better challenge in Europe this term.
In terms of what is ahead for Barcelona, they will open their La Liga season tonight before travelling to Real Valladolid next weekend. Valverde's side will then take on Huesca at Camp Nou on September 2, before visiting Real Sociedad immediately after the international break. The group stages of the Champions League, meanwhile, will also start next month. It is all go once again!
As for Alaves, the Basque outfit have finished ninth and 14th in their two seasons back in the top flight of Spanish football. Former Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino led them to a ninth-placed finish during the 2016-17 season, before finishing last term in 14th - well clear of the bottom three.
Alaves also reached the final of the 2016-17 Copa del Rey, and made the quarter-finals of the competition last season. It has been a very impressive last couple of years for Babazorros, and as mentioned above, they know what it takes to win at Camp Nou. Can the visitors shock Barcelona tonight?
In terms of what is ahead for Alaves, they will face Barcelona tonight before hosting Real Betis next weekend. Abelardo's team then welcome Espanyol at the start of next month ahead of the September international break. The atmosphere continues to build at Camp Nou as we near kickoff here.
It has been a busy summer for Alaves, meanwhile, with the likes of John Guidetti, Patrick Twumasi, Tomas Pina and Rafa Navarro joining the club. Right, the time for talking is almost over. Both sets of players are due on the field at any moment. It is Barcelona versus Alaves in Spain's top flight!
KICKOFF: Alaves kick things off at Camp Nou...
... as expected, Barcelona have taken control of the possession in the first couple of minutes, with Pique bringing the ball forward. Alaves look to be set up in a 4-5-1 formation at the moment here.
CHANCE! Big chance for Messi as the Argentine races onto a pass from Busquets before striking towards goal, but his effort just misses the far post. First big moment of the match here.
Jony breaks forward for the away side before delivering a low cross towards Sobrino, but Barcelona goalkeeper Ter Stegen does well to claim. Barcelona are straight down the other end with Roberto, but the midfielder cannot find Luis Suarez. End-to-end football in the last couple of minutes.
CHANCE! Messi finds Alba with a wonderful pass, and the left-back hits the side-netting with his shot. Messi and Alba have formed an excellent relationship on the field over the last 12 months.
Good defending from Semedo following a mistake from Ter Stegen, whose pass was poor. Alaves are not shy in pushing up the field at the moment, and that is creating a very open game of football.
Messi dances past a couple of challenges before looking to pass the ball into Suarez, but Alaves manage to clear their lines, and Ibai Gomez is away again in a wide position for the away side.
YELLOW CARD! Torres (Alaves) is booked for a poor tackle on Busquets.
Barcelona continue to enjoy plenty of the ball in the final third of the field, but Alaves are nice and compact in a defensive area, and are certainly not afraid to commit players forward on the break.
Messi finds Suarez with a wonderful pass, but the striker cannot gather the ball under his spell, and Alaves escape a dangerous moment. Suarez has started quite sloppy once again here.
Still goalless with 14 minutes on the clock, and Alaves can be pretty pleased with their work thus far. The home side have had a couple of half-chances, but Pacheco has not been worked here.
CHANCE! Big moment for Alaves as Garcia delivers a dangerous cross into the Barcelona box, and Sobrino almost gets there, only for Pique to come across and make the clearance.
SAVE! Comfortable save for Pacheco as he keeps out a curling Messi strike.
CHANCE! Another chance for the away side as Manu Garcia delivers a dangerous cross towards Sobrino, but the number seven can only bundle his effort wide of the post!
Smart defending from Laguardia as the Alaves centre-back comes across to challenge Roberto, who was looking to pick out Luis Suarez. It is a very open game of football in Catalonia tonight.
SHOT! Luis Suarez sends one harmlessly over the Alaves crossbar from inside the box.
Alaves are just struggling to get out of their own half at the moment as Barcelona continue to dominate the ball, but nothing much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of minutes.
Still all Barcelona in terms of possession, but Alaves are not overly concerned at the moment.
Dembele continues to see plenty of the ball just outside the Alaves box, but there is no space in the really dangerous positions. Alaves can be delighted with their first 26 minutes of football here.
Roberto shows his frustration as he brings Jony to the ground in a wide position, which allows Alaves to move high up the field. The free kick is delivered into the Barcelona box, but the danger is cleared.
Dembele has the chance to run away from the Alaves defence, but the Frenchman cannot squeeze a pass into Messi, who would have been able to drive into a dangerous position. Dembele is having a lot of the ball, but is just struggling to find that final pass at the moment. Still goalless at Camp Nou.
Little over 10 minutes of the first period remaining, and Barcelona continue to dominate the ball without really threatening to make the breakthrough. Dembele has just broken into the Alaves box, but his effort was well wide of the post. Half-chance, but certainly no more than that.
Dembele has probably been Barcelona's best player in the first period, and the Frenchman has just delivered a low cross into the arms of the Alaves goalkeeper. Still 0-0 with 35 minutes on the clock.
More good defending from Martin as the Alaves full-back clears a low cross from Suarez. The resulting corner comes in towards Pique and eventually out to Messi, before Rakitic flicks over.
Barcelona have a free kick in a very dangerous area as Messi is felled by Duarte...
OFF THE BAR! ... Messi's free kick strikes the crossbar! Wow!
SAVE! Super save from Pacheco to keep out a strike from Dembele!
Alaves break clear once again, but Ibai Gomez delivers his cross out for a goal kick, which is poor. The away side could do with the break here as Barcelona continue to put the pressure on.
CHANCE! Suarez lifts the ball over Pacheco on the run, but Maripan is across to clear behind with his head! Suarez still not at his sharpest there is no question about that.
Alaves are coming under serious pressure as we approach the interval here.
CLOSE! Dembele slices wide of the post following another slick Barcelona move!
HALF TIME: BARCELONA 0-0 ALAVES
So there we have it. The referee brings the first period to a close with the two teams level at 0-0. While Alaves have had their moments, it has been a first 45 minutes largely dominated by Barcelona. Dembele, Messi and Suarez have all had chances, but the score is goalless at the half-time break.
STATISTICS! Barcelona dominated the first-half possession with 77%, while they had 11 attempts, but just two of those were on target. Alaves, meanwhile, only managed one attempt off target in the first half of action. Two yellow cards to report - Torres and Maripan both in the book for the away side.
BENCH WATCH! Barcelona boss Valverde has an embarrassment of riches on his bench tonight, with Rafinha, Coutinho, Arthur, Malcom and Arturo Vidal all available. I suspect that we will see at least two of those in the second period, with Coutinho the most likely to appear first. As for Alaves, head coach Abelardo has options in the shape of Baston, Burgui, Marin and summer signing Twumasi.
KICKOFF: Barcelona resume the action here...
... BARCELONA SUB! Coutinho replaces Semedo for the home side.
Half-chance for Barcelona as Messi finds Suarez with another super pass, but the striker cannot gather the ball under his spell. Alaves then put together a smart move down the other end.
SAVE! Pacheco makes a smart save to keep out a strike from Alba!
Wonderful work from Messi and Suarez once again, but the final cross from Roberto is too strong. Just a bit more movement and intensity from Barcelona in the early stages of the second period.
The ball falls kindly for Wakaso in a dangerous position, but his strike is blocked. It would not be that much of a shock if Alaves took the lead because they are certainly a threat in this match.
Jony has just threatened to race clear of the Barcelona defence, but Ter Stegen was out and simply lifted the ball over the onrushing attacker. That was wonderful confidence from the German there.
Suarez strikes towards the Alaves goal, but Maripan makes the block, and Pacheco can jump on the ball. Alaves are just riding their luck a touch, but the score remains 0-0 with 57 minutes on the clock.
More strong defending from the away side as Suarez lets another ball get away from him. Another corner comes into the Alaves box, and the danger is cleared. Little over 30 minutes to play here.
SHOT! Messi's strike from distance was always missing the crossbar!
Barcelona have all four of their new signings on their bench tonight, and it will be very interesting to see whether we see any of them. Still more than 30 minutes of football remaining at Camp Nou.
Pacheco comes out to deny Messi, but the offside flag had been raised.
Little over 25 minutes of football remaining, and Barcelona are on the front foot. There will become a time where Alaves need to ease some of the pressure because it is just constant at the moment.
Barcelona have a free kick just outside the box as Messi is felled...
GOAL! ... BARCELONA 1-0 ALAVES (MESSI)
It just had to be him didn't it! Had to be! Messi finds the back of the net with a free kick, although it did take a little deflection before finding the back of the net. Horrible moment for Alaves.
There was actually no deflection - Messi's free kick just went under the wall!
OFF THE BAR! Messi hits the woodwork for the second time with a curling effort!
Alaves will now have to push players forward, which will leave more space down the other end of the field. Still more than 20 minutes remaining here, and we are set up for a very interesting finish.
ALAVES SUBS! Marin and Baston replace Torres and Jony for the visitors.
Sobrino holds his hamstring once again, and there will surely need to be a change for the visitors.
ALAVES SUB! Burgui replaces Sobrino for the away side.
Little over 15 minutes of the second period remaining, and Messi's goal remains the difference. However, you do get the feeling that there is another goal to come in the latter stages here.
SAVE! Pacheco keeps out a strike from Suarez, whose frustrations continue!
Alaves still have plenty of time to find a leveller here, and they are pressing men forward.
BARCELONA SUB! Arthur replaces Dembele for the home side.
Little over 10 minutes of the second period remaining, and Messi's free kick remains the difference. You do get the feeling, however, that there is going to be a second goal in the latter stages.
Maripan comes close to meeting a dangerous free kick into the Barcelona box, but the centre-back cannot make contact. Alaves have three players in the home side's half of the field at the moment.
SAVE! Another smart save from Pacheco to keep out a Coutinho effort! Messi had found the Brazilian with a wonderful pass, but the Alaves goalkeeper was on hand to make the save.
GOAL! BARCELONA 2-0 ALAVES (COUTINHO)
No mistake from Coutinho this time! Indeed, the Brazilian dances into the Alaves box before finding the back of the net with a stunning hit! That is game, set and match for the home side.
BARCELONA SUB! Vidal replaces Busquets for the home side.
Barcelona pass and probe as they close on all three points at Camp Nou tonight.
Pass, pass, pass from Barcelona as we head for the 90th minute of this contest.
SAVE! Another good save from Pacheco to keep out a strike from Messi!
We are into the second and final minute of added time at the end of the 90 here.
GOAL! BARCELONA 3-0 ALAVES (MESSI)
Messi scores his second of the match in the closing moments as the Argentine passes the ball into the bottom corner following some poor defending from the away side!
FULL TIME: BARCELONA 3-0 ALAVES
So there we have it. Barcelona finish as 3-0 winners on the opening weekend of the new season. Messi with two, and Coutinho with the other! Thanks for joining Sports Mole for our live coverage once again, and be sure to check back in tomorrow for more live action.