La Liga Preview: Barcelona v Levante
By Football News
Lionel Messi remains a serious injury doubt as Barcelona get their La Liga title defence under way at home to Levante on Sunday.
The 26-year-old sustained a minor thigh strain during the Spanish champions' pre-season tour of the Far East - an injury that kept him out of Argentina's 2-1 win over Italy in Rome on Wednesday.
Messi has undergone rehabilitation training with Barcelona's medical personnel in a bid to be fit for selection in Gerardo Martino's first competitive fixture in charge.
But with a hectic schedule in the next two weeks, which includes a two-leg Supercopa de Espana final with Atletico Madrid on August 21 and 28, Martino may decide to rest his star player.
Manchester United target Cesc Fabregas is also doubtful after he sprained his ankle in the club's 3-1 pre-season victory over a Malaysia XI on August 10.
Nevertheless, history is on the side of Martino - who took over from Tito Vilanova last month - as six of Barcelona's eight previous managers have tasted success in their first league match, with only Pep Guardiola losing in a 1-0 defeat away to Numancia in 2008.
And the new boss could hand a competitive debut to Brazil international Neymar, who signed from Santos in May in a move worth around £50million.
Levante have never won at the Camp Nou, but they were unlucky in their last visit when a late Fabregas goal consigned them to a 1-0 defeat on April 20.
After a sixth-placed finish and subsequent UEFA Europa League qualification in 2011-12, Levante slipped to 11th last time around.
In a bid to improve on that performance, the club brought in Joaquin Caparros to replace former manager Juan Ignacio Martinez.
And Caparros has been busy in the transfer window so far, bringing in the likes of forward David Barral from Orduspor, midfielder Jordi Xumetra from Elche and goalkeeper Javi Jimenez from Murcia.
However, the new manager may not be able to call on ther services of Ruben Garcia and Papakouli Diop at the Camp Nou, as both are struggling for fitness.