Athletic Bilbao will be attempting to put European distractions to one side as they kick off the new La Liga campaign with tonight’s testing trip to Malaga.
The Basque club finished fourth last season to enter the Champions League for the first time in 15 years, and on Tuesday they put themselves in a strong position to progress to the group stage by earning a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their qualifying tie against Napoli.
With the return leg at the San Mames looming on Wednesday, manager Ernesto Valverde is urging his players to focus on making a strong start to their league campaign, saying: “We want to get underway with three points.
“Our team always plays with intensity, even in friendlies, and if we can win against Malaga it would give us a lot of morale.”
Following the summer departure of German legend Bernd Schuster, hosts Malaga are now under the leadership of Javi Gracia, who was most recently in charge of Osasuna’s ultimately failed attempt to avoid relegation last season.
Another intriguing fixture on the season’s opening day will be contested between Sevilla and Valencia
at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, with the hosts set to give league debuts to Barcelona loanees Gerard Deulofeu and Denis Suarez as they face up to life without former captain and new Barca star Ivan Rakitic.
The game also represents the dawning of a new era for visiting Valencia, who enter the campaign under new ownership following a protracted takeover by Singaporean businessman Peter Lim.
After two successive mid-table finishes, Lim has pledged to restore Valencia to their former position as title candidates, but his control of the club was confirmed too late for many major moves in the summer transfer market. One new arrival at Valencia is yet another manager, Nuno, who becomes the team’s fifth boss in the space of two years.
Elsewhere, newcomers Deportivo La Coruna make the long journey south to face Granada and the late game sees Almeria host perennial mid-table side Espanyol
LA LIGA FIXTURES
21:00 Malaga v Athletic Bilbao
23:00 Granada v Deportivo
23:00 Sevilla v Valencia
1:00 (+1) Almeria v Espanyol
21:00 Eibar v Real Sociedad
23:00 Barcelona v Elche
23:00 Celta Vigo v Getafe
1:00 (+1) Levante v Villareal
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