Madrid (AFP) – The most expensive player in Barcelona’s history will take to the field for the first time on Saturday as Ousmane Dembele debuts in a Catalan derby against Espanyol.
Atletico Madrid travel to a revitalised Valencia in the headline clash of the weekend, whilst there is an early start for champions Real Madrid.
Here, AFP Sports looks at five things to watch from the La Liga weekend.
Dembele a cure for FIFA virus?
The arrival of the 105-million-euro ($125 million) Frenchman is a much-needed tonic for Barca in the midst of continuing institutional chaos with ongoing public clashes between the board and leading players.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu claimed new contracts for Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, whose deals expire next summer, were a matter of time on Tuesday only for Iniesta to flatly deny that claim a day later.
On the field Barca need to ensure they don’t suffer their habitual hangover from international breaks known locally as the “FIFA virus”.
This time last year Barca suffered a shock 2-1 home defeat to Alaves as Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez started on the bench following their international commitments.
With Messi and Suarez only arriving back in the Catalan capital on Thursday after two crucial World Cup qualifiers in South America, Espanyol will rarely have a better chance for a first win at the Camp Nou since 2009.
Acid test for Atletico
It has been a highly promising week for Atletico as inspirational coach Diego Simeone extended his contract till 2020, whilst the pitch was laid among finishing touches to the club’s new 68,000 capacity stadium.
Since Simeone took charge in 2011, Valencia have had 11 coaches. However, their latest hire in Marcelino finally appears to putting Los Che back on the right track.
Valencia took a point from a thrilling 2-2 draw away to Real Madrid before the international break and have since been further boosted by the arrivals of Goncalo Guedes and Andreas Pereira on loan from PSG and Manchester United.
Should Atletico emerge unscathed from the Mestalla not having lost ground on Real after three away games to start their season, a serious title challenge is realistic.
Rise and shine Real
La Liga president Javier Tebas has continued his war against PSG’s free-spending since snatching Neymar away from Barcelona, accusing the Parisians and Manchester City of “peeing into the pool” in their disrespect for financial fair play.