MADRID, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Ronald Koeman era kicks off at the Camp Nou Stadium on Sunday night when FC Barcelona entertain Villarreal in their first league game of the season.
The league debut comes after another difficult week, which followed a complicated summer in the wake of Barca's 8-2 thrashing to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. That defeat saw Quique Setien sacked as coach and replaced by Koeman and led to a clear out of the dressing room, which has so far seen Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal, Arthur Melo, Nelson Semedo and Luis Suarez all leave the club.
It was Suarez's move to Atletico Madrid this week that led to Lionel Messi writing a 'goodbye' letter to his friend in which he accused Barca's directors of 'throwing out' Suarez, adding that "nothing surprised him". All this comes after Messi's failed attempt to leave Barcelona himself this summer, which ended with him accusing club president Josep Maria Bartomeu of going back on his word.
Given those circumstances, Bartomeu will probably breathe a small sigh of relief there will be no fans in the ground for the league debut, because he would certainly receive a chorus of boos and whistles. As things are Koeman has to create a positive atmosphere in the side with Messi, who is clearly unhappy and in no mood to hide his feelings.
Nobody will doubt Messi's commitment on the pitch, however, and he will again lead the side this Sunday in an attack which will probably also see Antoine Griezmann, who now has more responsibility following Suarez's departure, and Ansu Fati, who was virtually the only good news to come out of last season.
Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Philippe Coutinho and new arrival Miralem Pjanic battle it out for three spots in midfield with Francisco Trincao likely to wait his turn on the bench.
Semedo's sale to Wolverhampton Wanderers means the defense virtually picks itself with Sergi Roberto, Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet continuing together, while Ter Stegen's knee operation means Norberto Neto will make a rare start.
Villarreal kicked off the season with a win and a draw, but strikers Gerard Moreno and former Barca frontman, Paco Alcacer have already shown they can trouble and defense in La Liga.
Given the atmosphere currently surrounding the Camp Nou, Koeman needs to start with a win, because if not things are not going to get any easier.