​For the first time in almost a decade, Barcelona will be forced to play the opening game of the season without the talismanic Lionel Messi. 


The La Liga champions kick off their title defence with a trip to Athletic Bilbao on Friday, and go into the opener in sizzling form, having won four out of their five pre-season matches - a defeat to Chelsea in July the sole blemish on the record. 


They have been a ​Messi-less entity throughout their preparations, however, having lost their captain to a calf injury in the opening stages of pre-season, and will continue in his absence with a trip to the Basque region after Ernesto Valverde confirmed he wouldn't be risked. 

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“We never like to risk any players and much less someone like Leo," ​he said“He still hasn’t returned to training with the team and while we are happy with his progress, individual training is very different to playing a match. We are going to wait and see.”


It means we will be seeing the first ​Barcelona opener since 2009 that doesn't feature the Argentine from the start, with a victory over Sporting Gijon in the 2009/10 season opener the last time he was sidelined at this stage.


It may prove to be a good omen for Barca, however, as goals from Bojan, Seydou Keita and Zlatan Ibrahimovic secured a 3-0 win back then, and the first of 31 victories that would secure an historic 99-point season - although ​Real Madrid pushed them all the way, finishing on 96. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic,Gerard Pique,Xavi Hernandez

Since then, Messi has scored 14 goals in the nine opening ​La Liga games in which he has featured, but in his stead they have a reasonable stand-in in the form of summer signing Antoine Griezmann. 


The Frenchman will likely join Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele in a deputy front three, as each of the forwards vie to keep their place in the side upon Messi's eventual return.