Gerardo Martino bringing back Barcelona intensity, says Xavi
Gerardo Martino's insistence on pressing high up the field was very evident in his only game at the Camp Nou so far as FC Barcelona destroyed Santos 8-0 in a friendly that formed part of the deal to bring Neymar to the Spanish champions.
Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez believes his side will rekindle their intensity and pressing under the tutelage of new manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino.
The Argentine was appointed less than four weeks before Barca kick off the defence of their league title against Levante on Sunday, after Tito Vilanova had to resign due to on-going health problems.
However, Xavi believes the squad are adjusting well to Martino's methods and has backed the new coach to be a success despite his lack of managerial experience in Europe.
"He is a leader, capable, prepared and has experience," the 33-year-old told Barcelona sports daily Sport.
"He is transmitting a lot to us. We are recovering a little of the intensity and rhythm that perhaps we lost for various reasons towards the end of last season. We are pressing very well and working well physically.
"He is adding things that he is influencing a lot. For example, on set-pieces we are working differently. We are adjusting and he is a guy that is very clear about what he wants."
Martino's insistence on pressing high up the field was very evident in his only game at the Camp Nou so far as Barca destroyed Santos 8-0 in a friendly that formed part of the deal to bring Neymar to the Spanish champions.
The Brazilian international will also make his competitive Barcelona debut against Levante, but World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is a doubt as he continues to recover from the quadriceps injury that forced him to miss Argentina's friendly with Italy on Wednesday.
Captain Carles Puyol will definitely be absent for the Catalans after he underwent knee surgery to remove a cyst last month, but Cesc Fabregas and Pedro Rodriguez should be fit to play despite missing Spain's friendly with Ecuador in midweek due to minor injuries.
Real Madrid also get their league campaign underway on Sunday with a new man in charge as Carlo Ancelotti makes his bow at the Santiago Bernabeu where Real Betis are the visitors.
Los Blancos have enjoyed a superb pre-season that encompassed victories over Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Inter Milan and Ancelotti will have a wealth of midfield options to choose from following the capture of Isco and Asier Illarramendi from Malaga and Real Sociedad respectively.
Arguably the most enticing fixture of the opening weekend though comes at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan where a new-look Sevilla side host Atletico Madrid.
Atletico enjoyed a fantastic campaign last season as they finished third and won the Copa del Rey. As a result they will face Barcelona in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup next week and have Champions League football to look forward to.
However, coach Diego Simeone has insisted it is important that his team maintain the consistency they showed in the league last season, starting on Sunday.
"We need to continue in the same way, looking for the consistency we had last season. Therefore, we can't look beyond the present and that is Sevilla," he told the club's website.
"We need to start again at zero and not get away from going game by game. We have had a good pre-season, especially physically, and we have been competitive."
New signings David Villa and Leo Baptistao are likely to be involved for Atleti as they try to compensate for the loss of Radamel Falcao, who joined Monaco back in June.
However, the transfer activity at Atleti hasn't compared to that at Sevilla and coach Unai Emery could hand debuts to as many as 10 new recruits as the Andalusians have rebuilt following the departures of Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Gary Medel.
Real Sociedad v Getafe (1700 GMT), Valladolid v Athletic Bilbao (1900 GMT), Valencia v Malaga (2100 GMT)
Barcelona v Levante (1700 GMT), Real Madrid v Real Betis, Osasuna v Granada (both 1900 GMT), Sevilla v Atletico Madrid (2100 GMT)
Rayo Vallecano v Elche (1800 GMT), Celta Vigo v Espanyol, Almeria v Villarreal (2000 GMT)