Valverde backs Suarez to start with a bang as Barcelona launch title defence

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Luis Suarez has been backed to hit the ground running despite enduring an unimpressive pre-season when Barcelona launch their La Liga title defence.

Suarez struggled to make any impact as a starter against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup and replacement in the friendly against Boca Juniors – his first appearances since helping Uruguay reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

The 31-year-old striker will act as Barcelona’s spearhead in their season-launching showdown with Alaves at the Nou Camp and while coach Ernesto Valverde is aware of his slow start last season, he insists he will soon burst into life.

“Luis is fine. He’s only just coming back from his break, so he’s gradually getting up to speed, but he looks good,” Valverde said.

“Luis is a goalscorer. He’s aggressive in the area. We know what he gives us. Regardless of his success in front of goal, the fight is always there.

“Last year, at the beginning, there were criticisms because it took him a while to start scoring, but when he started he did not stop.

“He guarantees fight in front of the goal. It’s a matter of patience and perseverance, and what Luis has is perseverance. Once he gets started he doesn’t stop. He’ll keep plugging away.”

Valverde has revealed that Lionel Messi could be used on the right and views the Argentina playmaker’s wellbeing as key as he looks to make up for a disappointing World Cup.

“It’s possible – we know his tendency to be drawn to where the ball is,” Valverde said.

“Whether Messi plays out wide or through the middle, it’s always an advantage for us. That’s how we’ve started ahead of the new season, we’ll see how he gets on.

“Like everyone else, Messi needs to feel comfortable, be involved in the game, score and set up goals. I think that’s practically what every player needs.

“But it’s true that there is a lot of commotion around Leo just for who he is – both here and in Argentina.

“What we have to do is create an environment for him in which he feels happy out on the pitch.”

New signings Clement Lenglet, Arthur, Arturo Vidal and Malcom have been involved in pre-season but their roles against Alaves has yet to be revealed, although they are unlikely to be in the starting line-up.

Alaves, who are managed by former Barcelona defender Abelardo Fernandez, finished in 14th place last season but have been widely tipped to struggle in this campaign.

However, they were the last team to win in La Liga at the Nou Camp two years ago.

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