Barcelona coach Luis Enrique highlighted the hunger of his squad not to be ousted by Real Madrid as Spanish champions after a hard-fought 1-0 win at Athletic Bilbao maintained their perfect start to the season.
The Catalans had to win their final five league games of last season to stave off Real’s late charge and claim a fifth title in seven seasons.
“It is a start to the season very like how we ended last season. All the players are involved, all the players have the desire and hunger to be first,” said the Barca coach.
Four wins to start the new campaign, including two in the Spanish Super Cup over Sevilla, have come about despite the absence of Neymar due to his participation in the Olympics and injured captain Andres Iniesta.
“We still have players to come back, players that have suffered injuries in pre-season, but we have a great squad and everyone is desperate to compete,” added Luis Enrique.
One area of competition within the squad was eased this week as Claudio Bravo signed for Manchester City, clearing the way for Marc-Andre ter Stegen to become Barca’s undisputed number-one goalkeeper.
Bravo and Ter Stegen have shared duties over the past two seasons with the former playing in La Liga, while the German featured in the Champions League and Copa del Rey.
Ter Stegen’s passing style from the back was in full evidence as he completed a La Liga record 51 passes for a goalkeeper, but also nearly cost Barca the opening goal with a poor clearance.
However, Luis Enrique described his goalkeeper as being a “good German” for his calmness under pressure.
“Ter Stegen has cold blood, he is German and I think he is a good German.
“He is very able (to play out from the back) because of the quality he possesses.”
Ter Stegen was constantly pressed by the Athletic front line, but believes he will only improve after his first appearance of the season due to a knee injury.
“Here it is always difficult to play short passes out from the back,” he said.
“For me it was the first game and after an injury it is always a bit more difficult.
“In the coming games I think I will have more confidence in the things I do and with the knee.”
Dutch ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen joined from Ajax in midweek to replace Bravo and Ter Stegen expects competition from he and perennial third choice Jordi Masip for his place in the side.
“We have good competition which is very good for all three of us. I hope everything is loyal and we can fight for our place as it should be.” – Agence France-Presse