FC Barcelona vs Raja Club Athletic
Kick-off: 00:00 CET
Stade Mohamed V, Casablanca
Tomorrow night Barcelona will take to the field for the second time this pre-season as they visit Morocco to face Raja Club Athletic – or as they are more commonly known, Raja Casablanca. As Barcelona are no longer embarking on the usual tours to Asia or America, it’s clear that this match is meant to be a money-spinner for the club. Raja Casablanca are one of Morocco’s most prominent clubs, and historically they have been amongst the best clubs in Africa, but they should still be no match for the Blaugrana, no matter who takes the field.
Tito Vilanova is heading into the game with no fresh injury concerns, although the majority of the first team squad is still either away on holiday, recovering from injury or representing their nation at the Olympics. Therefore, the squad for tomorrow’s match will essentially be the same as it was on Tuesday, although Lionel Messi has recovered and will travel, and of course Marc Muniesa is sidelined with a torn ACL, so is likely to be replaced by David Lomban. With the match being played late at night, presumably to combat the climate, the biggest challenge for Barcelona will be adjusting to the synthetic pitch at the Stade Mohamed V.
As mentioned above, the Blaugrana have no fresh injury concerns within the first team squad. Players such as Carles Puyol, David Villa and Andreu Fontas are nearing a recovery with Puyol in particular likely to be ready for the friendly in Paris against PSG. Therefore, Jose Manuel Pinto is likely to start in goal, but don’t rule out a start for Oier Olazabal after his brief cameo against Hamburg. I’m sure Tito is looking at Oier closely, and this match provides the perfect opportunity for Oier to display his skills.
In defense, I fully expect the Blaugrana to opt for the same defense that started against Hamburg, meaning a back-four of Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Marc Bartra and Adriano Correia. After conceding in the 45 minutes they played together against HSV, a clean-sheet will be top of their wish-list and it’s up to them to deliver, especially against opposition such as Raja Casablanca.
Things are much the same in the midfield – Jonathan Dos Santos will keep his place at pivote, with Javier Espinosa and Sergi Roberto two of the candidates to complete the midfield. However, as Sergi played the full 90 minutes against Hamburg, we can effectively rule out him doing the same here, and with Lionel Messi returning, we may well see Ibrahim Afellay pushed back into midfield. If that is the case, Tito would have the option of switching to 4-2-3-1 (or 4-6-0) with JDS and Espinosa as the deep-lying playmakers, and Afellay, Sanchez and Deulofeu supporting Messi. Considering how the front-three performed together against HSV, a front-four of sorts could work well, but I fully expect Tito to stick with the 4-3-3.
Completing the line-up would be the front-three, and with Lionel Messi nigh-on guaranteed to start – injury problems or not – there are just two spaces up for grabs and those two spaces should go to Alexis Sanchez and Gerard Deulofeu.
Raja Casablanca are a difficult team to research, but here’s what I found out. Firstly, despite being one of the most prominent clubs in Morocco, none of their players have been called up to the Olympic squad – mostly due to the fact that the club has an "old" squad in terms of average age. New signing and Tunisian international, Adel Chedli could start in midfield, and at 35 he brings top level experience to the Green Eagles having played for A.S.S.E and Sochaux in France after leaving the Manchester United academy. He’s spent the last two years in his home country, and he could cause problems for our young midfield. In attack Raja can call upon emerging star Yassine Salhi, who at 24 is a "late bloomer" of sorts but he has been impressing in recent showings for the national side. On the other hand, coach Mohamed Fakir might opt for the experience of Bouchaib El Moubarki who not only played in their Club World Cup match with Real Madrid way back in 2000 but also got himself sent off for fighting with Guti after the Madridista kicked one of his team-mates who lay injured on the pitch. That makes him a good guy in my books! Coming off the back of consecutive friendly wins, including a 3-1 victory against Athletic Bilbao, they are not to be underestimated.
Raja Casablanca: WLWLLW
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Pinto; Alves, Bartra, Mascherano, Adriano; JDS, Espinosa, Afellay; Sanchez, Messi, Deulofeu
Barcelona to cruise to a win with the majority of the goals coming in the first half. If Messi starts, I would go for 4-1 win.