FC Barcelona vs Dinamo Bucureşti
Kickoff: 19:15 CET
Arena Naţională, Romania
Tomorrow evening FC Barcelona take to the field against Dinamo Bucureşti in their final friendly before the season opening clash with Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou. After two draws against Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, Barcelona will be looking to end pre-season with a morale-boosting win and are heavy favourites to do just that. The Romanian outfit slumped to a fifth-place finish in the Liga I last season, but have started the new year in better form, claiming seven points from a possible nine in their opening three games.
Dinamo coach Dario Bonetti is back for his second spell in charge after being removed from his post as Zambia coach. Despite leading the Chipolopolo to the 2012 African Cup of Nations, Bonetti was sacked by the Zambian FA; although Zambia did go on to shock the world by winning the competition. Despite losing last year’s top scorer Marius Niculae to rivals FC Vaslui, Bonetti appears to be doing a good job, thanks in part to the emergence of young forward George Ţucudean who has six goals in his four appearances this season.
Despite playing for over an hour against Manchester United, the big news from the Barcelona camp is that Dani Alves is likely to miss tomorrow’s match with an injured foot. Alves didn’t appear to be struggling, and while he should miss the match against Dinamo, there are no indications that Alves will be out for the opening match against Real Sociedad. The only other piece of "news" regarding team selection is that David Villa could make his long-awaited return tomorrow, although at this point in time, it is unlikely.
Victor Valdés will start in goal tomorrow and he will be looking to extend his clean sheet "record" under Tito Vilanova. Admittedly, he has only gone 90 minutes without conceding, but Valdés’ record does stretch two games and two world-class opponents – PSG and Manchester United. With this being the final game of pre-season, I think it would be beneficial if Tito’s first choice XI plays as long as possible, so we may not get to see Jose Manuel Pinto – but unless there are penalties, I don’t think it will matter.
In defense, Martin Montoya should start at right-back in Dani Alves’ absence, with Ilie or even Carles Puyol the most likely candidates should Tito opt to take Montoya off at any stage. At centre-half, it would be a surprise if the partnership of Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano did not start the game, with Jordi Alba in line to make his first start in Barcelona colours at left-back. Alba impressed in his cameo appearance against Manchester United, but I could equally see Tito continue to take it slowly, perhaps introducing Alba at half-time.
Sergio Busquets will start at pivote, and at this stage, it would appear as though Andrés Iniesta and Sergi Roberto could continue their partnership in support. Sergi Roberto has seen a lot of game-time in pre-season thus far, and with Cesc Fàbregas and Xavi both back and available for selection, it must be for a reason. The most likely reason is that Tito is toying with the idea of promoting Sergi from the B team to save money on further transfers, and if that is the case, Roberto should start again.
In attack, Lionel Messi is assured of a start in the false #9 position, and after Cristian Tello’s disappointing performance, I would think that Ibrahim Afellay is the favourite to be restored to the starting XI. Alexis Sanchez should keep his place on the right, and as mentioned, Afellay is most likely to start on the left, but given his lack of action in pre-season thus far, his place could just as easily go to Pedro.
Having already played three league matches this season, Dinamo are the "fitter" of the two sides, and will need all that extra fitness if they are to pull off an upset and win tomorrow. Their defense has been far from solid in the season so far, conceding five goals in three games, including two on Monday against mid-table FC Brasov. Their captain, veteran midfielder Cătălin Munteanu could pose a threat tomorrow with his experience, while legendary Romanian striker (formerly of Hercules ) Ionel Dănciulescu could exploit any complacency if he makes an appearance (likely off the bench). While the Romanians don’t employ many household names, they are a solid outfit, and in Ţucudean, they possess a real goal threat.
Dinamo Bucureşti: LLWWWD
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Montoya, Puyol, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Iniesta, Sergi Roberto; Sanchez, Messi, Afellay
Dinamo Bucureşti (4-5-1): Naumovski; Pulhac, Scutaru, Musat, Grigore; Nica, Ba, Munteanu, Alexe, Rus; Ţucudean
It will be a tough game, but I expect Barcelona to win this match, and depending on when the first goal goes in, it could be by a large margin. I’m going for a 2-0 Barcelona win.