FC Barcelona vs Manchester United
Kickoff: 19:00 GMT
The match will be shown live on TV3
Tomorrow evening FC Barcelona will take to the field looking to extend their unbeaten run to four pre-season friendlies, and if possible, get back to winning ways when they face Manchester United in Gothenburg. Despite starting their pre-season preparations at an earlier date than the Blaugrana, United have only played one match more and even then, the majority of their key players are lacking in fitness having only just returned from their holidays. Factor in the quality of the teams that Manchester United have faced, and one could argue that Barcelona are in a far better position heading into tomorrow’s match-up.
Now, a large part of that is down to the presence of one man – for the first season in years, Lionel Messi has been able to play in pre-season right from the start. Given the change around the club in the past couple of months, it was crucial that Barcelona had a figurehead for the early matches – a standard-bearer if you will, and Messi has been that man. Four goals, numerous assists; Messi has picked up exactly where he left off last season, although there is still room for improvement. He is yet to re-adjust to the rigours of his role at Barcelona, a role where he is expected to both create and score. Against PSG, Messi was not at his best, and (perhaps coincidentally) Barcelona could only manage a draw. There are no doubts surrounding the Argentine, but with David Villa still sidelined, the Blaugrana need Messi to be at his best straight from the word "go".
There has been mixed news on the injury front for Tito in recent days as the returns of Adriano and Andreu Fontas have been overshadowed by the knock suffered by Jonathan Dos Santos. The Mexican rejected a spot in his country’s Olympic team to stay with the team and prove his worth to his new coach, but this injury will rob him of his best opportunity to do so. Jordi Alba is back from his leave and therefore could make his debut tomorrow (more on him in a little while), but all those hoping David Villa could make his long-awaited return over the course of the next two games will have to wait a little longer – the Spaniard is still yet to receive medical clearance to play.
Victor Valdés should start in goal for the Blaugrana having kept a clean sheet in his 45 minute appearance against PSG on Saturday. Admittedly, Jose Manuel Pinto did impress with his penalty-stopping skills in the very same match, but unless the defense are planning on giving away a few PKs, Valdés is the man for the job, especially as United may be looking to press high up the field in order to stop the Barcelona attacks in their infancy. Valdés is comfortable on the ball, and his distribution will be vital tomorrow.
The right-back berth will be filled by Dani Alves who has been excellent in pre-season thus far, while Martin Montoya has faltered for what seems to be the first time in his short career. The Olympics were a far from happy experience for our young full-back, and it was his error that allowed PSG back into the game via the penalty spot. Joining the Brazilian in defense should (in my opinion) be Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué, as Tito made an error in Saturday’s match, pairing Puyol with Mascherano, and leaving Piqué with Marc Bartra. There was nothing wrong with the pairings on paper, but the latter were far less mobile, and were made to pay as a result. At left-back, I would love to see Jordi Alba make his bow tomorrow, but will it be as a starter? That remains to be seen.
Sergio Busquets will start at pivote, although he may face competition from Ilie, who was impressive against HSV. Naturally, no-one expects Ilie to start, but with JDS out injured, he should at least get some minutes off the bench. After wrongly predicting starts for Xavi and Andrés Iniesta in the last match, feel free to ignore my latest prediction, but I suspect Tito will opt for Rafinha alongside Cesc Fàbregas, with Xavi and Iniesta coming off the bench to form a midfield trio with Sergi Roberto. Rafinha was good against PSG, while Cesc should (in theory) be the most "fresh" of all the midfield options having played the least at the European Championships.
Then, rounding off the team I think we will see a third successive start for the Ibrahim Afellay, Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi frontline, but I could see Ibi being pushed back to midfield with Pedro getting his first start under Tito. Pedro has always been a player for the big occasions and having scored in the Champions League final some 15 months ago, it would be great to see Pedro start with a view to him rediscovering his very best form. Cristian Tello is another candidate for a starting positon, but as he hasn’t yet earned a first team spot, his chances are slim at best.
Patrice Evra is ready to make a comeback having missed United’s last match with Valerenga, but Phil Jones is still sidelined with an injury. Therefore, expect a team similar to the one that started against Valerenga, with David De Gea likely to replace Anders Lindergaard in goal. Antonio Valencia played that match at right-back – a potential weakness for the Blaugrana to exploit, although first-choice paring Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are likely to start as well. The midfield looks dangerous; Nani, Shinji Kagawa and Ashley Young are all poised to start behind Wayne Rooney, but Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes should not pose too much of a threat to the likes of Xavi and Iniesta – if they start.
Manchester United: WWWDWD
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Alba; Busquets, Fàbregas, Rafinha; Afellay, Messi, Sanchez
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Valencia, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Carrick, Scholes; Nani, Young, Kagawa; Rooney
Barcelona’s attacking threat will be too much for the rather weak United backline; I say 2-1 Barca