FC Barcelona will be looking to secure their first trophy of Gerardo Martino’s reign as manager tomorrow, as they take on Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou in the second-leg of the 2013 Supercopa de España. With the tie evenly poised at 1-1 following Barcelona’s come-from-behind draw at the Vicente Calderon, both sides will have eyes on the trophy, although ultimately, it is likely to come down to this 90 minutes and the full-time result tomorrow evening, rather than Neymar’s superb headed away goal.
That’s not to say that Neymar’s goal will not play it’s part; few expected last year’s competition to go to away goals, in spite of the fact that the two contesting teams (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona) were so evenly-matched – yet after two matches, the title was awarded to Real Madrid on the away goals rule, marking the first-time in the tournament’s history that the two-legged affair had ended in such a manner.
Atletico Madrid however enter the match knowing that an away goals win is perhaps their best, or at least most realistic shot at taking the trophy back to the capital. They haven’t escaped the Camp Nou with a victory in eight years, a streak that goes back nine matches – and even then, Atleti have only avoided defeat once, in a 1-1 draw back in 2006.
Since that night, Atletico have lost seven straight at the Camp Nou, conceding a staggering 28 goals in the process. Lionel Messi alone has scored ten goals in his last four Camp Nou starts against Madrid’s other club.
Diego Simeone will point to Atletico’s impressive away form – Los Colchoneros last tasted defeat away from home back in February, against Rayo Vallecano – but no matter how he looks at it, he will know just how difficult a task awaits his squad.
Both Lionel Messi and Adriano Correia are back in training with the rest of the squad, and as a result, Gerardo Martino is expected to have a fully-fit squad to pick his starting line-up from – of course with a few exceptions, as Carles Puyol, Ibrahim Afellay and Isaac Cuenca are all still sidelined for the foreseeable future. There are no suspensions either – and consequently, Martino is tipped to name a similar team to the one that started last week’s fixture at the Calderon.
Victor Valdés will start in goal hoping to keep his third clean sheet of this young season, and while Jordi Alba has received a little criticism in recent weeks, Martino may opt for an unchanged backline as well, particularly as Adriano has only just recovered from injury. My feeling is similar to the shifting public opinion on Alba – he can be a liability – but I also believe that Barcelona can "get away" with starting Alba against top teams; just as long as it’s at the Camp Nou. Which is just as well, given that Adriano has missed the cut.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets should return to the starting line-up, while many tip Martino to drop Xavi – even though he’s probably been one of our best players thus far under Martino. Consistently excellent, Xavi’s presence in the middle of pitch tips the possession battle in Barça’s favour – and yes, too much possession can be detrimental to our game. But so can too little possession. Would you really back our defense to cope with an Atletico attack that has 35%, 40% or even 45% possession?
Typically, the more even the possession battle, the more "open" that the game is, and if the match starts going from end-to-end, it’s difficult to envisage Barcelona coming out on top. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I’m sure you get my point.
Xavi is a big-game player, and if he’s fit, he will start. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the other options – who might join Xavi in the Barça midfield? Cesc Fàbregas could certainly stake a claim after his sensational performance against Levante – but will Andrés Iniesta be benched for a second successive match at the Camp Nou? Again, it’s tough to see that happening which is why Martino might opt to keep the status quo.
And who could be unhappy with a Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta midfield?
Moving onto the attack, it’s almost certain that Lionel Messi will start having returned from injury, while Alexis Sánchez should keep his place in the starting XI after three consecutive starts under Martino – so all we really need to know is who will complete the front-three. Cristian Tello? Pedro? Or perhaps Neymar?
Making just one change to the team that held Barcelona to a draw (Raul Garcia in for Koke), Atletico Madrid decimated city rivals Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, running out 5-0 winners at the Vicente Calderon. Garcia scored twice and may well have earned himself a place in tomorrow’s starting line-up, while Tiago, Arda Turan and Diego Costa all grabbed themselves a goal as well. Given that Simeone has no new injury concerns, or any suspensions to deal with, it’s likely that we will see a similar line-up tomorrow – possibly with Diego Costa deployed on the right-wing for the second week in succession.
Atletico Madrid: LWWWDW
Atletico Madrid 1-1 FC Barcelona – 21st August 2013 – Supercopa de España
Neymar’s second-half header was enough to salvage a draw for the Blaugrana after David Villa’s first-half volley had given the hosts an early lead.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Sánchez, Messi, Neymar
Atletico Madrid (4-3-2-1): Courtois; Juanfran, Godin, Miranda, Filipe; Garcia, Tiago, Gabi; Costa, Turan; Villa
Barcelona aren’t great away from home, but they are routinely excellent at the Camp Nou. While Atletico are tough opposition, that home advantage should be enough to help Barça secure the silverware – 2-0 Barca