FC Barcelona take on the Thailand National Team tomorrow, in a highly-anticipated friendly; at least if you live in Thailand that is. For the Rest of the World, this match is seen as something of a waste of time – forget the upsides to visiting fans in faraway locations, this is just another money-spinning tour from one of Europe’s elite. And it’s difficult to disagree with that viewpoint; any doubters should just ask themselves whether Barcelona would play there for free, or for just 50% of their fee (whatever that might be).
Although it isn’t as one-sided as one might imagine; Barcelona probably get a lot of money for travelling to the Far East but the fans are treated to an excellent spectacle, almost certainly featuring both Lionel Messi and Neymar. For the Thai football fans, this might be their only chance to see the Blaugrana in action, particularly against their own National Team.
However, all an average Culé gets is a headache worrying about potential injuries...
Just as it seemed as though Barcelona might enter the season without any major injuries, news has emerged revealing that Neymar has been diagnosed with anaemia. Apparently, this won’t impede Neymar from training with the rest of the squad, or competing in matches; but it’s rarely "good news". Wesley Sneijder was diagnosed with anaemia back in November 2010 – and one could argue that he’s never been the same since, even if his declining form was influenced by a number of other factors. Hopefully Neymar will make a full, and quick, recovery – but until then, I’d certainly like Gerardo Martino to use the Brazilian somewhat sparingly.
In goal tomorrow, Victor Valdés is odds-on to start and the chances are that Valdés will have another quiet night in the Blaugrana goal. Against Santos, he was rarely called into action before being replaced by Jose Manuel Pinto at half-time, and with the greatest of respect to the Thailand National Team, it’s unlikely that they will fare much better. On the other hand, with the local climate on their side, maybe Valdés will face a few shots after all?
Dani Alves is likely to start at right-back ahead of Martin Montoya, while Jordi Alba should continue at left-back ahead of Adriano Correia – meaning that again, the centre of defense is the main talking point. Mundo Deportivo claim that Barcelona might not have enough money to purchase a new centre-half after all, and well, with a little over three weeks remaining in the transfer window, time isn’t really on our side either. Given the speed and urgency with which Barça conducted Neymar’s transfer, don’t you think that a centre-back – if we were really targeting one – would have been signed by now?
Maybe that’s why so many (myself included) were hoping that Barcelona would sign Thiago Silva after all. At his price, and age, some argued that he wouldn’t have been the best option, but as time passes, a more accurate description might be that Silva was the only option – and Paris Saint-Germain’s stubbornness cost Barça their one chance at signing a centre-half.
And being honest, I’m not sure whether I’m too disappointed by that. Of all the other options that Barça are seemingly considering, David Luiz was my choice – and I don’t even like the guy. It’s simply that between him and Agger (or Mangala for that matter), he was the lesser of two evils. While I’m not certain, I would argue that Barcelona feel the same way. After missing out on Thiago Silva, we’re down to the best of the rest – and Barcelona (in my blue and red tinted eyes) just don’t conduct business that way. After all, missing out on Neymar wouldn’t have made Rosell lose a screw and approach Tottenham Hotspur with £100 million bids for Gareth Bale, would it?
So, why should the defense be any different? And more importantly, why should anyone argue otherwise?
Looking back, Javier Mascherano started alongside Gerard Piqué against AC Milan on the 12th March, with both Dani Alves and Jordi Alba in support – and despite their supposed lack of size, strength and discipline, Barcelona cantered to an impressive 4-0 win. Against Atletico Madrid on the 16th December, an ageing (and by his own admission, injured) Carles Puyol started alongside Gerard Piqué, with Adriano and Jordi Alba in support – and despite Puyol’s supposed dramatic decline in form/speed, coupled with the rest of the defense’s general lack of discipline, Barcelona dominated en route to a 4-1 win. If the "tiki-taka" is working and the offense is firing on all cylinders, it doesn’t really matter who is in defense, whether it’s Javier Mascherano, Daniel Agger or Eliaquim Mangala, the end result is typically a Blaugrana victory.
With a new coach emphasising a high-line of pressure and up-tempo passing, maybe it won’t matter who’s in defense after all?
With that in mind, who really cares about Barcelona’s preferred centre-half pairing for tomorrow? It’d be nice to see Marc Bartra given a chance to atone for his multiple errors against Lechia Gdansk, but it would also be cool to see Mascherano and Piqué together again in Tata Martino’s "new-look" system. Just as long as no-one gets injured...
In midfield, Sergio Busquets should start at pivote, and personally, I would like to see Cesc Fàbregas and Andrés Iniesta paired together in midfield. Really, I’m not curious to see whether or not Cesc or Iniesta can perform the Xavi role, instead, I’m curious to see what Sergi Roberto could do in midfield with a steady influence like Xavi alongside him.
In attack, Lionel Messi is sure to start, and given Neymar’s health, I’d be surprised if Martino made any changes to the strike-force that started against Santos. Cristian Tello has been back in training, but is unlikely to play anything other than a cameo role in this tour, while Isaac Cuenca and Ibrahim Afellay are both injured – still. So, that means yet another start for the in-form Alexis Sánchez, and another chance to impress for Pedro; that should be enough firepower to defeat Thailand, right?
Coached by record goalscorer and all-time appearances record holder, Kiatisuk Senamuang, Thailand are rooted to the bottom of their group in the qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup – behind Lebanon and Kuwait. That’s probably enough to demonstrate that the "War Elephants" stand virtually no chance against the Blaugrana.
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Busquets, Fàbregas, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi, Alexis
Barcelona should run away with this one, but it’s hard to predict the effects of the heat and humidity on any team, let alone one so dependent on a high-pressure, high-energy game. Still, I’m going for a landslide 6-0 win.