While all the headlines go the Spanish Strike, the Champions League draw, and the injury of Gerard Pique, it is easy to forget that Barcelona actually have a game this Friday. Not just any game, but the European Super Cup, which is a traditional curtain-raiser to the Champions League season, where two teams battle it out to be called the best in Europe.
While it is touted as a "waste of time" and just plain "meaningless" by some, perhaps a recap is in order. FC Barcelona "qualified" for this occasion by beating the best in Europe, and despite the "scandal at the Bernabeu", the 2010/11 UEFA Champions League has been remembered for the master-class Pep Guardiola’s team handed out to Manchester United.
That 3-1 win was regarded by some as the best performance in a tournament final, so while it does not hold a huge significance in Cataluña, the UEFA Super Cup is a reminder of that epic season.
So what of the opponents?
FC Porto were irresistible last season under the guidance of Andres Villas-Boas, and while their manager has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor "The Special One" in going to Chelsea, Porto are still a strong side.
Though just how good are FC Porto?
It is all relative, but winning the Europa League makes it hard to gauge. After all, the teams they beat were far from world-class. On route to the final, they beat Sevilla – a team who look a shadow of previous years – CSKA Moscow – who had not started their domestic campaign – and then Villarreal in the semi-final. But even the Yellow Submarine were on a downwards spiral in the latter half of the season.
Then winning by a solitary goal against Braga in the final? It really is hard to gauge whether this side is the real deal. Sure, they went unbeaten in the Liga ZON Sagres, but judging by the state of Portuguese football, it is not the most difficult feat.
This is meant in no way to demean the feats of Villas-Boas, but now he is gone, and so is the most influential figure from that Europa League triumph are gone (Falcao). With Alvaro Periera missing out due to the rumours linking him with a move to Chelsea, this seems like a decent time to play the Super Cup.
The 5-0 demolition of a full-strength Napoli team in the Joan Gamper Trophy was a joy to behold, especially with several first team players missing. The experiment of Cesc Fabregas in the "false no.9" position was a success, while Lionel Messi seems to have stepped up his game from ridiculous to superlative exhausting.
The lack of a midfield destroyer enabled more creativity, and there were only a few occasions where it left the defence a little bit short. Considering Andreu Fontas started, it was hard to believe that Barcelona kept a clean sheet.
However, all is not rosy. Gerard Pique picked up a calf injury in a training game, so joins Carles Puyol on the sideline for three weeks, leaving the defense that started the Spanish Super Cup, and while Barcelona won, they were far from convincing. Javier Mascherano will get another chance to continue his progression to centre-back, and Eric Abidal will have to raise his game, as Hulk will prove as much of a hand full as Karim Benzema was.
Knowing Pep Guardiola, the team will consist of the Supercopa defense, with the standard midfield and attacking trios. The style of play will be no different to any other game, and this will provide the main defense, helping that makeshift backline.
The main attacking threats for Porto will be Hulk, with his direct and powerful dribbling, not to mention his rocket-like left boot. Very much a Ronaldo-esque figure, he could cause some problems to the left-hand side of defense, but to do so he will need service.
Joao Moutinho would normally provide that service, and no doubt will have chance to do the same on Friday night, but up against a full-strength Barcelona midfield, he will find it hard to get in possession, making Hulk isolated. If Hulk drops deep, his threat will be negated, if he stays up field, he won’t get the ball. The tiki-taka will prove to be an excellent defense, as well as the primary attacking threat.
Considering the build of Porto’s team, new coach Vitor Pereira will probably set them up to counter, in a 4-3-3 system, but one would assume that Barcelona will be expecting this, and will prepare accordingly.
FC Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Mascherano, Abidal, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Villa, Messi.
FC Porto (4-3-3): Helton; Sapunaru, Rolando, Otamendi, Fucile; Joao Moutinho, Souza, Guarin; Varela, Kleber, Hulk
It is hard to see Barcelona not winning this one, and given the performance against Napoli on Monday, the score could be anything. However, Hulk will always pose a threat to the makeshift defense, so I am plumping for a 3-1 win for the Blaugrana, with goals from Messi (2) and Pedro with Hulk scoring for Porto.
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