FC Barcelona will be looking to end their tour of Asia, and indeed their pre-season with a "bang" tomorrow, when they take on a Malaysia XI at the 110,000 capacity National Stadium in Bukit Jalil. It’s not often that the Blaugrana get a chance to play a stadium larger than the Camp Nou, and with just a week to go until the start of the La Liga season, Barça will be keen to put on a spectacle for what could be a sell-out crowd – not to mention send a message to the rest of La Liga with another strong performance under the guidance of new head coach Gerardo Martino.
In just two short games with Martino at the helm, Barcelona appear to have recovered their "edge"; they are now pressing as ferociously as ever, and their front-line is firing on all cylinders, rediscovering that clinical touch that once characterised their game. Sure, Lionel Messi is still at the forefront of everything that Barcelona do, but he’s at least getting some assistance from the likes of Alexis Sánchez and Pedro. Meanwhile in midfield, Cesc Fàbregas is back on-form – and is as committed as ever, which can only be good news for the Blaugrana. Even if the defensive issues remain, there are at least rumours that the club are looking to rectify their problems, reportedly launching bids for both David Luiz, and Daniel Agger.
Time will tell whether either pursuit will bear fruit, but at least there’s some movement, right?
Still, the lingering doubts remain. Barcelona were just as impressive against inferior opposition last season, and if their 2-0 friendly defeat against Bayern Munich is anything to go by, Barça may still struggle against Europe’s elite. In fact, that match aside, Barcelona have been rarely tested this pre-season, especially under Martino. Just how does a money-spinning exhibition against a Malaysia XI help Barça prepare for the new season anyway?
Unlike seasons past, the Supercopa de España will not be contested before the start of La Liga, and as a result, there’s no "real" way to gauge the team’s progress. So, in the absence of another "challenging" game before the big kick-off, I guess we Culés will just have to make do with what we see tomorrow – whatever that might be.
Having missed the closing stages of Barcelona’s 7-1 win over Thailand on Wednesday with a calf contusion, Spanish winger Pedro has been ruled out of tomorrow’s match through injury, while international colleague Jordi Alba may also miss out with a cold. However, it’s not all bad news on the injury front as both Jonathan dos Santos and Cristian Tello have returned to training following their respective quadriceps and thigh injuries and as a result, the pair could return to action tomorrow.
Victor Valdés should continue between the sticks, and given that this will be his last season with the club, this is likely to be Valdés’ final friendly appearance for the Blaugrana. After conceding a penalty on Wednesday, the Catalan keeper will be searching for his second clean-sheet under Gerardo Martino, in what Valdés hopes will be a record-breaking season for him at the club. With a further 49 official appearances for the club, Valdés will move into third-place on the all-time appaearances list, ahead of Barça legend Migueli, but behind current Barcelona teammates, Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernández; while another Zamora trophy would bring his tally to six, one ahead of the current record holder, the sadly deceased Antoni Ramallets.
Ahead of Victor Valdés, Gerardo Martino may opt for a slightly changed defense as Frank Bagnack’s mistake against Thailand may cost him his place in the starting line-up, with Javier Mascherano the favourite to replace the Cameroonian, if Martino decides to drop the youngster to the bench. However, aside from that one change, Martino is expected to keep the same back-line; Adriano is basically our only choice at left-back, Gerard Piqué is a definite starter and it seems that Dani Alves will continue to start at the expense of young Martin Montoya.
In midfield, I suspect that Martino will make full use of his squad; Alex Song, Cesc Fàbregas and Sergi Roberto started together on Wednesday, so it’s only fair that Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta are given a chance to start as well. Eventually, all six midfielders will probably see some game-time anyway – so does it really matter who starts?
Meanwhile, it attack the injury suffered by Pedro may well force Martino’s hand; unless he opts to start Cristian Tello on his return from a muscle injury, or even move Jean-Marie Dongou into the starting XI, we’re going to see the fabled "Nemesis" front-line in action – from the start. Of course, that means Neymar, Lionel Messi and Alexis Sánchez; each of whom have been impressive in their own right thus far this pre-season. Messi is simply as good as, if not better than ever, Sánchez is scoring goals and Neymar has immediately settled into this new style of play; defending just one of this trio is a daunting prospect for an opposition defender, but to have to handle all three at once?
It’s a tall order, and one has to imagine that this Malaysia XI will not be equipped to deal with the three-pronged threat of the Barça attack. Thankfully for them, the trio are not expected to play the full 90 minutes, although with Pedro injured, I suspect that at least one of the three (namely Alexis Sánchez) may have to complete the full hour and a half.
The Malaysia XI have been in poor form so far this summer, losing all their matches on a recent tour of Japan after slumping to a heavy 4-1 defeat against Chelsea. Given their history, it would be shock to see anything other than another heavy defeat tomorrow.
Malaysia XI: LDLLLL
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Neymar
Barcelona should coast to yet another landslide victory, hopefully keeping a clean sheet along the way. I’m going for a 9-0 victory.
More from Barca Blaugranes:
- Do Barcelona Have A Weakness At Set Pieces?
- FC Barcelona News: 9 August 2013: Daniel Agger Bid Rejected, Barca "Wasting Time" With David Luiz
- Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Pedro Left Out Of Spain Squad To Face Ecuador
- FC Barcelona News: 8 August 2013: Barca Arrive In Malaysia, David Luiz Bid Rejected
- 2013 Asia Tour: FC Barcelona 7-1 Thailand: Highlights