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Pre-Season Friendly: FC Barcelona vs HJK Helsinki: Match Preview

A preview of FC Barcelona's latest preseason friendly, an exhibition clash with Finnish champions HJK Helsinki at the Olympic Stadium in Finland

Valerio Pennicino

FC Barcelona will be looking to rebound from their disappointing 0-1 defeat against SSC Napoli tomorrow when they travel to Finland to take on HJK Helsinki at the Olympic Stadium. Despite dominating proceedings in Geneva against Rafa Benitez’ UEFA Champions League qualifiers, the Blaugrana couldn’t convert their possession into goals and an error from Claudio Bravo gifted the Partenopei a win and now Luis Enrique will be hoping his side can get back on track against the reigning Finnish champions.

While Barça are travelling to Helsinki without a whole host of first team players, including Lionel Messi who returned to training earlier this week, they remain heavy favourites to pick up the win and rightly so. As previously mentioned, a similar squad went toe-to-toe against Napoli and on balance, should have won. A similar display tomorrow will surely prove too much for HJK to contend with – irrespective of Barça’s inexperienced bench or HJK’s home advantage.



We brought you squad news earlier tonight, as Luis Enrique elected to leave Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano, Neymar and Dani Alves at home, while Jeremy Mathieu and Xavi continue their recoveries from injury in Catalunya. As a consequence, Enrique has been forced to call up six players from the B team including the exciting Alen Halilovic and Munir el Haddadi, who started the 0-1 loss against Napoli on Wednesday.

Following his error against the Partenopei, Claudio Bravo is expected to lose his spot in goal, if not permanently, then certainly on a temporary basis, and having already seen Marc-André ter Stegen, it’s entirely possible that Lucho will start Jordi Masip for the second time this preseason. While he wasn’t spectacular, Masip looked solid in his time on the field against Recreativo de Huelva, and is the only Barça goalkeeper yet to concede this preseason.

Will that be enough to earn him a starting berth tomorrow? Maybe, but probably not – most media outlets have MAtS as the starter, and it’s difficult to argue against that decision.

In defense, there’s a possibility that we will see a little more rotation given the calibre of the opposition; while Martin Montoya almost has to start at right-back with both Dani Alves and Adriano Correia not making the trip to Helsinki, there is a slim chance that Lucho might debut a three-man backline. With only three natural central defenders in the squad, it’d be an interesting choice, but why not gamble in pre-season? We can always switch back to a four-man defense in the second half...

However, if we take the obvious route and assume the usual 4-3-3, we can expect Montoya to be paired with Marc Bartra, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba, although again, I would suggest a change – Alejandro Grimaldo for Jordi Alba. Not that there is much logic or reasoning behind that suggestion, other than I’m a big Grimaldo fan and want to see him play with some of the "big guns".

Equally, is it too much to ask to see Ivan Rakitić and Alen Halilovic, a.k.a. the Croatian Connection (is it too late to trademark this nickname?), start together in the Blaugrana midfield? Certainly, it’s a midfield we may see one day in the future, so why not give us a glimpse now, eh Lucho? Again, back to reality...expect to see Sergio Busquets at pivote, with a midfield duo selected from the trio of Sergi Roberto, Andrés Iniesta and Ivan Rakitić. As an experiment with the lesser La Liga teams in mind, it would also be interesting to see Rakitić partnered with Roberto to see to what degree that particular combination could work in a competitive context. Then again, Andrés Iniesta is the captain, so he’ll probably start instead.

Moving forward to the attack, this is a little dull – we all know that Pedro is going to start, and that Luis Enrique apparently doesn’t like Gerard Deulofeu, or whatever rumour is doing the rounds on Twitter/Marca/AS. Rafinha is apparently the only player capable of playing false nine in Messi’s absence. On a related note, maybe we signed Luis Suarez to stop Culés from bludgeoning themselves to death at the prospect of another "Fàbregas at false nine"-esque scenario? Not that I mean to belittle Rafinha’s performances this preseason, rather an observation that his best moments have come from a deeper, more orthodox role as a "10" or a simple midfielder.

Anyway, I digress...Rafinha will start at false nine, even though it would make far more sense to play Sandro, and anyone-but-Deulofeu will start in the final attacking berth. Or maybe Deulofeu will start after all, because Lucho probably doesn’t hate him despite the adamance of Twitter/Marca/AS? No-one knows for sure, and that’s part of the fun!


While the rest of the Finnish league is preparing for their equivalent of Jornada 23, HJK have a few days off so that they can play a money-spinning friendly against FC Barcelona. Given that they’ve won the last four Veikkausliiga titles and are currently seven points clear in the current campaign, it seems a little unfair that the rich are allowed to get richer in the middle of the season, but as a Barcelona fan, I probably shouldn’t complain too much...

HJK might be coasting to another league title, but they may well enter tomorrow’s match on a downer, after falling at latest hurdle in their eternal battle to qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stage for only the second time in their history. Following a 2-2 draw in the first-leg of their clash with Cypriot champions, APOEL Nicosia, HJK were certainly up against it in their trip to Cyprus on Wednesday, but they will still be disappointed in the manner of their defeat. Unlike APOEL, HJK couldn’t muster a goal on their travels and therefore crashed out of the competition 4-2 on aggregate following a comfortable 2-0 win for Giorgios Dinos’ side.

While HJK are back in league action on Wednesday, they will be playing lowly Inter Turku who are without a win in five matches. Oh, and did I mention that they are seven points clear, so it doesn’t really matter anyway? As a result, expect to see a HJK side littered with their biggest stars, including former Premier League striker, Mikael Forssell, former Tottenham Hotspur and New York Red Bull midfielder Teemu Tainio and another former MLS striker for all you American soccer acolytes out there, Macoumba Kandji.


Barcelona: WDL





Barcelona (4-3-3): MAtS; Montoya, Piqué, Bartra, Alba; Busquets, Iniesta, Rakitić; Pedro, Rafinha, Deulofeu

HJK (4-3-2-1): Tornes; Lampi, Moren, Heikkila, Baah; Heikkinen, Tainio, Vayrynen; Savage, Kandji, Mannstrom


I expect HJK to come out with a trivote, as if will ultimately make a lot of difference given the gulf in class between the two sides – this will either be closer than expected or an easy win, and as I got some stick for a cautious (and correct) prediction last time out, I'm going for a comfortable Manita win for Lucho’s boys.

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