FC Barcelona take the latest step on their road to a potential sextuple tomorrow, when they travel to Tbilisi in Georgia to contest the 2015 UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla FC. Despite its reputation as nothing more than a glorified pre-season friendly, the UEFA Super Cup ranks amongst one of the most difficult competitions to qualify for, perhaps behind only the FIFA Club World Cup, of course both of which the Blaugrana have qualified for as UEFA Champions League winners.
And as such, I like to see teams take this competition seriously and treat it with the utmost importance, just as Barcelona have taken to doing. In 2006, they were humiliated in comprehensive fashion by then UEFA Cup winners, Sevilla FC who were led by a marauding Braziian right-back named Dani Alves. Since that night in Monaco, the Blaugrana have upped their game in this competition, emerging victorious in each of their last two appearances.
In each instance, the going has been tough and the match has been tight. We needed extra-time to dispatch Shakhtar Donetsk back in 2010, while FC Porto posed a tricky test in 2012. Expect nothing different from Sevilla FC tomorrow, who in some respects could even be considered equals to the Blaugrana.
Admittedly, Sevilla have undergone changes since retaining the Europa League title a few months back; influential striker and top-scorer Carlos Bacca dramatically abandoned ship for the faltering AC Milan, while there’s a full-back/winger that they’ve lost as well. Aleix Vidal, or something like that, as the tricky little Spanish talent moved to, oh yeah, us.
Reinforcements have arrived, most notably in the form of the star player from the losing finalists, Yevhen Konoplyanka on a free transfer, and the loan signing of Borussia Dortmund striker, Ciro Immobile. However, are they the same team that challenged us at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan last season?
I guess only time will tell. For now, we can continue to #DRE4M…
Have I mentioned how good it is to be back? I mean, officially, properly back here at Barca Blaugranes? Not that anyone will have noticed or particularly cared about my periods of absence, but now the season is kicking back into full swing, here I am, ready to slip into the same old habits. That means a load of meandering, relatively off-topic previews, plus a few more regular series as the season progresses.
In other words, sorry in advance.
For what’s technically a season opener, head coach Luis Enrique is keeping his cards close to his chest with regards to his team selection. By and large, we know what the team will look like but there’s just enough potential for surprise so as to keep us guessing. 25 players have travelled to the picturesque city of Tbilisi, although as always, the final match squad will be whittled down to 18 by kick-off.
Certainly, Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan will not feature, courtesy of our transfer/registration ban, although pretty much everyone else is in with a chance. Except you Jordi Masip, I don’t really know what you’re still doing here.
After all, he’s not going to steal any game time from either Marc-Andre ter Stegen or Claudio Bravo now, is he? Even if one got injured, the other would cover and a youngster could easily make up numbers on the bench. And that’s a pretty unlikely scenario to begin with.
The good news for some Barcelona fans is that this will likely be considered an extension of the UEFA Champions League/cup competitions, which means that Luis Enrique is likely to start Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the posts. All in all, a positive start to the team – especially considering that he is further along in his preparation for the season.
In defense, Dani Alves will start against his former club in his first official match sporting the famous "Xavi 6", and it’s all a bit up in the air as to who will join him. One expects that Gerard Pique will start after contesting most of pre-season, but the other spot could easily be filled by any one of our four remaining candidates. Thomas Vermaelen featured heavily in pre-season, Jeremy Mathieu played well against Roma, Marc Bartra is improving with every game and of course, Javier Mascherano is Javier Mascherano.
My money is on Masch, if only by default – but don’t be too shocked if Lucho opts for some natural balance in the form of Vermaelen or Mathieu, with either likely to fill in ahead of Alejandro Grimaldo at left-back.
In midfield, Sergio Busquets should start at pivote and really, there’s no surprises expected in the remainder of the midfield either. Ivan Rakitic has been our best player in pre-season, while Andres Iniesta is club captain. I fully expect that Rafinha and Mascherano will see some minutes in midfield over the Supercopa de España, but tomorrow isn’t the time, nor the place for that. At least from the start.
And I suppose similar can be said of the strikeforce. Neymar’s unfortunate ailment means that he raises at least a question mark about the final spot – although we all know that it’s going to be filled by Pedro. Unless he somehow completes his move to Manchester United before kick-off. Munir and Sandro provide options off the bench, and is it just me, or does that last part make this feel like the start of 2014/15 all over again?
Given how well that finished, I damn well hope so.
Renato’s already given us the breakdown of Sevilla’s expected line-up, so what do I have left to talk about. Maybe their road to the Super Cup? Damn, Renato has that covered too. How about that interview that Unai Emery gave about how far he’s willing to go to try and grab the win? Oh man, not again – Renato has the angle on this too.
We’ve got pretty much every aspect of coverage you could think about for this game, so check out our StoryStream for much, much more.
Sevilla FC 2-2 FC Barcelona – 11th April 2015 – La Liga
Sevilla threw a spanner into Barcelona’s title challenge by fighting back from a two-goal deficit to stun the Blaugrana and steal a share of the spoils at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Goals from Lionel Messi and Neymar appeared to send Barca coasting to another victory, before goals from Ever Banega and Kevin Gameiro ensured the match finished in a tie.
Barcelona (4-3-3): ter Stegen; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Mathieu; Busquets, Rakitic, Iniesta; Messi, Suarez, Pedro
Sevilla (4-2-3-1): Beto; Mariano, Coke, Krychowiak, Tremoulinas; Iborra, Banega; Reyes, Konoplyanka, Vitolo; Gameiro
I came close in the Gamper; I want to start off the season with an accurate one – so I’m going for 3-1 again.