Saturday, August 21, 20:30 CET – Camp Nou, Barcelona
The defending La Liga champions, Champions League semi-finalist and world famous FC Barcelona, often referred to in recent times as the best team in the world, have dug themselves a hole. A year ago, Barca was putting the finishing touches on a 5-1 aggregate victory over Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup. A year later, Barca finds itself trailing 3-1 to Sevilla heading into the Camp Nou leg.
Of course, more than just the opponent is different this time around. As you may have heard, Spain won the World Cup a month and a half ago. That squad was very heavy on stars from Barcelona. That has been no small point of pride in Catalunya. Some have gone so far as to say the victory was actually Barca’s.
Regardless, with success often comes burden, and going into Saturday’s match, Barca is burdened with a two goal deficit directly related to the World Cup. Not only were the national team members far behind training going into the first leg, seven of the eight had to travel back and forth to Mexico three days before the match in Sevilla. Without those high class studs, the squad was severely disadvantaged at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Perhaps it wasn’t a fair fight – a highly motivated Sevilla FC taking on a Barca heavy on youth and light on experienced stars. You wouldn’t be able to get anyone from the squad to admit that. But with only a two goal deficit at Camp Nou, it’s irrelevant. That’s because for the first time in the 2010-2011 season, Pep Guardiola will have a full squad available to him.
That doesn’t mean that you’ll see the likes of Xavi and Puyol play for 90 minutes, and Guardiola has hinted that most or all of the national team members aren’t likely to. But the squad will be considerably stronger this time. After Sevilla, only the Gamper Trophy match against AC Milan on Wednesday separates Barca from the opening of the La Liga season. With a highly talented Andalucian side coming to town to win a trophy, it’s time to at least think about getting serious.
Apparently FC Barcelona is a high profile club that many players would be willing to play for, and Barca has a group of players that they themselves could sell. That includes a tall Swedish man whose name has been in the newspaper occasionally. Guardiola shined some light on the subject of Zlatan, saying yesterday: “For the good of everyone, it is better that I say nothing.” Elaborating on the current state of the club, he admitted: “New signings could arrive.”
Be thankful that the summer is almost over.
Predicted Starting XI: Pinto-Alves-Milito-Pique-Abidal-Busquets-Keita-Xavi-Messi-Villa-Ibrahimovic
The squad lost the first leg of their Champions League play-off away to Portuguese side Braga, 1-0. With the deciding leg coming up this week, it’s possible that their attention could be divided. On the other hand, no trophy is too small to value for clubs who aren’t accustomed to winning at the rate of the Manchester United’s and Barcelona’s of the world. They will be coming out looking for what could be a very memorable victory for the club and their supporters. They will again need to deal with the absence of defender Sebastien Squillaci, who is being held out in anticipation of a transfer to Arsenal. He asked to be held out of the match against Braga to avoid being cup-tied in the Champions League. He did not play last weekend against Barca either.
Predicted Starting XI: Palop-Fazio-Escudé-Dabo-Navarro-Zokoro-Perotti-Navas-Renato-Kanouté-Fabiano
Barcelona: Lionel Messi. Maybe this seems blatantly obvious, but Barca are going to need the best player in the world to come up big to overturn the deficit. Whether it be by his foot or just causing enough distraction to the Sevilla defense that quality opportunities come for others, it’s no secret that Messi is key to Barca when goals are needed.
Sevilla: Anybody in a defending position. Ask any team facing Barca when they have the Catalans down in the second leg of a competition. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton, it takes a village to keep the ball out of the net. Sure, this isn’t the Champions League, but Barca will be stepping onto the Camp Nou pitch with a trophy at stake. The attack will be coming, it’s just a matter of how long the defense can hold out. If they make it to the final whistle with fewer than two goals allowed, they win. If they can’t manage that, their chances are significantly lower.
Barca still won’t be at 100% strength, but they should be far closer than they have been in any match up until now. We may even see Villa for the first time as a blaugrana at Camp Nou. At least some of the World Cup-winning stars will be stepping out in front of their home fans for the first time since that tournament. There’s a lot to motivate them, not least of which is the fact that the Spanish Super Cup is at stake. This club has shown it values trophies, even when they aren’t on the level of La Liga or the Champions League. It won’t be easy but Barca narrowly pulls it out.
FC Barcelona 2-0 Sevilla FC