Tata Martino will make at least one change for tomorrow night’s Supercopa first leg against Atlético Madrid at the Vicente Calderon (Wednesday 11 pm) with Adriano forced to miss out through suspension thanks to the red card he received in last year’s game at Real Madrid. Martino will be looking for his first blaugrana title but Diego Simeone’s Atlético will prove a much tougher test than that presented by Levante in Martino’s first match in charge.
There were plenty of positive signs to be taken from Sunday’s 7-0 victory. The high intensity pressing was back, which hopefully, with intelligent rotations, we will be able to maintain until the end of the season. Martino’s decisions to start Iniesta, Alba and Neymar on the bench and then sub off Messi before the end indicate our new coach has every intention of keeping the players as fresh as possible.
The excellent start to the season of Fabregas, Alexis and Pedro offers Martino safe options to switch things around going forward. Fabregas had one of his best games yet on Sunday and if he can continue in such fine form Martino will have a real dilemma choosing his best midfield three. However, we have seen strong starts in both of Fabregas’s two seasons at Barça only to see his form drop off as the season progressed. Will he be capable of consistency under his new coach? Alexis went through a horrible time during the winter with a crisis of confidence, but after finishing last season well he is now playing without anxiety and looking a much better player for it. Pedro, on the other hand, seems to be rediscovering his goal-scoring knack. Having scored 23 and 22 goals for Barça in 2009/10 and 2010/11, respectively, Pedro’s goal haul was down to 13 in 2011/12 and only 10 last season. His opening brace against Levante offers hope that this season’s tally will be closer to his first two seasons in the team.
Jordi Alba will back in the team in place of Adriano while there should also be a return to midfield for Andres Iniesta; with Fabregas in such form it is possible that Xavi will start the game on the bench. Dani Alves missed training on Monday with a bruised ankle so if he isn’t fully recovered there could be a chance for Martin Montoya at right back. Up front the doubt is between Pedro, Neymar and Tello for who will start with Messi and Alexis, and with Martino seemingly taking things slowly with Neymar it seems likely the Brazilian will again start from the bench.
Atlético got off to an excellent start to the season with a 1-3 win at Sevilla. Simeone might also want to think about squad rotations, given his team are playing in the Champions League this season. However, Simeone’s thirst for trophies will probably mean he puts out his strongest team against Barça so we could well see a repeat of Atlético’s XI at the Sanchez Pizjuán with Thibaut Courtois in goal, a back four of Juanfran Torres, Joao Miranda, Diego Godín and Filipe Luis, a midfield of Arda Turan, Mario Suárez, Gabi Fernández and Koke Resurrección, with Diego Costa and David Villa up front. El Guaje will no doubt be highly motivated to score against his ex-teammates. Hopefully we will also see some minutes for 18-year-old midfielder Oliver Torres who has been reported to have been included in the Villa-to-Atlético transfer deal with Barça securing an option to buy the youngster.
Barça and Atlético have met on four previous occasions in the Supercopa with Atlético winning the first time in 1985 and Barça coming out on top in 1991, 1992 and 1996. The last encounter in 1996 ended in a 6-5 aggregate win for Barça. The first meeting that year was played at the Olympic Stadium on Montjuic and Barça won a spectacular game 5-2. The game was Bobby Robson’s first official match as Barça’s coach and he had a young José Mourinho as his assistant, it was also the first game for the Brazilians Ronaldo and Giovanni. Well worth a watch of the highlights.
In other news, Ibrahim Afellay, who is still under contract at Barça after his season on loan at Schalke 04, will undergo an operation on a thigh muscle on Thursday which will complicate his immediate future. On a happier note, loaned-out Rafa Alcántara made his league debut for Luis Enrique’s Celta, coming on as a substitute in the 2-2 home draw with Espanyol. Our other promising loanee, Gerard Deulofeu, remained on the subs’ bench throughout Everton’s 2-2 draw at Norwich.
Barça’s 19-man squad: Valdés, Pinto, Montoya, Dani Alves, Piqué, Bartra, Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Song, Busquets, Xavi, Dos Santos, Fàbregas, Iniesta, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Neymar, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Atlético: Courtois; Juanfran, Miranda, Godín, Filipe Luis; Arda Turan, Mario Suárez, Gabi, Koke; Diego Costa, Villa.
Barça: Valdés; Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba; Fabregas, Busquets, Iniesta; Alexis, Messi, Pedro.
Prediction: Atlético 2 Barça 3
Date: Wednesday 21 August 2013. Kick off 11 pm local time.