First things first: it appears that there will be no TV coverage in the US of this match. Which is about as absurd as you get. I thought all the TV rights stuff had been resolved. It’s just that, well, no one expects a Spanish Inquisition. At best, we’ll be able to watch the game via a rojadirecta stream. I do not know if it is GolTV’s fault that they’re showing a Coppa Italia game between Napoli and Salernitana or if they’re doing so because they can’t show the Spanish Super Copa. Either way, I’m pissed.
Furthermore, it looks like Messi is set to miss the match, meaning our starting lineup will be missing at least two of its typical three starters (despite his never having played a match, I think that Ibrahimovic can be listed as a typical starter based on the fact that he’ll be starting the majority of the games when he his healthy). If you believe EMD, Henry is set to play, but I hope that he isn’t forced into the match as a desperation move. This is a two-legged affair and we should have all of our starters back for the second match (with the possible exception of Iniesta), meaning that we can afford to get them healthy for the season now.
I don’t think that Guardiola would risk an injured Henry, but would Henry risk an injured himself? I kind of think so. People call him soft, but I don’t buy it at all. I think he’s not only tough, but fiercely competitive. His inclusion in the squad would obviously bolster the attack and is a best-case scenario, but it’s not worth it if he’s going to damage himself for the regular season. I think that in the twilight of his career he’s realizing just how important it is for him to get continuous playing time, to prove to the fans that he is wearing the shirt with pride and fierce loyalty, but I don’t think it’s worth it if he’s even 99% instead of the required 100%.
If he doesn’t start, that would mean we might start a front three of Bojan, Pedro, and Jeffren, though I see it more likely that we’d start Gudjohnsen, especially if the latter is angling for a transfer away from the club. Our midfield options are solid despite Iniesta’s absence, so I don’t see Guddy starting there even though he was at his best against Chivas in the “4” role.
Here’s the squad lineup: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Xavi, Gudjohnsen, Bojan, Henry, Keita, Busquets, Maxwell, Abidal, The Yaya, Pedro!, JDS, Fontàs, Muniesa, Jeffren.
Note the obvious absence of Victor Sanchez and of course the absences of the injured Márquez, Iniesta, Messi, and Ibrahimovic. It’s always exciting to see the young guns getting named to the squad, but will they play? With only 3 subs to work with (this is not a preseason game, people!), Guardiola has his work cut out for him coming up with who to start and who to sub on. Naturally it depends on how the game goes, but I’d hope that JDS, Muniesa, and Maxwell get time on the field tomorrow. Which, interestingly enough, means I don’t think Guddy will play unless we go down 2-0.
So, here’s my lineup prediction: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Keita, Henry, Bojan, Pedro!
It’s a step down from a lineup that includes Iniesta, Messi, and Ibra, of course, but that’s still a lethal group of guys. If we want to go 4-1-2-3 like we play when Iniesta is on the field (Hector, you’ll have to address that statement), we could start JDS and have him play there or we could put Busi there and see what our gangly Foulable Colt can do for us. Either way, we’re going to have a battle on our hands since Athletic really wants this one.
Here is their squad list: Iraizoz, Amorebieta, Ribeiro, Yeste, Ustaritz, Iraola, Aitor Ocio, Koikili, Etxeberria, Orbaiz, Gurpegui, Toquero, Susaeta, Xabi Castillo, Oscar de Marcos, Llorente. That’s a good group of players, but they’re missing influential midfielder Javi Martínez. Llorente is obviously a beast in the middle and it’s never easy to go to San Mames and come out on top, but Javi Martínez’s absence is a big bonus for Barça. I expect a fairly cagey affair and Guardiola won’t want his players to get too tuckered out and Joaquín Caparrós won’t want to have his boys cut to shreds quite like they were in the Copa del Rey final.
So here’s what you’ve been waiting for throughout the entire summer, my first official prediction of the year: 2-2, goals by Xavi and Bojan.
And now for something new that I will be continuing throughout the year, kickoff time throughout the world:
Local/Spanish time: 10pm
New York/EST: 4pm
Los Angeles/PST: 1pm
Hong Kong: 4am, Monday August 17
Sydney: 6am, Monday August 17
India: 2:30am, Monday August 17
*If you would like your city/country included in this list, please let me know via an email.