For those of us who are obsessed with the sport and Barcelona in particular, the offseason is generally a series of barren months. The World Cup this year alleviated much of that pain and left us with less than a month of transfer rumors--a blessed respite from the typical Silly Season nonsense, really. There have still be plenty of Cesc stories to go around, of course, but at least we're only having to deal with this for a few weeks instead of the entire summer.
So it comes as good news for me and bad news for my daily productivity that Barça has just flown out to play their first preseason match. This one will take place tomorrow, Thursday, July 29 at 7pm local time against Vålerenga Fotball at Ullevaal Stadion in Oslo, Norway.
I don't know much of anything about Vålerenga (for instance, I don't know how to pronounce the "å" because my Norwegian is a bit rusty these days), but here's what I've gleaned from the information superhighway: They have a nice stadium, capacity 25,572, finished 7th in the Tippeligaen last year, and last won the Tippeligaen in 2005 and the Norwegian Cup in 2008. They're also a team of Barça dopplegangers: Freddy dos Santos and Bojan Zajić have stolen our names!
The squad list that Guardiola has put out is: Pinto, Miño, Maxwell, Adriano, Milito, Bojan, Ibrahimovic, Keita, Víctor Sánchez, Miño, Armando, Benja, Dalmau, Edu Oriol, Ilie Sánchez, Jonathan dos Santos, Jonathan Soriano, Martí Riverola, Muniesa, Nolito, Sergi Gómez, Sergi Roberto, Cristian Tello.
That means there are 7 regular first teamers and Víctor Sánchez available. Abidal was left behind since he only returned to practice two days ago. The biggest "snub" is probably Hleb's lack of inclusion. He and Víctor Sánchez both look set to go out on loan again, though at least Víctor has a chance to play his way onto the team with a couple of phenomenal performances. If Hleb is excluded from the trip to South Korea we'll know for sure that he's out.
Possible starting lineup: Pinto, Maxwell, Milito, Muniesa, Adriano, Víctor Sánchez, Keita, Jonathan dos Santos, Bojan, Ibrahimovic, Edu Oriol.
Obviously this is just a random guess at the possibilities since Guardiola could opt for bringing in some of his first teamers later in the match or starting different combinations of players. I've included all the first teamers simply because that makes the most sense if you're trying to win the match, but Guardiola will no doubt not really care about the final score. Vålerenga is in the middle of their season (18 of 30 matches played) so will be in full form against us--though they may also start non regulars in order to get them free playing time. I expect something along the lines of a 2-1 loss for us as we switch up our personnel wildly throughout the match.
Other members of the first team will start trickling back in, but now that both Dani Alves and Lionel Messi have been selected by their respective new national coaches for friendlies just prior to the season, they may not be ready until the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup (August 21) or possibly not until the first league match away to Racing Santander (August 28). I both want Dani Alves to be there for the friendly against the USA in the Meadowlands on August 10 because I have tickets and don't want him to be there because I want him available for Barça. With Messi, I have no tickets to the match against Mexico in the Azteca, so he should certainly beg out of playing.
There's one last thing I'd like to point out: in my last article I discussed youth prospects and reader Hauns correctly pointed out that I had missed Oriol Romeu as a DM prospect. I have my reservations about Oriol, but haven't seen quite enough of him to form a solid opinion. He's certainly worth looking out for and you can see him in the final of the U19 European Championship on Friday, July 30 against France. I caught most of the semifinal between Spain and England and was further impressed by Thiago (the most impressive player on the field) as well as Carles Planas on the right. Romeu had some jittery moments in positioning and looked like he was moving a little too quickly (passing his teammates into trouble at times), but there was definitely potential there and it would be foolish to judge the career trajectory of a player on one or two matches. Not only that, but he's already appeared for Spain's U20 team, which suggests at least a level of talent worth considering.
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