Madrid: Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has a tough decision to make before his side’s first game of the season against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup first leg on Sunday.
The Catalans travel to the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan to face the Europa League winners in a repeat of May’s Copa del Rey final, which they won 2-0 after extra-time, but many of his usual first-team stars are lacking match fitness.
Regular starters Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and Gerard Pique, among others, have only featured in two pre-season games, whereas the likes of Denis Suarez, Arda Turan and Munir El Haddadi have featured in all four fixtures thus far.
The coach must decide whether he wants to use the game to improve the condition of his ‘Gala XI’, with the second leg to come on August 17, or pick the players with the most match-fitness at present.
However, the trickiest decision has been solved for him, with goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen suffering a knee ligament sprain in training on Thursday, ruling him out for up to three weeks.
That means Claudio Bravo will start the game and postpones the need for the coach to settle a battle for position that has been brewing since both goalkeepers signed for the club in 2014.
Of the Spanish champions’ four new signings, Lucas Digne is the most likely to start, because left-back Jordi Alba has not featured at all in pre-season due to stomach pains, with Catalunya Radio now reporting he has adductor problems too.
Lionel Messi, who scored twice against Sampadoria in Barcelona’s 3-2 Joan Gamper trophy victory on Wednesday, is set to lead the line with Luis Suarez and Munir, while Neymar and Rafinha are absent due to their participation in the Olympic Games.
Sampaoli makes impression
Barcelona are looking to better their performance in the same competition last season, when they were humiliated 4-0 away from home against Athletic Bilbao before drawing the second leg 1-1.
Last season they beat Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup, a 5-4 thriller, and their opponents come into this clash having suffered another defeat in this year’s edition of that final, against Real Madrid.
Sevilla led until stoppage time but Sergio Ramos’ goal levelled the scores at 2-2, before Dani Carvajal scored at the end of extra-time to leave Jorge Sampaoli empty-handed on his debut as the club’s coach.
The Argentine manager, a Copa America winner with Chile in 2015, has already stamped his mark on the side, playing a bold 3-5-2 formation against Madrid.
“We have focused our minds on Sevilla, a team that has changed its style of play, with a new manager and are looking very dangerous,” said Luis Enrique.
Sevilla have lost several key players, including Kevin Gameiro, Coke, and midfield duo Ever Banega and Grzegorz Krychowiak, while signing new talent like Luciano Vietto, Matias Kranevitter and Franco Vazquez, the latter of whom scored against Madrid.
After the defeat by Los Blancos, Sampaoli said: “It was exciting (to play) with such bravery against Real Madrid, with little time to work so far.
“We are starting to think about what is coming, helping the players recover so they arrive at the next game in good shape.”
The coach doesn’t think playing in both Super Cups is helping his team ahead of the new season.
He added: “They’re harmful because they force you to cut short your preparation, but you have to take them on knowing you are facing an opponent as tricky as Barcelona.”
Sevilla will be without long-term absentees Michael Krohn-Dehli and Benoit Tremoulinas.