El Centrocampista

MONTE CARLO CALLING – Porto will provide stiff opposition, but Barça are prepared.

By Lee Roden

With the continuing strike action by players in La Liga, it is fortunate for F.C Barcelona supporters that there are so many non-league games to be played.

Success over Real Madrid was followed by another victory in the annual torneig Joan Gamper on Monday night over Napoli.

Despite the usual flurry of half-time changes, Guardiola’s men were at their show-boating best, trumping the Italians five goals to nil, and looked capable of doubling that tally.

Guardiola started with a fairly strong line-up that included central defender Gerard Pique.

Pique has lacked minutes in the pre-season, and so having escaped a full 45 against Napoli unscathed, it seemed that all was going well for Guardiola.

It was. Until yesterday. Pique picked up an injury in training that means he will now be out for up to three weeks, though recovery time will of course vary.

Guardiola will accept nothing less than victory.

What is guaranteed is that he will miss out on Friday night’s UEFA Supercup clash against FC Porto. It’s back to square one for Guardiola in terms of his central defensive pairing, it seems.

Guardiola is notoriously competitive, and treats every game Barça plays with equal value. The Supercup is no different, and the coach will accept nothing less than adding the trophy to Barça’s growing cabinet.

Porto are no pushovers however, and will provide Guardiola with exactly the kind of opposition he craves prior to the league campaign starting (if it ever does).

Porto were undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with in the Europa League last year, and should never be underestimated.

That being said, two key departures in particular may hinder them from continuing on European glory.

The loss of last season’s mastermind Andre Villas Boas is a big one, and any team would struggle to replace a coach as involved and inspiring as the Portuguese.

Making matters worse is the further loss of the talismanic Radamel Falcao. Most followers of European football will be familiar with the Columbian by now, and finding someone else to fill his boots will be a near impossible task.

Both losses may work to Guardiola’s gain, and are augmented by the luxury the Catalan now has in being able to pick from a strengthened squad, post-summer.

Cesc Fabregas demonstrated in the Joan Gamper that he can play the “false 9” role, usually only occupied by Lionel Messi, more than capably.

Providing cover for this position has been something Guardiola has struggled to achieve over the last two years. In Fabregas, Barça now have an alternative that will not try to replicate Messi, but rather, bring something completely new to the position.

Furthering Guardiola’s delight is the news that Alexis Sanchez has resumed normal training with the Barça squad, and should be available for the Supercup clash.

Sanchez, like Fabregas in midfield, provides a completely different option in the wide position. The Chilean’s pace and ability to track back and defend well in particular, is something that may be of great use against the physicality of Porto. Particularly when Barça are faced with their powerhouse forward, Hulk.

Ultimately, one off ties are rarely settled on paper, and it is by no means certain that Barcelona will succeed on Friday.

What is true however is that Guardiola can now call upon a squad that is more versatile than any other previously at his disposal.

With the team beginning to look sharper due to increased game time and match fitness, this can only be a good thing for Barça’s chances in the Supercup.

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