El Centrocampista

EL DERBI DILEMMA – International friendlies could provide Supercopa headache for Guardiola

By Lee Roden

As Sunday night’s Spanish Supercup tie between Barcelona and Real Madrid approaches, Pep Guardiola has a potential selection nightmare on his hands.

No less than ten of Guardiola’s key players will take part in international friendlies tonight ahead of the weekend’s fixture.

New signing Alexis Sanchez will go face to face with Eric Abidal as France take on Chile, and the usual Spanish contingent of Xavi,Iniesta,Busquets,Villa,Pedro and Valdes will face Italy.

Guardiola’s worries are  furthered by the inclusion of Thiago in the Spain squad, with the young star earning his first call up.

Finally, Dani Alves will participate for Brazil against Germany, having once again displaced Maicon in the starting eleven.

International matches are important in their own right, but can prove equally dangerous for club bosses at the same time.

Injuries picked up whilst on international duty often have a knock on effect for clubs, and with tonight’s fixtures taking place during the pre-season, when players often lack match fixtures, the danger is heightened.

Of course, Real Madrid will also face the same dangers with many of their stars, but it is particularly perilous to Guardiola, who is only this week able to call on the majority of his key players in training for the first time.

Looking forward to the Supercopa on Sunday night must be done with an air of caution then, as any predictions or foresight may be heavily altered by the outcome of tonight’s fixtures.

The first clásico of the season is almost upon us after mixed pre-season form.

None the less, what is clear already is that Real Madrid have had a far more consistent and indeed, fruitful, pre-season.

That being said, results like Real’s recent 7-1 thrashing of Chinese league leaders Guangzhou will, with all due respect, have little relevance to potential performances against Barça due to the quality of the opposition (or lack of).

What is important however is the winning spirit that will be instilled in the mind of the Madrid squad as a result of their successive wins during the summer period.

What Madrid have lacked in terms of facing quality opposition during the pre-season is countered with the morale lift winning games can have on players.

Madrid must be careful at the same time not to turn this confidence into naivety however, and avoid approaching playing Barcelona in the same way as their previous pre-season opponents, which I find unlikely to be the case anyway.

Barça on the other hand, have had little to no consistency in pre-season.

Guardiola must now begin to make a difficult decision on which team to play on Sunday.

In choosing to field a contingent of youth players, Guardiola would be able to draw on match fitness, though will at the same time sacrifice experience and quality in doing so.

Conversely, if Guardiola opts for his strongest eleven, he will be calling on players who have played minimal football over the summer period, and in turn risk injuries in the process.

What will please Guardiola however is David Villa’s performances in pre-season.

El Guaje has looked lively throughout and found the back of the net on several occasions.

Villa is perhaps the player with the most match fitness from Barça’s starting eleven, along with Sergio Busquets and, to a lesser extent, Andres Iniesta.

Even if Barça’s key players make it through tonight unscathed, they still approach Sunday with a clear disadvantage in terms of match fitness and player familiarity.

I expect a competitive affair, but one which will ultimately be shaped by Madrid’s pre-season advantage, as well as their home crowd.

I see Madrid winning, though only just, and believe that the return leg in the Camp Nou is likely to be the more exciting of the two games.

Join me on Monday for a look back at the first leg, and a preview of the return tie.

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