MONACO - Barcelona's unusual start to the
season continues on Friday when the European champions seek
their third trophy in 10 days, against Porto in the European
Super Cup, before even starting their league campaign.
A players' strike in Spain has delayed La Liga but Barcelona
have already beaten Real Madrid 5-4 over two legs in the Spanish
Super Cup and won the Joan Gamper Cup, named after their
founder, by beating Napoli 5-0 on Monday.
They have secured another prized asset with the return of
Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal, and while winning the Super Cup is
not the most important of UEFA honours, coach Pep Guardiola is
expected to name a strong side for Barca's record eighth
Barcelona won the Champions League last season with a superb
3-1 win over Manchester United at Wembley and have already shown
why they are favourites to retain that crown, with Lionel Messi
proving his sharpness against Real despite having only recently
returned to training after his summer break.
The World Player of the Year scored three and set up two of
Barca's goals against their great rivals and also scored two
more in the 5-0 friendly win over Napoli on Monday.
The Napoli game gave Guardiola scope to test Fabregas in an
advanced role, more usually occupied by Messi, and the former
Arsenal captain impressed by scoring the opening goal. But he
could well start on the bench on Friday.
"I still need to adapt to everything - I'm not Messi,
nowhere near," Fabregas told Barca television. "Here everything
is very disciplined, at Arsenal I played where I wanted -
little by little I'll find my feet and I will learn a lot."
The arrival of the versatile Spain midfielder gives
Guardiola plenty of options to vary his team in Friday's match
against the Europa League winners and in other friendlies
organised because of the strike.
Barca's other new recruit, Chile forward Alexis Sanchez, is
back in training after a muscle strain, but Gerard Pique, Carles
Puyol and midfielder Ibrahim Afellay are injured which could
mean Eric Abidal, a former Monaco player, and Javier Mascherano
being drafted into the centre of defence.
Porto will be contesting their fourth Super Cup final and
are still searching for the form that secured the Europa League,
the Portuguese Premier League - undefeated - and the
domestic cup last season under Andre Villas-Boas.
New coach Vitor Pereira was promoted from his job as
assistant when Villas-Boas moved to Chelsea and he will be
guiding the team in the Champions League this season.
He has made a strong start in terms of results, lifting the
Portuguese Super Cup and winning the first two league matches to
take an early lead over Benfica and Sporting.
But early-season displays have been lacklustre and the side
have looked disjointed. In last weekend's match against Gil
Vicente, they looked affected by the sale of Colombia striker
Radamel Falcao to Atletico Madrid but came from behind to win
Porto will certainly miss Falcao, who grabbed 38 goals
last season. Brazilian striker Kleber, brought in from Atletico
Mineiro, had a strong pre-season but has failed to score in the
early competitive games.
The match, at the Stade Louis II, will be the 14th and
penultimate Super Cup to be played in the principality since it
became a one-off curtain-raiser to the European club season in
1998. After next year, the final will be staged in Prague from
Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Dani Alves, 14-Javier
Mascherano, 22-Eric Abidal, 21-Adriano Correia; 6-Xavi,
16-Sergio Busquets, 8-Andres Iniesta; 17-Pedro, 10-Lionel Messi,
Porto: 1-Helton; 21-Cristian Sapunaru, 14-Rolando,
30-Nicolas Otamendi, 13-Jorge Fucile; 6-Fredy Guarin, 23-Souza,
8-Joao Moutinho; 12-Hulk, 11-Kleber, 17-Silvestre Varela.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands).
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