Stade Louis II, Monaco
August 26, 2011, 18:45 GMT
The 2011 edition of the European Super Cup will be played this Friday, featuring last season’s Champions League winners FC Barcelona and Europa League winners FC Porto. The two sides had truly incredible campaigns last season: both Porto and Barcelona dominated their respective leagues (both beat their main rival, Real Madrid and Benfica, 5-0 at home) and the European competitions they were involved in. This season, they seem to have picked up from where they had left off – Porto won the Portuguese Super Cup with a 2-1 win over Vitória de Guimarães and won their first two matches in the league; Barcelona won the Super Cup against their eternal rivals Real Madrid.
It’s fair to say that this European Super Cup will pitch two of Europe’s strongest teams at the moment, two European giants trying to add yet another European trophy to their already extensive collection.
FC Barcelona are widely considered the best team in the world at the moment (and over the past few years) and must be considered favorites in this match, especially since Porto have lost their manager André Villas-Boas and star striker Radamel Falcao (selected by UEFA as the fifth best player in Europe last season).
But that doesn’t mean Barcelona will have it easy, far from it. Porto still have plenty of top quality players and one of the strongest units in football at the moment. Both FC Barcelona and FC Porto have an attacking football style, meaning that the first game of the 2011/2012 European season promises to be a great spectacle with top quality football in display – a great appetizer for the new European season from two teams, we’ll certainly see later in the season in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Team News and Tactical Brief
This summer, Porto have paid the price for being in a relatively small league/market. Their incredible success last season, where they were undoubtedly one of Europe’s strongest teams, meant that their players and manager were heavily raided. That said, Porto’s president Pinto da Costa is arguably the shrewdest man in the market and got some excellent deals: André Villas-Boas left for Chelsea for a record 15 million, while Radamel Falcao’s move to Atlético Madrid commanded a fee of 40 million.
One could be led to believe that this would significantly weaken Porto, but that’s not the case. Porto are used to selling their best players for huge fees and remain competitive. Their business model consists of buying cheap quality players, develop them and then sell them for expensive fees. That’s the only way a team like Porto can remain competitive in Europe, despite their financial disadvantage. This time, André Villas-Boas has been replaced by his former assistant Vitor Pereira, while Falcao’s place will be taken by the likes of James Rodriguez and Juan Iturbe, two of the most promising young players in the world at the moment (although they are not likely to participate in the Super Cup, at least not Iturbe, who has only recently joined the team). The clever signings of Mangala and Defour (for a combined fee of 13 million) are also sure to make Porto maybe an even better squad this year, although they are also not likely to feature on Friday.
Porto already lead the Portuguese league, having won their first two matches, with their star Hulk scoring three goals in the process. They haven’t looked quite as devastating as last season yet, but they remain a very solid and talented outfit. Porto have won four international trophies in the past decade but have never managed to win the European Super Cup. Their squad is at full strength at the moment, and they will fancy their chances of upsetting Barcelona in Monaco.
Porto should play in their traditional 4-3-3 system, with João Mourinho and Freddy Guarin behind a three man forward line led by the sensational Hulk. The key for Porto will be to sustain Barcelona’s inevitable pressure and expect Hulk to wreak havoc on the break when he has the chance.
Probable Starting Line-up: Helton; Alvaro Pereira, Rolando, Otamendi, Fucile; Souza, João Mourinho, Freddy Guarin; Varela/James Rodriguez, Kleber, Hulk.
Hard as it may seem to believe, the European Champions look poised to be an even stronger team this season. All the key players stayed at the club, while the additions of Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas will bring extra quality and depth to the side. Despite being far from full fitness, Barcelona still managed to win the Spanish Super Cup against Real Madrid. The squad is likely to be much fitter and better prepared now, a scary thought for FC Porto. This Monday, Barcelona played their last friendly, beating Napoli 5-0 with a fantastic performance.
With Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué out injured, Pep Guardiola will have to employ a makeshift defense (presumably with Abidal and Mascherano as center backs) for a match than can be historic for him. If Barcelona win this trophy, Pep Guardiola will surpass Johan Cruyff and become the most successful manager in the club’s history with 12 trophies.
Barcelona will play in the same way that they always do, in their traditional 4-3-3. They will try to dominate possession, patiently trying to create gaps in Porto’s defense and pressuring very high up the pitch as soon as they lose the ball, in order to recover it immediately. As in every Barcelona match since Pep Guardiola became manager, the game will be played on Barcelona’s terms; Porto’s only option will be to soak up the pressure and try to take advantage of Barcelona’s makeshift defense on the counter. Barcelona’s ability to retain the ball is what makes Pep Guardiola’s outfit one of the best in the history of the game and definitely gives them the edge for this match.
Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas aren’t likely to start, but they’re likely to feature as impacts substitutes at least. Barcelona will need to be on top of their game to capture yet another trophy.
Probable Starting Line-up: Victor Valdés; Adriano Correia, Eric Abidal, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta; Pedro Rodriguez, David Villa, Lionel Messi.
Interesting Match Facts
1. In 35 editions of the European Super Cup, the Champions League winners have won it 17 times and the Europa League winners 18 times. Since the competition became a single match affair in 1998, Champions League winners have won it five times and Europa League winners eight times. A good sign for FC Porto?
2. FC Porto have won this competition once (in 1987 against Ajax) but lost twice (2003 and 2004, against AC Milan and Valencia CF); FC Barcelona have won it three times (1992, 1997 and 2009, against Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and Shakhtar Donetsk) and lost it four times (1979, 1982, 1989, 2006, against Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa, AC Milan and Sevilla CF respectively.)
3. FC Porto and FC Barcelona have faced each other seven times in Europe, with Porto winning three times and Barcelona four. The last time the two sides faced each other was in the 1999/2000 Champions League group stages, with Barcelona winning both games (4-2 at home, 2-0 away) and both teams advancing to the quarter-finals.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Hulk (FC Porto)
He might not play in a big league (yet), but Hulk is undoubtedly a world-class forward. Last season, he had 36 goals and 21 assists and formed one of best attacking duos in the continent with Radamel Falcao. With Falcao’s exit, Hulk has extra responsibilities this year and so far he’s doing great, with three goals and three assists in three matches this season. This is very likely to be Hulk’s last season at Porto, chances are that the Portuguese giants will sell him next summer, probably for an even bigger fee than Falcao. Hulk has come to Europe (from Japan) relatively late and only last season did he finally start showing all his talent, but he’s only 25 and his physical and technical attributes are all the tools he needs to have a brilliant career.
Hulk’s speed, strength, directness and power make him the main threat for Barcelona in this Friday’s match. He can certainly hurt Barcelona on the counterattack if he’s given the space to run at the Barcelona defense. Pep Guardiola will surely be aware of the threat posed by the Brazilian forward.
FC Barcelona 2-1 FC Porto
Porto will cause troubles to Barcelona, exploit their makeshift and make the game tight, but in the end the individual talents of Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and co. should prevail and give Barcelona another European trophy.