Pedro has been included in the Barcelona squad for the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup away at Athletic Bilbao on Friday, although manager Luis Enrique has admitted that the forward’s future remains in considerable doubt. Pedro was the hero when scoring a dramatic extra-time goal to give Barcelona a 5-4 victory over Sevilla in the European Super Cup earlier this week. Yet he had started the match on the bench, because, according to one club official, of a desire to leave amid strong interest from Manchester United.
Conflicting that statement, Enrique has insisted that Pedro did not start because of a lingering injury. But he couldn’t confirm whether the 27-year-old would feature in the lineup on Friday, or how long he would remain at the club beyond the match.
“I do not make decisions based on the transfer market,” he said on Thursday, according to Spanish sports daily AS. “He did not play as a starter in Tbilisi because he withdrew from training a few days before, his position is an unusual and difficult one. His situation is a contradiction because he wants to stay but he always wants more minutes. I’ll continue to use the players I deem best to face each particular game. I’m looking forward to the end of the transfer window for everything to be decided.”
With Neymar still suffering from mumps, Enrique will doubtless be reluctant to do without Pedro. But that situation is not the only complication ahead of the meeting with Athletic. Having played 120 minutes in Georgian capital Tbilisi on Tuesday night and not gotten back to Barcelona until the following morning, Barcelona face a huge challenge to recover in time for what for the Catalans is a fixture of huge importance. The Spanish Super Cup, which has its second leg at the Camp Nou next Monday, represents a chance for Barcelona to take the fifth trophy of five available to them in 2015 and leave them just December’s Club World Cup shy of making it a perfect six. And Enrique has conceded that the fixture congestion to start the new campaign is hardly ideal.
“That is how the calendar is drawn up,” he said. “There is no choice but to try and overcome it and get the best out of the team. I hope any fatigue is noticed as little as possible.”
Captain Andres Iniesta has recovered from a knock against Sevilla to be able to take his place in the squad for Friday, but there has been one casualty from Tbilisi. Jeremy Mathieu, who was at fault for Sevilla’s second and third goals, has been left at home, meaning that, with Jordi Alba still out injured, Adriano is set to deputize at left-back.
Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde will be hoping the disruption will make Barcelona less of a formidable challenge than his team encountered in the final of the Copa del Rey at the end of May. A Liionel Messi-inspired Barcelona triumphed 3-1 on that occasion to complete the second leg of their treble.
“We hope they are not at the level they were in the cup final,” he said, reports AS. “On that occasion they were at their best, on the group and individual level. It was a 90-minute match and we had our chances but they were very good. Hopefully we can catch them off-guard. They have the advantage because the second game is at Camp Nou. You have to stop them from dominating possession otherwise you get bogged down in your own area.”
But Valverde has also claimed that Athletic’s fitness concerns are more significant than those of their opponents. Ander Iturraspe, Iñaki Williams and Mikel Rico are all ruled out, along with Iker Muniain, who remains sidelined with a long-term knee injury suffered in April.
Kickoff time: 4 p.m. EDT
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