Barcelona’s quest to add to their clean sweep of trophies last season will begin with Tuesday’s UEFA European Super Cup against Sevilla in Tbilisi. Spearheaded by a record-breaking attack of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona landed a La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble for the second time in their history. That success means that before the La Liga season even gets underway in a little under two weeks’ time, the Catalans will have a chance to swell their trophy cabinet yet further, first against Europa League winners Sevilla and then in the Spanish Super Cup against Athletic Bilbao.
Victory in both would leave the club just a triumph in the Club World Cup away from matching the achievements of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team in 2009. But if they are to land the two Super Cups they will have to do so without their famed forward trio in full force. Brazilian forward Neymar, who scored 39 of the trio’s 122 goals last season, has been sidelined for two weeks after contracting mumps.
Neymar had only returned to the fold in last week’s friendly against Roma, having been given an extended layoff following his participation in the Copa America. Still he and Messi, also making his first appearance of preseason, hit the ground running with a goal apiece in a 3-0 victory.
In Neymar’s absence there is likely to be a starting role handed to Pedro. The Spain international saw his opportunities limited last season by the devastating form of the world’s best front line and has been strongly linked with a transfer to Manchester United, Indeed, there is plenty of speculation that the European Super Cup could witness the 28-year-old’s final appearance for the club he joined at the age of 17.
The absence of Neymar, though, may also cause concern that Pedro’s departure could leave Barcelona short of options in the short term. Former Atlético Madrid star Arda Turan will make the trip to the Georgian capital but is ineligible to play due to Barcelona’s ban from registering new players until January. The same is true for Aleix Vidal, who will be denied a meeting with the club he left to move to the Camp Nou this summer.
Vidal is not the only significant departure from Sevilla this summer. The club has regularly had to overcome losing its key players in recent years and, despite winning the Europa League for a second successive season to earn a place in the Champions League, it has been a similar story this time around. The headline sale has been Carlos Bacca, who top scored last season with 28 goals but completed a big-money transfer to AC Milan.
In total, 11 players who saw playing time last season have exited this summer, although some notable replacements have been secured, including Italy striker Ciro Immobile, on loan from Borussia Dortmund, and gifted Ukraine winger Yevhen Konoplyanka. Yet manager Unai Emery’s plans for the Super Cup have been severely hampered by injury and illness. Steven N’Zonzi is definitely ruled out by gastroenteritis and the same ailment is also putting the participation of fellow new signing Adil Rami as well as Timothée Kolodziejczak in doubt. Defenders Daniel Carriço and Nico Pareja are unavailable due to injury.
Prediction: Barcelona may be missing Neymar, but Sevilla’s fitness problems are severe, particularly in defense, where they are likely to have to field a midfielder out of position. Combine that with the general disruption to Sevilla’s squad this summer and, despite how impressive Emery’s men were last season, a more settled Barcelona should triumph to take home another trophy.
Predicted score: Barcelona 2-0 Sevilla