A prestige friendly to end all prestige friendlies takes place in Gothenburg this evening when Manchester United lock horns with the mighty Barcelona.
Despite its non-meaningful nature, the glitzy fixture will still be viewed as a decent indicator as to where these two teams stand in what has been a peculiar summer for both.
Any match between the two sides cannot possibly be seen without evoking memories of their two recent Champions League final meetings, where Barcelona comfortably beat United 2-0 in 2009 and absolutely hammered them 3-1 in 2011.
Those chastising experiences are still playing on the minds of the United camp: assistant manager Mike Phelan admitted in the lead-up to this game that ‘there is a gap’ between the sides and that despite not winning either La Liga or the Champions League last season, Barca remain ‘the ones to catch’.
But how much of a gap is difficult to ascertain, given the amount of unknowns going into this season. As far as United are concerned, an average campaign last term nearly brought them an unlikely Premier League title.
However, much improvement is needed – the way they crashed out of Europe at the group stage shows how much development their young squad really requires – and without splashing the big cash that United fans had become accustomed to (the debate about the Glazers can wait for another time), Sir Alex Ferguson has had another quiet summer transfer window, bar the capture of promising Nick Powell from Crewe and Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa.
So how far ahead are Barcelona? They probably still are in front of United, but they lost out on the pots that mattered most last season and now Pep Guardiola has taken a sabbatical, there has to be a question mark about how his replacement, former number two Tito Vilanova, will fare after Guardiola’s trophy-laden spell in charge at the Camp Nou, even though his promotion makes sense given he is ingrained in the club’s ethos.
You would think with David Villa fully fit and the excellent Jordi Alba having joined from Valencia, Barcelona shouldn’t suffer too much of a post-Guardiola hangover, but any slip from their remarkable standards will be enough to make life uncomfortable for Vilanova.
United are priced at 29/10 to inflict a pre-season blow on the new man in charge on Wednesday evening, with Barcelona at 83/100 and the draw quoted at 13/5 and at this moment in time, it is hard to see past Barcelona for this one.
The Red Devils are struggling to score goals this summer, which will be a cause of concern for Ferguson. Of course, United have plenty of players who were called up for Euro 2012 and Olympic duty who are either still absent or working their way back to sharpness.
But a total of three goals in four games against opposition as poor as AmaZulu, Ajax Cape Town, Shanghai Shenhua and Valerenga is an extremely disappointing return and although there is no need to hit the panic button, United need to find their shooting boots in the next ten days.
Ferguson wasn’t even present to see his side draw 0-0 with Valerenga on Sunday (he was away on ‘other club business’) but he will be looking at a game against the Spanish giants as the perfect way to kick-start a subdued summer. But Barcelona are taking a fully-fit, 24-man squad to Sweden – including a refreshed Lionel Messi – as they finalise their own pre-season programme and having scored 12 goals in three friendlies to date, the Catalans look in the sort of form to take advantage of a stuttering United.
I’m not having the odds on, so instead I’ll take into account United’s lack of goals and go for the 37/20 that Barcelona win a match that sees under 3.5 goals.
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