Barcelona kick off their season with the Supercopa de España against Sevilla at the Stade Ibn Batouta in Tangier Morocco. The Supercopa pits the winner of La Liga against the winners of the Copa del Rey; however, because Barcelona won the domestic double last season, they instead face the runners-up to the Copa in Sevilla. Another twist to proceedings this year is that instead of the normal two-legged affair, there will only be one.
Barcelona will be happy for the switch, after Real Madrid roundly humiliated them twice last August with 1-3 and 2-0 victories. Those were Barca’s first games post Neymar’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, and Los Blancos took advantage of the disorder of the Catalonian side at the start of Ernesto Valverde’s tenure as manager.
This season the optics for the Blaugrana are very different. Rather than a state of disorder, Barca look strong and ready to win now. With Cristiano Ronaldo gone from Madrid, the Madridistas’ hegemony over the Champions League appears set to end, and Barcelona can use this game to make a statement about the coming season. Although last year’s Supercopa shows that this game is rarely a predictor of what is to come –Madrid struggled for much of the first half of the season despite the seemingly dominant result, while Barcelona launched into a nearly undefeated La Liga campaign– Valverde can use this game to blood his new players like Malcom and Arturo Vidal while working back his star players into the mix. With World Cup victor Ousmane Dembele, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and other first team players yet to make an appearance in preseason, the Supercopa against an overmatched Sevilla is a fine time to get people back into the flow.
Barcelona roundly defeated Sevilla 0-5 in the Copa del Rey last April, and while the Catalan squad has improved since then, barring the departure of the legendary Andres Iniesta, Sevilla’s squad seems to have suffered in the intervening months. Important Argentine attacker Joaquin Correa has joined Lazio to replace the Italian sides’ outbound Felipe Anderson; Guido Pizarro left for Mexican giants Tigres; star center back Clement Lenglet joined Barcelona, where he will probably see game time against his former employers, and bubble Spain keeper Sergio Rico has joined Fulham on loan in London. Sandro Ramirez as well, who provided decent depth on loan from Everton, has returned to Merseyside to fight for his place against Cenk Tosun and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
While Sevilla have addressed the loss of midfielder depth well with the signing of Roque Mesa from relegated Swansea and Ibrahim Amadou from Lille, the arrival of Aleix Vidal from Barcelona, where he was both oft-injured and rarely selected, does little to soften the loss of Correa and Ramirez. In goalkeeper, Tomas Vaclik will need to prove his quality fast, because the step up from Basel and the Swiss league to Barca is huge.
For these reasons, Sevilla seem little equipped to test Barcelona. Additionally, with Barcelona’s midfield so congested with talent, even a somewhat rotated lineup with Rafinha and Arthur Melo controlling the center of the park could be deadly, as these players try to make their way into Valverde’s plans for the season. What’s worse for Los Rojiblancos is that if a rotated lineup isn’t getting it done, Messi or Coutinho off the bench probably will.
While the stakes aren’t too high in this game, Barca’s intrasquad competition for minutes combined with the return of the Blaugrana’s superstars from summer break, should be enough to overcome a Sevilla side still smarting from their obliteration last April.
Prediction: Barcelona 3-1 Sevilla