Manchester United vs. Barcelona: Picking the Key Battles
With the marketing leg of their preseason now complete, Man United will get down to business in the marquee match of their preseason schedule on Wednesday night.
After a couple of uninspiring victories and a hard-fought draw, they will face the first real test of the 2012-2013 season when they come face to face with FC Barcelona in Sweden.
With their top players now back from their extended holidays, both teams are expected to name strong sides.
A win for United wouldn't mean much in the long term, but it will provide a timely boost of confidence ahead of their campaign to regain the EPL title.
Antonio Valencia vs. Jordi Alba
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Barcelona’s most recent recruit will make his debut, and his introduction won’t be an easy one.
While he is a decent defender, his strength is as an attacking fullback.
He might have to rein in those instincts when he comes up against one of the best pure wingers in world football.
Valencia will be high in confidence, coming off a great season and having recently been bestowed with the illustrious No. 7 shirt at Old Trafford.
Alba will put up a decent fight, but he is still learning the Barcelona system and will be playing with new teammates.
Expect United to target him in one of the areas they have a clear advantage in.
Nemanja Vidic vs. David Villa
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While neither of these players are certain to start, I would love to see them both make their return from injury in this fixture.
Villa’s importance to the team diminished in his absence, so he will have lots to prove to show he can still be a key team member.
Vidic, on the other hand, was missed massively by United, so they will be glad to have him back, and he won’t have to push himself too hard.
While Villa has more to play for, Vidic has less pressure, and his game is less reliant on quick movement and pace.
Tiki-Taka vs. Manchester United Midfield
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United spent the majority of both games chasing shadows.
The onus will be United’s midfield to at least gain a foothold in the game.
The key won’t be winning possession, but rather retaining it when they do have the ball.
Shinji Kagawa will play a key role in this, as he will provide an outlet for the midfield and a link to the forwards/wingers.
Michael Carrick has had a few poor games against Barcelona in the past, so he will need to banish those memories.
Paul Scholes, on the other hand, played a limited role in both finals, so he will relish the chance to show he still has "it" at this level.
Expect United to be better, but not good enough.
Patrice Evra vs. Dani Alves
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While pitting a right fullback against a left fullback in a matchup like this might seem strange, Dani Alves is not your average right-back.
His role is to provide Barcelona width, which gives those inside space to exploit.
Evra was not at his best last season, with many predicting the end of his time at the top.
While the naysayers may have been premature, he is clearly in decline.
He is also coming off a busy summer with France, so he'll only be at the start of his preseason programme.
Alves, on the other hand, is flying. The club has put any transfer rumours to bed, and he has been back in training for three weeks after shoulder surgery.
He scored a goal against Hamburg a few weeks back and will put massive pressure on Evra.
Winner: Dani Alves
David De Gea vs. Anders Lindegaard
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While not a head-to-head between the two clubs, it will be a key battle in United’s preseason.
Most expected De Gea to be absent for another two weeks, so his earlier-than-expected arrival at preseason has put even more pressure on Lindegaard.
He has just signed a new contract with the club, so his long-term future is secure.
The only question that remains is if he can wrest the No. 1 shirt from De Gea.
Lindegaard fought his way into the first team last season before injury put an end to his season.
De Gea took his chance and when he returned to the team, he stepped up his performances.
With De Gea in poll position, Lindegaard will have to make the most of any opportunity he gets, and those opportunities will have been diminished by De Gea’s early return.
De Gea is the clear favourite for the role, so Lindegaard will need to do something special.
Winner: De Gea