Unusual start to season continues for Barca

MONACO - Barcelona's unusual start to the season continues on Friday when the European champions seek their third trophy in 10 days, against Porto in the European Super Cup, before even starting their league campaign.

A players' strike in Spain has delayed La Liga but Barcelona have already beaten Real Madrid 5-4 over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup and won the Joan Gamper Cup, named after their founder, by beating Napoli 5-0 on Monday.

They have secured another prized asset with the return of Cesc Fabregas from Arsenal, and while winning the Super Cup is not the most important of UEFA honours, coach Pep Guardiola is expected to name a strong side for Barca's record eighth appearance.

Barcelona won the Champions League last season with a superb 3-1 win over Manchester United at Wembley and have already shown why they are favourites to retain that crown, with Lionel Messi proving his sharpness against Real despite having only recently returned to training after his summer break.

The World Player of the Year scored three and set up two of Barca's goals against their great rivals and also scored two more in the 5-0 friendly win over Napoli on Monday.

The Napoli game gave Guardiola scope to test Fabregas in an advanced role, more usually occupied by Messi, and the former Arsenal captain impressed by scoring the opening goal. But he could well start on the bench on Friday.

"I still need to adapt to everything - I'm not Messi, nowhere near," Fabregas told Barca television. "Here everything is very disciplined, at Arsenal I played where I wanted - little by little I'll find my feet and I will learn a lot."

The arrival of the versatile Spain midfielder gives Guardiola plenty of options to vary his team in Friday's match against the Europa League winners and in other friendlies organised because of the strike.

Barca's other new recruit, Chile forward Alexis Sanchez, is back in training after a muscle strain, but Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and midfielder Ibrahim Afellay are injured which could mean Eric Abidal, a former Monaco player, and Javier Mascherano being drafted into the centre of defence.

NEW COACH

Porto will be contesting their fourth Super Cup final and are still searching for the form that secured the Europa League, the Portuguese Premier League - undefeated - and the domestic cup last season under Andre Villas-Boas.

New coach Vitor Pereira was promoted from his job as assistant when Villas-Boas moved to Chelsea and he will be guiding the team in the Champions League this season.

He has made a strong start in terms of results, lifting the Portuguese Super Cup and winning the first two league matches to take an early lead over Benfica and Sporting.

But early-season displays have been lacklustre and the side have looked disjointed. In last weekend's match against Gil Vicente, they looked affected by the sale of Colombia striker Radamel Falcao to Atletico Madrid but came from behind to win 3-1.

Porto will certainly miss Falcao, who grabbed 38 goals last season. Brazilian striker Kleber, brought in from Atletico Mineiro, had a strong pre-season but has failed to score in the early competitive games.

The match, at the Stade Louis II, will be the 14th and penultimate Super Cup to be played in the principality since it became a one-off curtain-raiser to the European club season in 1998. After next year, the final will be staged in Prague from 2013.

Possible teams:

Barcelona: 1-Victor Valdes; 2-Dani Alves, 14-Javier Mascherano, 22-Eric Abidal, 21-Adriano Correia; 6-Xavi, 16-Sergio Busquets, 8-Andres Iniesta; 17-Pedro, 10-Lionel Messi, 7-David Villa.

Porto: 1-Helton; 21-Cristian Sapunaru, 14-Rolando, 30-Nicolas Otamendi, 13-Jorge Fucile; 6-Fredy Guarin, 23-Souza, 8-Joao Moutinho; 12-Hulk, 11-Kleber, 17-Silvestre Varela.

Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands).


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