Madrid: Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova faces another tough test as his side entertains Valencia in the Spanish La Liga football on Sunday.
Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercup was Barca’s first setback of the season and raised several questions over Vilanova’s side.
Defensive errors cost Barcelona dear against Madrid as Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano both misjudged fairly straightforward passes and that could persuade Vilanova to recall captain, Carles Puyol, who missed out Wednesday with a broken right cheek.
Puyol could return to the side wearing a protective mask, as he has done in the past, but there is a doubt over Dani Alves, who had to pull out of the side at the last minute after suffering a muscle problem.
Alex Song looks to be in line for a start after performing impressively in the second half in Madrid, while Xavi Hernandez could be rested at the start of the game.
One of the big doubts in the start of the season at Barcelona is the role of Cesc Fabregas: the former Arsenal player was used in an advanced role last season by Pep Guardiola, but Vilanova clearly doesn’t see Cesc as a deep lying forward.
The problem is with Sergio Busquets, Iniesta, Song and Xavi all occupying the central midfield roles, Cesc doesn’t appear to have a place in the middle of the pitch and has spent a lot of the early season watching from the dugout with a not-too happy look on his face.
Vilanova may look for a way to give Cesc minutes against Valencia and that could see Iniesta also earn a rest after his trip to Monaco, where he was named as Uefa footballer of the 2011-2012 season on Thursday.
Elsewhere, David Villa can expect to play some part in the game against his former club as he continues his return to full fitness from a broken leg.
Valencia travel to Barcelona with two draws from two games: the first an impressive display to take a point from Real Madrid and the second, a rather less convincing performance when they let slip a 3-1 advantage at home to Deportivo la Coruna. A point in Barcelona would be a decent start to the season taking into account their rivals, while a defeat would mean new coach Mauricio Pellegrino remains under pressure from the club’s ever demanding fans as we go into the international break.