We’ll be back soon with an account of what we watched this past weekend, but first there are two matches later today that are worthy of your attention:
Monday, August 22
This is an annual pre-season friendly hosted by Barcelona each August, named after Joan (nee Hans) Gamper–a Swiss player and businessman, and founding member of FC Zurich. He moved to Barcelona in 1898, where he founded, played for, and then served as club president of FC Barcelona (cf. Chapter 4 of Jimmy Burns’ definitive history of the club, Barça: A People’s Passion).
For this trophy, Barcelona invites a club from outside Spain to play at the Camp Nou; the past few years have seen top clubs like AC Milan, Man City, Boca Junions, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, and Juventus travel to Barcelona. Today it’s another Serie A club, one that has emerged as a challenger to the Milanese hegemony in Italy.
Napoli finished 3rd in Serie last season, behind the two Milan team, so we’ll be seeing them in the Champions League this fall. Their breakout star last year was 24-year-old Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani–he scored a club-record 26 goals in Serie A last season, his first with Napoli after they’d signed him away from Palermo. Napoli showed they’re serious about challenging in Serie A–and perhaps even in the Champions League–by extending Cavani’s contract until 2016.
Not only that, they added to their squad over the summer by signing Swiss-Turkish midfielder Gökhan Inler away from Udinese (who, by contrast with Napoli, sold off their star players following their strong finish in Serie A last season).
Inler’s unveiling in Naples was quite literally that–or more accurately, an unmasking. See the photo, or better yet the video: “Presentazione Gokhan Inler con la maschera da leone e la grande risposta di De Laurentiis” (yes, that’s the film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, who refounded the club after it had gone into bankruptcy into 2004).
And of course on the other side of the ball it’s only the best club side of our era. Given that it’s just a friendly, we’ll be watching for some of the second-stringers to get more playing time: new/recent arrivals Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sanchez and Ibrahim Affelay, as well as La Masia graduate Thiago Alcântara. Consider that those four (Thiago and Cesc in the midfield, in the spots where Xavi and Iniesta usually run things; Sanchez and Affeley on the wings), plus current starters Messi and Busquets, form a front six (in Barça 4-3-3) for the next decade–Cesc and Affelay are the senior members of that lineup at 24 and 25, respectively.
EPL, Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur (3pmET, ESPN2/ESPN3.com): A more consequential match than the one above. It’s Tottenham’s season opener, after their Week One fixture was postponed in the wake of the London riots–and they have the tough draw of going into Old Trafford to face defending title-holders ManU. Here are Coach Larry’s thoughts on the match:
Considering we know (assume?) that Spurs will make significant changes to their team before the window closes, how they lineup should prove interesting. United’s squad appears settled, and now they have the youth (back from loan spells) they lacked last term. ManU should lock down the midfield area to protect their central defense, but Rafael van der Vaart could prove a challenge. Tottenham’s back line represents their most consistent group and their matchup against United’s attack probably will offset.
Our resident Spurs fan John Lally is optimistic: “I really fancy spurs to put in a performance today. Ashley Young is their biggest threat but hopefully we start [Croatian] Kranjčar again in the middle. I’ll say 2-2”
Also optimistic is the Guardian’s Barney Ronay, who writes that the Spurs may “wing” their way to victory, thus ending to their long drought at Old Trafford (their last win there was in December 1989!)–that is to say, that the matchups to watch will be on the wings, where Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will be running at Man U depleted defense.