Guardiola eyes more Barcelona history
Pep Guardiola can become the most decorated coach in Barcelona's history when the reigning European champions take on Porto in Friday's UEFA Super Cup showpiece in Monaco.
Guardiola, 40, has needed just three years in charge of the club he represented with such distinction as a player to equal Johann Cruyff's record tally of 11 titles at the Camp Nou. It is a remarkable statistic, and such is the Catalans' dominance of the European game right now that it would be a huge surprise if Guardiola was not celebrating title number 12 come Friday night at the Stade Louis II.
Of course, Barcelona have already won silverware this season, beating Real Madrid 5-4 on aggregate after two pulsating legs to claim the Spanish Super Cup. The Spanish domestic season was due to begin last weekend until a strike by the players' union put paid to the entire opening round of fixtures, but the intensity of their double-header with Jose Mourinho's side helped the Catalans get into shape.
They were in fine fettle on Monday, hammering Napoli 5-0 in the annual Joan Gamper Trophy at the Camp Nou. Now they head to the principality looking for a repeat of their Super Cup triumph in 2009, when Pedro scored the only goal of the game in extra time to beat Shakhtar Donetsk.
Barcelona are also hoping to win the trophy for Spain for the third year running, after Atletico Madrid saw off Inter Milan 2-0 last year. However, while their attacking options appear stronger than ever after the signings of Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, Guardiola's decision not to bolster his defence may present a problem with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique having been ruled out for the next three weeks.
Puyol has a knee problem, while Pique suffered a calf injury in training on Tuesday, meaning Javier Mascherano should partner former Monaco man Eric Abidal at the heart of Barcelona's back four.
Changes at Porto
Porto also enjoyed a memorable 2010/11 campaign, in which they beat domestic rivals Braga to win the UEFA Europa League in Dublin, and completed a league and cup double at home. Since then, coach Andre Villas-Boas has been lured away to Chelsea, while Colombian striker Radamel Falcao - who scored 17 goals in the Dragons' triumphant Europa League run - has been sold to Atletico Madrid along with midfielder Ruben Micael for a combined fee that could reach an astonishing €52 million.
Uruguay full-back Alvaro Pereira could be on his way out too, with Villas-Boas keen to take him to Chelsea. With his future at the Estadio do Dragao in doubt, Pereira is not in the squad, but he and Falcao aside, the other nine men who started in May's Europa League final are named by new coach Vitor Pereira. Pereira, 43, was Villas-Boas' assistant last season, but this is his first season as a coach at the top level.
Guardiola was himself a novice when he took the reins at Barcelona in 2008, and Pereira's inexperience has not prevented him from winning the domestic Super Cup and rising to the top of the early table in Portugal, with the Dragons winning both of their league games to date. However, after beating modest Gil Vicente on Saturday, Guardiola's Barcelona are a different prospect altogether.