ARLINGTON, Texas — The heat will be turned up in Texas this weekend and not just because of the heat wave that’s hitting the state.
FC Barcelona need a convincing victory in the worst way in their final preseason match as they face Mexican power Club América at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the final match of the 2011 Herbalife World Football Challenge (4 p.m. ET, ESPN and ESPN Deportes).
The Catalan side fell in their opening two WFC matches against Manchester United and Chivas de Guadalajara, with the latter a 4-1 loss representing the most lopsided result of the Pep Guardiola era and one that Andrés Iniesta called “a warning.” América, who have yet to score in their two WFC defeats, are under similar pressure after dropping a 2-1 midweek home match against lowly Estudiantes Tecos in Mexican league action on Wednesday.
Saturday’s match will mark the third all-time encounter between the two sides. The first one was a memorable 4-4 tie at a sold out Reliant Stadium in Houston back in 2006. Barcelona put another four past América in the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup later that same year.
The injuries and absences persist for FC Barcelona but Guardiola has stated that he still expects the players he fields, whether reserves or youth players, to have enough game smarts to churn out a result.
Recovering injured players like Carles Puyol (knee surgery), Ibrahim Afellay (torn hamstring), Maxwell (abdomen) and Marc Muniesa (torn hamstring) join Lionel Messi, Alexis Sánchez, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves, who return from their vacations on Monday. Also, Gabriel Milito and Jeffren Suárez departed this week to join new clubs.
Guardiola is yet to send a true best XI on the field to start a match, rotating his players for a mix of veterans and youth players during this year’s US tour. But facing a highly anticipated, week-long lead-up to the first official match of the season against Real Madrid on August 14 in the first leg of the Spanish Supercopa, the manager may be more open to fielding as many starters as possible to get his team back on track.
América are further ahead in their preparations by comparison, already playing three matches in the Mexican Priméra División's Apertura season (1-1-1). However, it’s their latest match — a 2-1 loss to Estudiantes Tecos at the Estadio Azteca — that has fans in a tizzy.
The attack has not exactly taken off back in Mexico, with the team coached by Carlos Reinoso scoring just four times, including two own goals after three fixtures. Ecuadorean forward Christian “Chucho” Benítez will hope to redeem himself after failing to convert a penalty kick which would have equalized the league match against Tecos.
There will be even added pressure on América because of the fact that it was eternal rivals Chivas Guadalajara who handed Barcelona a heavy 4-1 defeat on Wednesday night in Miami. The team refused to acknowledge the Chivas win and their supposed need to match their result.
Las Águilas will feature the likes of US national team call-up Edgar Castillo, who has played left back and left midfield for his club side, and right back Paul Aguilar, who was called up by Mexico manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre and will face Castillo on August 10 in Philadelphia.
FC BARCELONA: FW David Villa – As the most experienced member of the Barcelona front line, the 2010 World Cup champion will need to help stake his team out to a comfortable lead if los Culés aim to have a comfortable afternoon. Villa missed lob shot that could have made it 2-0 for Barcelona against Chivas on Wednesday, leaving the window open for the Mexicans to make a second-half comeback.
CLUB AMÉRICA: GK Armando Navarrete – With Guillermo Ochoa’s move to French soccer, Navarrete is under the microscope after being given the starting job for the first time in his seven seasons for the Mexico City club. Some question his ability to match Ochoa’s quality and an error by the 30-year-old that gifted Juventus their lone goal in a 1-0 WFC loss on July 26 has added fuel to those arguments.