WASHINGTON – When Manchester United and FC Barcelona meet in the 2011 Herbalife World Football Challenge on Saturday night at FedEx Field (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes), the Red Devils will be nearly at full strength while the La Liga champions continue to be shorthanded.
That means that Manchester United are the favorites, right?
“There are never favorites,” FC Barcelona back-up goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto said after a morning practice at RFK Stadium on Friday. “Until the end of a match you never know. Each game is its own world and it could turn out great for one team that’s not favorite and not so good for the other.”
With Sir Alex Ferguson forced to do without Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (concussion) and winger Antonio Valencia (vacation), his counterpart, Pep Guardiola, will be missing five players still on holiday after their participation in the Copa America, while starting defender Carles Puyol continues to work his way back from offseason surgery to his left knee.
Barcelona did see midfield maestro Xavi return to full training for the first time on Friday. Guardiola made it a point to have a short gathering to welcome him back to the fold before the morning session kicked off.
“The result is important but the most important thing we want to take out of it is something positive,” Pinto said. “We want to take a step in our physical preparation and our style of play. Preseasons are there to prepare this. That’s the most important thing.”
Even FC Barcelona’s second-string goalkeeper needs to ensure he’s fit for a season which will see the legendary Spanish side gunning for what could be a famous sextuple: Spanish Super Cup, European Super Cup, La Liga, UEFA Champions League, Copa del Rey and the FIFA Club World Cup.
They won three of those trophies last year, including the UEFA Champions League against Manchester United back on May 28. Saturday night’s WFC encounter is an immediate grudge match, just weeks after their last meeting which concluded the European season.
“It’s not revenge, I wouldn’t call it that,” said Pinto, who joined Barcelona during the winter transfer window in January 2008. “I would call it a beautiful game in which two great teams will face each other and which will serve for us to improve ourselves and stay active this preseason.”
Although Victor Valdes is seen as the fixture in net, Pinto started 17 matches for the club last season in La Liga, Champions League and Copa del Rey. The club had a record of 12-3-2 with the 35-year-old in goal.
Pinto, who is recognized for his distinct hairstyle featuring corn rows and a pony tail, has come on for Valdes to start the second half in each of the club’s three preseason matches played in Europe. There is little reason to believe it won’t happen against at FedEx Field on Saturday night.
“I think everything is relative and above all in the preseason everything’s relative,” Pinto said. “You have to think that the most important is to be prepared. And that’s what the preseason is for. To get to the point where we’re 100 percent.”