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Jul 27, 2019 at 10am UK at ​Noevir Stadium Kobe
Vissel KobeVissel Kobe
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Perez (59', 86')

Preview: Vissel Kobe vs. Barcelona - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews the pre-season clash between Vissel Kobe and Barcelona, including team news and predicted lineups.

Barcelona will continue their preparations for the 2019-20 campaign with a clash against Japanese side Vissel Kobe in the Rakuten Cup on Saturday.

The Spanish champions suffered a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in their pre-season opener on Tuesday, with Ivan Rakitic scoring a late consolation for Ernesto Valverde's side.

Vissel Kobe

Andres Iniesta poses with the Vissel Kobe shirt after confirming his move to Japan on May 24, 2018© Reuters

Much of the focus on Vissel Kobe will be on Andres Iniesta. The 35-year-old left Barca to join the Japanese outfit last summer and will now face his former club for the first time.

The midfielder made a staggering 674 appearances for Barca in all competitions, winning nine La Liga titles, six Copas del Rey and four Champions League titles. It was somewhat of a surprise when the Spaniard left Europe behind for a fresh challenge, but he has contributed six goals and seven assists in 29 appearances for his current team.

It will certainly be a special occasion for Iniesta, but Vissel Kobe also have a certain David Villa in their ranks. The forward turned out for Barca between 2010 and 2013, winning eight trophies during his time at Camp Nou. Villa moved to Vissel Kobe last December and has scored 10 times in 17 appearances for the club.

The Japanese club also signed Sergi Samper from Barca for the current season, with the 24-year-old turning his back on Europe to seek a fresh challenge. Meanwhile, former Arsenal attacker Lukas Podolski has been with Ushi since 2017, contributing 14 goals in 52 appearances in all competitions.

Vissel Kobe finished second in the J1 League back in 2013, but have struggled in recent years, posting positions of 11th, 12th, seventh, ninth and 10th over the last five campaigns. Thorsten Fink's side are actually in the middle of their current season and occupy 15th spot in the table having won just six of their 20 matches.

The team will bring a three-game losing streak into the friendly with Barca, the last of which was a 2-0 home defeat to Yokohama F Marinos last weekend. Iniesta and Villa both played in that match, but Samper was an unused substitute and Podolski missed out once again through illness.

It would be fair to say that Vissel Kobe have bigger fish to fry when considering that they have a big game against Gamba Osaka in the league next Friday, but having the chance to face Barca is not something that comes around too often.

Much of the focus will be on Iniesta, but the match will provide an opportunity for a number of lesser-known players to show their talents on a wider stage and the hosts should certainly have the edge when it comes to fitness.

Recent form: DWWLLL


Antoine Griezmann warms up for Barcelona on July 23, 2019© Reuters

The likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are not yet available for Barca following their exertions at the 2019 Copa America, but Valverde has still brought a strong squad on tour. Antoine Griezmann made his debut for the club against Chelsea on Tuesday, but could not prevent the Catalan giants from suffering a 2-1 defeat.

Tammy Abraham and Ross Barkley were both on the scoresheet for Chelsea, with Rakitic's late effort proving to be nothing more than a consolation. There were some key absentees against the Blues, but a strong starting XI did include the likes of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets.

The clash with Frank Lampard's side came little under two months after Barca lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final. The Catalan giants missed the chance to win another domestic double during the 2018-19 campaign, but they will again be the team to beat in Spain's top flight in the coming season, despite Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid both spending big.

In terms of what is ahead, Valverde's side will follow the clash with Vissel Kobe by facing Arsenal in the Joan Gamper Trophy on August 4. The Spanish outfit will then take on Napoli back-to-back matches ahead of their La Liga opener away to Athletic Bilbao on August 16.

Barca, relatively speaking, will not actually play too much football this summer before the start of competitive action. International commitments mean that the team are still waiting on some key players ahead of the new campaign, but that is also the case with a number of the top clubs at this stage of pre-season.

It will be fascinating to see how Griezmann settles into life at Barca, particularly when Luis Suarez and Messi are back in the fold. It would be fair to assume that Valverde will go with those three in the final third of the field, which places doubt on the future of Ousmane Dembele, who continues to be linked with a move away from the club.

Talk of a move for Neymar continues to rumble on, although it seems that Barca would have to convince Paris Saint-Germain to take a couple of players in exchange plus a transfer fee as the Catalan giants will find it incredibly difficult to pay the £200m reportedly being demanded this summer.

Valverde's main focus for now will be preparing for the clash with Vissel Kobe, though, and a number of interesting side stories mean that it should be an entertaining battle in Japan.

Recent form: LLWDLL

Team News

Antoine Griezmann in action for Barcelona on July 23, 2019© Reuters

Iniesta and Villa are both expected to start for the home team, but Podolski has not featured since the end of May due to illness and the former Germany international could miss out once again here.

Samper will be hoping for the chance to face his former club, but Hotaru Yamaguchi and Takuya Yasui could continue as the midfield two in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Brazilian attacker Wellington should be given the nod through the middle for the Japanese outfit, with Kyogo Furuhashi also expected to feature.

As for Barca, Frenkie de Jong also made his debut off the bench against Chelsea and the Netherlands international should come into the starting XI for this match.

Clement Lenglet, Rakitic and Malcom will also be hoping for starts having featured off the bench last time out, while Nelson Semedo should be given the nod at right-back.

As mentioned above, Luis Suarez and Messi are not yet available following their international commitments this summer, while Philippe Coutinho misses out for the same reason.

Dembele should be given another chance to impress in the final third of the field, while Carles Alena and Rafinha will also be hoping to receive more minutes for Valverde's side.

Vissel Kobe possible starting lineup:
Maekawa; Nishi, Osaki, Miya, Hatsuse; Yamaguchi, Yasui; Villa, Iniesta, Furuhashi; Wellington

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Semedo, Pique, Lenglet, Alba; Busquets, De Jong, Rakitic; Malcom, Griezmann, Dembele

Head To Head

Saturday's match will be the first ever meeting between the two teams.

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We say: Vissel Kobe 1-3 Barcelona

Vissel Kobe will have an advantage considering that they are in the middle of their league season, but it is difficult to predict anything other than a Barca win given the distance in quality between the two teams. We fancy Griezmann to net his first goal for the club in a 3-1 success.

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Who will win Saturday's pre-season clash between Vissel Kobe and Barcelona?

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