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Preview: Barcelona vs. Chelsea - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Tuesday morning's pre-season friendly between Barcelona and Chelsea.

Although there has been many an epic contest between Chelsea and Barcelona in recent years, the modern trend for individual players to steal the attention should be abundantly evident when these old foes meet again before the season proper has even begun.

With Antoine Griezmann ready to represent Barca for the first time and Frank Lampard shuffling a pack that now includes potential new talisman Christian Pulisic, plenty of intrigue surrounds this far-flung warm-up.

The scale of the excitement Japanese fans feel about the glamour tie is underlined by the venue. Built for the 2002 World Cup, in which it hosted Japan's opening match, the sleek Saitama Stadium has a 63,000 capacity, is home to J1 League club Urawa Red Diamonds and will be used during the 2020 Summer Olympics.


Antoine Griezmann is unveiled as a Barcelona player on July 13, 2019© Reuters

While Chelsea have already been exerting themselves in Japan, Barcelona arrived in Tokyo on Sunday, immediately taking part in a series of commercial events.

Locals have been particularly thrilled to welcome back Hiroki Abe, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder signed from Kashima Antlers earlier this year.

Two players with a higher global profile are also coming under close scrutiny among the Catalan contingent.

Griezmann was filmed relaxing on the flight and meeting club executives who oversaw the activation of the buyout clause in the 28-year-old France forward's Atletico contract earlier this month.

The two Spanish sides appear to be locked in a dispute over the fee due for Griezmann, with Atletico said to be claiming that he agreed to join Barcelona before July, meaning they are owed an extra €80m (£71m).

In the aftermath of Ajax's astonishing run to the Champions League semi-finals last season, masterful midfielder Frenkie de Jong agreed a switch to Barcelona for a fee of €75m (£65.3m).

Barca fans will be fascinated to see how the 22-year-old Holland star slots into Ernesto Valverde's plans as the coach looks to improve on a disastrous Champions League exit to Liverpool and a shock Copa del Rey final defeat to Valencia.

Although Valverde led them to the La Liga title, Barcelona won just one of their final five matches at the end of last season.


New Chelsea manager Frank Lampard during the press conference on July 4, 2019© Reuters

The level of local fan devotion for Chelsea's latest tour of Japan appears to be as fervent as any atmosphere the Blues will experience in the Premier League this season.

A capacity crowd of more than 61,000 people saw them lose to serial J1 League champions Kawasaki Frontale at the Yokohama Stadium on Friday, when former Brazil striker Leandro Damiao scored the only goal of the game.

Lampard says that he is enjoying his third trip to Japan with Chelsea, especially during a visit to a downtown Tokyo football store where he was given a hero's welcome alongside defender David Luiz and new signing Pulisic.

Pulisic, who completed his much-anticipated £58m switch from Dortmund at the end of last season, made his debut in the final 25 minutes in Yokahama, only to see Kawasaki score an 86th-minute winner.

Hyped as a replacement for Eden Hazard in the aftermath of the departure of Chelsea's key creator to Real Madrid, the American has cut short his summer holiday to join his new teammates. A repeat of his fortunes last pre-season, including two goals to inspire Dortmund to a 3-1 win over Liverpool in his homeland, would be welcome.

The exotic conditions and intense adulation Chelsea are experiencing contrasts with Lampard's first matches in charge, when two dates in Dublin led to a draw against Bohemians and a win against St Patrick's Athletic.

Under the limitations of a two-window transfer ban, pre-season is of vital importance to a Chelsea coaching staff acutely aware that they will be unable to make sweeping changes to their squad this season.

With respect to Reading, RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach, Barca are the most high-calibre opposition Chelsea will face before they kick off their season at Manchester United in under three weeks.

Recent form: LWD

Team News

Frenkie de Jong is unveiled as a Barcelona player on July 5, 2019© Reuters

Barcelona have named 17 first-team players for their two games in Japan, the second of which is on Saturday against J1 League strugglers Vissel Kobe, who have former Blaugranas Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Sergi Samper within their ranks.

Nine Barca B players also made the 13-hour flight to Tokyo, where the likes of new signing Griezmann, signed for €120m (£107.6m), have been mobbed by fans eager for signatures on shirts.

Griezmann could make his first appearance for Barcelona since securing a move he has described as a 'dream'.

Brazil midfielder Rafinha has stayed in Spain to work on rehabilitation in the gym, while the likes of front pairing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who were involved in the Copa America, have not travelled.

An evolving, highly changeable Chelsea lineup is a certainty as Lampard continues to test his squad in different formations and styles while giving almost all of his players game time ahead of a season in which they will compete domestically and in the Champions League.

French midfielder N'Golo Kante had been expected to step up his recovery from an injury sustained towards the end of last season, but he has returned to London to continue his rehabilitation after failing to appear against Kawasaki.

Another missing midfielder is Ethan Ampadu. Lampard insists that he is a fan of the youngster and admits he tried to sign him at Derby County last season, but he has sanctioned the loan exit of the 18-year-old Wales prospect to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig.

Goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga was forced out of the Kawasaki clash with a late injury. The Spain stopper returned to training during Chelsea's latest session at the Omiya Stadium, but Willy Caballero could continue to deputise should the former fail to prove his fitness.

The back-up keeper will be hoping for a less eventful conclusion to the match than he had on Friday, when Kawasaki hit the bar, summoned an excellent save from the Argentine and then scored within the space of a frantic final five minutes.

Striker Tammy Abraham, back from a successful loan spell that helped Aston Villa reach the Premier League last season, has been training again after illness forced him to miss the Kawasaki game.

The Blues named a strong side for their opening game. England Under-21 midfielder Mason Mount impressed, while Danny Drinkwater - rarely seen last season - also played for more than half an hour.

Young goalkeeper Jamie Cumming and defender Fikayo Tomori, known well to Lampard from his spell at Derby last season, were their only unused substitutes.

Barcelona possible starting lineup: Ter Stegen; Jordi Alba, Pique, Semedo, Roberto; Rakitic, De Jong, Busquets; Dembele, Griezmann, Hiroki Abe

Chelsea possible starting lineup: Kepa; Zappacosta, Christensen, Azipilicueta, Tomori; Barkley, Pulisic, Emerson, Bakayoko; Giroud, Batshuayi

Head To Head

These sides had only met three times - all in 1966 - before the Champions League era. Now their rivalry is as familiar as almost any in the competition, producing 14 matches since 2000.

Their record is finely balanced, too, with four wins either way and six draws - although Barca have emerged more often from their knockout ties.

After losing 6-4 on aggregate in a quarter-final tie that went to extra-time in their first Champions League meetings, Chelsea overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit to win their round-of-16 tie 5-4 on aggregate in 2005, with Lampard scoring the opener in a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard's last-minute second-leg penalty was not enough to save Chelsea from going out 3-2 at the same stage the following year, and Barca sneaked through in even narrower fashion with an away goals win thanks to Iniesta's 90th-minute goal at the Bridge in the 2009 semi-finals.

Chelsea gained revenge on their way to winning the trophy in 2012, winning 1-0 at home before a last-minute Fernando Torres effort earned them a 2-2 semi-final draw at Camp Nou.

Valverde oversaw a comfortable round-of-16 win for Barca last year. A late Messi goal gave his side a 1-1 draw in London before he scored either side of a Dembele goal in Barcelona to seal a comfortable 4-1 aggregate victory.

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We say: Barcelona 1-1 Chelsea

As with many of the showpiece games taking place this summer, making an accurate prediction requires the foresight to guess how strong a lineup each manager might field and just how much travelling, unusual conditions and demanding fitness regimes will have derived from either squad.

There is a case for a win either way. Barcelona could be fresher but have had fewer build-up matches and may still be adapting following their long-haul flight, while Chelsea could be sharpened or enervated by the games and training they have already taken part in.

Barcelona would be favourites but for the absence of Suarez and Messi, and Lampard's 24-man squad looks strong. Pulisic and Griezmann are both obvious threats, but will they spend sufficient time on the pitch to impact the game?

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Ousmane Dembele in action for Barcelona on December 2, 2018
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