It’s SuperCopa time, or what might be, potentially, the first of as many as SEVEN El Clasics this season (2 SuperCopas, 2 Ligas, 1 Copa final(?), 2 Champions League).
And I know that it’s us vs them but try as I might, I just can’t get too worked up about this SuperCopa, or any SuperCopa, for that matter. So I am going to hope that this half-assed preview will serve to get me …. or at least some of you, geeked at squaring off against the Evil Empire. And if an image of a sweaty, triumphant Captain doesn’t do it, nothing will.
This was bound to happen, and really will probably happen a bunch more times in coming seasons, when the winner of the Plat del Reig squares off against the winner of La Liga. Last season it was Sevilla as Copa winners, and us as Liga winners. It served as another building block in our pre-season, as we were pretty stanky in the first leg, before putting things right in the second leg and hoisting the trophy. And there was much rejoicing, because silver is silver, right? Right?
Nope. Still not excited.
Let’s try this: We’re facing our most bitter rival for silverware, bragging rights and a leg up going into the Liga season (eventually, when that strike business gets resolved). The losing side will be trembling in fear at the thought of the first Clasic, as that side will have already lost to the other, for silver, no less.
Mmmm, nope …. because Guardiola teams don’t work like that. They’re a group that seems to have no institutional memory. Lost to a team the last 43 times you played them on a Sunday in a month beginning in A at a certain stadium? So? “We’re just focused on this match, and we will take our chances. The team is unified ….” So the statistic that we have never defeated EE in a SuperCopa fills us all with dread, right?
Maybe not. And strange as it might seem, given the dominance of the two rivals in the Liga, it hasn’t been since 1997 that we have faced EE in a SuperCopa, where we went down 5-3 on aggregate in the home/away two-legged affair. REMUNTADA!
Sigh …. still isn’t working.
They are rolling into the season with a perfect pre-season record on the various tours and exhibitions that big clubs undertake these days, rather than a proper pre-season. We are coming off a spotty roll-up that included a messy Audi Cup win in penalties, a loss to Manchester United and the first 3-goal spanking of the Guardiola era before concluding with a win, 2-0 against Club America in our last outing. On paper, they’re the favorite, right?
Well, maybe not. No. 2 always has to try harder, and Guardiola teams have a history of not getting all that excited about matches that don’t matter a whole lot, rarely having sparkling exhibition seasons. Complicating matters is that key players have been either nursing injuries or on extended holiday, as Guardiola understands the necessity of the joys of August and their contribution to ameliorating the debilitating effects of what is going to be a loooong season for us. They have made smart signings, been working hard and are fit and raring to go. We, conversely, are kinda not. Sorta. But we’re getting there. Now we roll the ball out, and off we go.
Mascherano: “The season is long, the result of the Super Cup won’t affect that, but winning could give us boost for what’s ahead this month”
Guardiola: “It’s a final: no excuses”
Wait a minute …. when did we get depth? Let’s look at the squad that will be traveling to XXXXXX for Sunday’s first leg:
Midfielders: Xavi, Keita, Iniesta, Mascherano, Dos Santos*, Thiago
Attackers: Messi, Villa, Pedro, Afellay, Sanchez
Keepers: Valdes, Pinto
Defenders: Alves, Montoya*, Pique, Puyol, Fontas, Abidal, Muniesa*, Adriano, Maxwell
That’s 22 players, kids, a nice, healthy, full-sized squad. But if you note the asteisks, denoting players who aren’t official first-teamers, the strategy of Guardiola becomes clear: The core is 19 players, who are all versatile enough to play almost anywhere on the pitch. Adriano was an excellent, marauding right back against Club America (recall the excellent cross that he put right on the head of Villa for the first goal), Mascherano is as comfortable in the back line as he is at DM, etc, etc. Any holes will be filled with B-teamers who are almost ready, such as Montoya, Muniesa and Dos Santos. And you can expect to see others for certain matches, such as early-round Copa draws and the like.
So maybe Guardiola wasn’t crazy when he said today, “Signing another player apart from Cesc, a defender? No, we don’t need another defender or player this summer.” (Note: Guardiola mentioned the name of HeWhoIsNotToBeNamed, not me. And if that player comes …. okay, when that player comes, we will have a 20-man squad. Not bad. Not perfect, but not bad.) Note, however, that Pique and Busquets are nursing owies from the recent friendly vs Italy, Puyol is still recovering from knee surgery and Xavi might or might not have something wrong. But Mascherano says that Messi is rocking in practice like it’s mid-season.
I’d go with: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Adriano, Mascherano, Iniesta, Xavi, Villa, Messi, Sanchez
Guardiola says that Sanchez isn’t fully integrated, I say so what? Let’s see what this dude has, right now, with the quickness. We always have Pedro and Afellay as super subs (think about that for a second …. not Jeffren and Krkic, but Afellay and Pedro or Sanchez or HeWhoWillNotBeNamed (eventually).
All of which means what? That I’m still not that excited about the SuperCopa, just as I won’t be excited about the UEFA SuperCup or the World Club Championship or the Plat del Reig. Because once again this season, I want the Liga and Champions League. Another 6 trophy season? Sure, why not. It’s an admirable pursuit. We did it before and we can do it again, right? I’ll take your word for it.
I’m usually pretty terrible at this stuff, but I think we’re going down, 2-0 at their house, then we win 2-1 at home to yield a close, but decisive aggregate score. Then our squad comes together in mid to late September, and sweeps all before it in triumph. Yup.
3 p.m. CDT Sunday, on GolTV in North America, which means starting the season with a big ol’ dose of Ray Ray.