Kick the Ball. Or the Man. Whatever.

La Liga Preview: Barça – Almería, Saturday 2pm, ESPN Deportes

Hey, this winning thing is fun...let's keep doing it.
Hey, this winning thing is fun...let's keep doing it.

Remember when you were younger and sports was all about the thrill, the spectacle, the careless joy of watching your team play? I remember those days too, but something happened and it became an activity fraught with peril. That massive change in approach came about rapidly for me, as I watched Weligton turn joyous play into a trap of injury possibilities.

I’m still seething about the lack of action against a player who purposefully attempted to injure not one, but two players in last week’s match. I do not, for a moment buy that it’s an overreaction on my part to demand Weligton be suspended for at least 3 matches and fined a commensurate amount. The reason has nothing to do with last week’s match, which we won anyway thanks to both individual brilliance and collective play that was worth far more than Malaga’s butcher tactics.

The reason is because this week we take on Almería, who enter knowing that little is punishable when you’re playing a team as good as Barcelona. Your center backs should feel free to kick the quality out of Barcelona’s players when the ref isn’t looking because, well, no one cares. The official reason that Weligton has avoided punishment appears to be because he didn’t cause injury with his actions. Really? Really? That he didn’t break Messi’s ankle or slice open Pique’s head is lucky for them, not a reason that Weligton’s actions weren’t designed to injure. They were and that much is obvious not only from the video, but also from his later statements that he was just paying Messi back for having spit at Duda last year.

So Almería sees that and knows that they just have to kick people while the ref’s back is turned. And maybe they’ll end up injuring a player this time since that’s the idea. Say what they will, but defenders are trying to injure people when they step on opposing players’ ankles and try to punch them in the head. That’s what those actions are for. Perhaps Almería will be above that or will be too afraid to do that in the Camp Nou where decisions go towards the home team more often (that’s a statistical fact in al grounds, not just the Camp Nou); that would be nice if they didn’t play kick-the-player-with-the-ball, but the likelihood of that is smaller now that Weligton is off the hook, at least until he visits the Camp Nou.

None of this is to say that Barcelona is somehow being continually hunted by opposing defenders, but when the gulf in class is as massive as it was between Barça and Malaga, the benefits of kicking begin to outweigh the dangers of suspension, which should never be the case. If a Barcelona player purposely attacked another player, targeting that which they use to earn their keep (ie their legs), the papers, especially Marca and AS, would be full of pictures condemning such actions as anti-futbol, et cetera et cetera. The double standard would, of course, be applied there. I’m just demanding that the game not be violent and RFEF/LFP to maintain a semblance of order.

I’m fully expecting this match to be a humdinger as it’s the last match before an international break. It’ll be interesting to see who Guardiola starts because if Iniesta still isn’t 100% but is working himself back into full fitness, he’ll probably still start for Spain despite a World Cup appearance already haivng been confirmed in the previous round of matches. So does Guardiola trust that del Bosque will keep his starters on the bench or does he hedge his bets and keep Iniesta on the bench in favor of a returning Bojan?

Speaking of which: Bojan is back! Yay! I certainly don’t expect 90 minutes from The Kid, but I would like to see 60 to 75 out of him. I don’t know what Henry’s situation is, though supposedly he’s fit enough to start. We’ll get back to this in a moment, though, after we’ve dealt with Almeria.

Our opponents bring the same squad they’ve used in the last 3 consecutive matches: Diego Alves, Esteban, Michel, Chico, Acasiete, Pellerano, Guilherme, Domingo Cisma, Soriano, Bernardello, Corona, Juanma Ortiz, Nieto, Ortiz, Crusat, Kalu Uche, Piatti, David Rodríguez.

I watched parts of Almeria-Racing last weekend and noted that they play Crusat, Piatti, and Uche in a trident similar to ours. It’s just that Crusat is 5’4″ and Piatti comes in at a whopping 5’3″. Uche brings the average height up a bit being 5’10”, but still, it’s a short lineup that Pique should be able to handle in the air with ease. If they’re going to play a 4-3-3 (dynamic though it may be), they’re going to run into a few mismatches in midfield when Xavi is given the ball against a single man and merely passes it around him to Alves on the wing, who will, because there are only 3 players in their midfield, always be open. One of the strikers will have to retreat deeply to counteract this, but still it’s risky business because it creates a lot of one-on-ones in the open field. If Hugo Sanchez thinks his team is up for that, we’ll see a 4-3-3 from him and the better team will come out on top. And you all know who I think that means will win.

If Pique and Puyol (or possibly Marquez) are able to lock down the defense against Almeria’s counters (which are fairly quick, but aren’t as refined as some, from what I saw) then that frees Messi on the right for a lot of open field attacks of his own. Think of it as a counter-counterattack. Once your counterattack has been stifled, you’re caught out with our own three-man strike force to contend with. Bojan would do well in this scenario, but so would Henry. So if Henry isn’t 100%, I say give Bojan the start at LW while letting Iniesta start at MD and giving Keita a rest. Then you sub on Keita at halftime and Henry for Bojan at the hour mark.

Lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Bojan, Ibra, Messi.

There is both attacking width and ball control in that lineup, meaning that whatever Almeria puts out there, we’ve got our bases covered. Abidal would make more sense on the left than Maxwell, but he’s played the last batch of matches and promises to play for France over the coming days in highly important matches for them, so I would err on the side of caution and give Abidal a rest. That could be another argument for starting Henry on the bench, as well, since he’s doubtless going to get a lot of minutes for Les Bleus.

Most of our players are in the same situation, none more so than Messi, who is no doubt demanding to play all minutes at all times while also demanding to play all 180 minutes against Peru and Uruguay. Thus, I’d like to see him start and start on fire and then be subbed off in favor of Pedro! on the hour. Big time players show up in big time situations, of course, and this part of Messi’s career is the biggest he’ll face as both Peru and Uruguay are going to enter the matches guns blazing. I’m sure Messi is thinking “bring it” because that’s the sort of player he is.

So there you have it: two 4-3-3s running into each other, but only one will survive. Official prediction: 4-1, goals by Messi (2), Ibra, and Bojan.

Game times:
Local/Barcelona: 8pm
New York/EST: 2pm
San Diego/PST: 11am
Sydney, Australia: 4am Sunday
Singapore: 2am Sunday
India: 12:15am Sunday

I’ll leave you with a tribute to Rio, who earned the 2016 Olympics today, as linked by the ever-brilliant Orson Swindle at EDSBS:

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. Wow, great preview. You should send the first part of it directly to RFEF/LFP. I don’t know, but somehow I feel La Liga is the only professional European league in which such unsportsmanlike behaviour is NOT punished…
    I hope Almería got more class than Malaga and Weligton. The same goes for the ref of saturday’s match.

    And your line-up looks interesting, soo much offensive power with Maxwell, Iniesta and Bojan (besides the usual ones^^). I would really like to see this, and considering your guessing skills of the last matches, the chance is pretty good. 2 goals for Messi in the first 60 min.? Damn, that would be sweet 🙂

    Let’s win this match convincingly and see how RM reacts against Seville. It will be one of the few matches in which I cheer for Luis Fabiano.

    1. Nah, it’s like having someone there, but playing for the other team.

      He is probably leading the league in assists. Except those assists are against us.

      His pass completion is 100%. Because whether he passes it to us, or the other team, is irrelevant.

  2. Hey, just a quick note: It seems you missed out Keiteee / The Yaya from our starting line-up. I’m guessing it would be best to give The Yaya a bit more game time as he hasn’t been as fluid with the team this term – partly cus of his more limited play time.

    Only reason I’m not considering Busi is cus of his latest gaffes which I’m sure Valdes would want avoid for a change.

  3. Umm I guess we will beat Almeria..But I do think we need another midfielder in the line-up Kevin posted…Just watched the replay of the Barca-Almeria game from last season..The Henry goal then was top class..with the amount of spin Messi put on that ball it was amazing to see such an easy finish from Titi
    Oh and this match last season was when our very own Lazarus- Dani Alves opened up his scoring account with a free-kick

    1. HAHA Higuita was crazy. I don’t think the guy truly ever wanted to play goalkeeper. He’s a definite inspiration for our keeper/sweeper Valdez, albeit without as much freedom.

    2. /,Crop/633625988563746731

    3. Wow! Thanks for the link, Ramzi.

      Best video I’ve ever seen. I only knew the scene at 2:25 from Higuita, but this dude did a lot more crazy stuff. What a great goalkeeper, insane but also entertaining, more than anybody else. His lvl of entertainment surpasses everyone else 🙂
      I’m kind a sad now that I was too young when he was an active player.
      He’s a true legend.

  4. It’s very frustrating, I agree, to have to contend with the level of abuse Barca players endure match after match…Particularly in their own league…The lack of protection by the referees really speaks to the ‘Rule of One’ as in RM in how there’s one set of rules for all the clubs and a separate set for RM.

    While the Premiership can enjoy the competitiveness of several teams at the top of the table, La Liga enjoys the distinction of trying to put only one club on a pedastal and do it’s utmost to kick Barca to the curb.

    It’s my contention that La Liga is rife with corruption and not simply because of this latest fiasco with Weligton…Any Cule who has followed Barca knows full well of what I speak…If you’re not a Cule, it comes off a bit heavy handed if not paranoid but it is what it is.

    A very frustrating part of being a Barca fan is watching La Liga do their damndest to knock Barca players into submission…Makes me wonder if it’ll take a player acting out and taking matters into his own hands to exact some fair treatment…Yaya, for one, appears ready to take a player out and, frankly (While I abhor violence), I would’ve loved to have seen Yaya set Weligton straight

    1. I KNEW someone would eventually (magically) turn this whole Weligton affair into a Real Madrid conspiracy. Good on you for mining that vain, Objective FCBarca.

    2. I think overall La Liga players aren’t taken care, big or small clubs… . Conspiracy?!! there’s aaallways conspiracy everywhere so i wont be surprised.

      I dont think it’s a RM conspiracy however i do agree on the fact that Drenthe deserved a punishment for that harsh tackle on Marc Bertran (Tenerife player). It’s sad because this shows a lack of sportsmanship and takes the “fun” away from soccer and the fans that are watching.

      But the Liga committee has to come up with something or else we everyone is going to break everyone’s legs. It’s pretty sad when i see injuries caused by “accidental” tackles because it really breaks the fun of it and it all turns into a bloody game which doesn’t need to.

    3. “It’s pretty sad when i see injuries caused by “accidental” tackles because it really breaks the fun of it and it all turns into a bloody game which doesn’t need to.”

      You mean like the EPL? In all fairness LFP refs – as terrible as they are in most respects – are usually pretty good about protecting players. That said, I’m still 100% with you, Kevo. I’ll even say I was surprised that Drenthe wasn’t handed a more severe punishment than the yellow he received for his tackle (still am!). I don’t think it was intentional, but it was reckless, and should be thoroughly discouraged.

  5. Isaiah lol are you predicting that barca will start the game with 10 men ? Check your predicted line up and count how many players you got there

  6. Don’t know if it’s been noted, but it looks like the game will be on ESPN 360 as well-

  7. Looks like Isaiah is predicting YAYA being sent off so early he won’t even make it in the lineup…interesting

  8. Just so everyone knows: I responded to Helge above about the lack of a CDM. I added Busi with my reasoning being that…er…I dunno. Stuff and whatnot, I guess.

    None of what I wrote today is about conspiracies against Barça, but rather the notion that the better team can deal with being kicked. That’s patently absurd, of course.

    I think that, in general, there is a conspiracy concerning who wins and who loses, but that that conspiracy manifests itself before the season begins in the amount of money allowed to change hands in an attempt to solidify and control dominance of a league. This is true everywhere and until a salary cap and transfer spending cap is put in place, that will always be the case.

    And so that it is perfectly clear for everyone: Barça benefits from this situation as much as RM. We as a club are just as guilty as anyone else of developing talent because we have the cash to do so whereas Gijon loses David Villa because they cannot pay him as much as another team. That is not the player’s fault, that is the league’s fault. So rectify that situation and make it more competitive rather than continuing to blindly endorse a 2-horse race that is, effectively, a nuclear arms race and lends itself to these other wild conspiracies that RM owns refs or Barça does or whatever.

    Real Madrid bought a ref who was reffing up until the moment he signed for RM as a ref liaison. Who can do that? The people with money can, of course, even though it stinks of corruption. I wouldn’t be surprised if Barça hires a ref next year because fuck it, why not, right? You lose or you lose and you might as well win while you’re losing, right? But what about Xerez or Tenerife or Mallorca? They lose or they lose, but they can’t afford to win any of the, you know, actual matches. How is that okay or sustainable?

    I’m mad that Weligton is going unpunished because it’s stupid and it will cause injury in the future. I don’t blame RM for this, but I do blame RFEF/LFP for it. RM is neatly tied to a fairly corrupt system in which they have the final say, in so many ways, as to who gets the TV rights money in Spain. If RM agrees to a TV money sharing deal with the league, then Barça will follow suit, but until that massive percentage (over 50% as I understand it) is in line, Barça has no possible incentive to both losing international exposure and money while RM eats up a larger chunk of it. So yeah, it’s RM’s fault that there’s an arms race in La Liga, but it’s mostly because the RFEF/LFP lets them do it. But big business owns Madrid (if you think that’s not true, you’re naive) and big business has its grubby little paws on everything in Spain and corruption is never far behind when that happens. Ramon Calderon, anyone?

    That was a bit rambly, wasn’t it? Basically, RM and Barça control everything in La Liga and that blows ass, but until RM is convinced that being in a money-sharing deal with 19 other clubs will actually bring about more exposure to the rest of the world like the EPL’s TV deal has, then we’re stuck in this stupid “RM gets to control the world” limbo of stupid.

    1. I have a sneaking suspicion that a portion of that was specifically directed towards me. I’m honored.

    2. …But if I’m wrong, then pardon my assumption.

      The Liga TV rights in Spain always leave me a bit baffled. As I understand it, teams are allowed to make their own deals with different stations and rights, and are given very few regulations on what is and is not in legal bounds. If the league were to put the kabosh on that, lasso all the rights into one collective package, and then dole it out as they see fit, then perhaps things would improve. Or perhaps Madrid and Barcelona’s influence would still ensure that they were favored in terms of kickoff days/times. (Sorry if I’ve missed the point with all this).

      It should be added that it is also in the LFP’s best interest to play these games at prime times, as they generate the highest ratings. That’s just simple capitalism. (Can you blame anyone for putting the Sevilla v. Madrid match at a prime time? Regardless of how you feel about either of the teams, that’s far and away going to be the most exciting Liga fixture of the season so far, much more so than Barcelona v. Almeria a.k.a. “3-0, next?”) And it should also be said that Madrid reps would make the same argument of “If Barca were to do it, we’d follow suit, but we’re not going to sacrafice…” It’s the same on both sides: bluff.

      In the end, though I know this is coming off as fairly argumentative, by and large I agree with you. I tend to just shrug my shoulders and mutter “Only in Spain…” and then get super giddy whenever a Getafe match is shown on Gol Tv. That’s just me.

      Anyways, have a good weekend, gents.

    3. /×560,Crop/633625988563746731

      just an article i ran across

    4. oh oh oh oh oh. not that again. i meant this one:


    5. I don’t know if you meant to link to that, but regardless I love it. Rick James, bitch.

      For those of you wanting to see it, here is the NSFW version NSFW. Note that it is NSFW.

      NSFW = not safe for work. Boobs.

    6. It wasn’t aimed at you necessarily, but rather inspired by. We’ve always seen fairly eye-to-eye on things and I think this is no different. You too were waiting for someone to make the jump to “omg RM controls the world” conspiracy. I saw it coming as well, but still wrote the post.

      I’ll respond to your longer comment next week with a full post. If I can remember it. You’re right that these major games (this weekend it’s Sevilla-RM) should be on in primetime while other games should be given less attention. So we agree. Yet you still like RM. I think that Jason was right and you’re a closet cule.

    7. Never mind, these kind of debates between fans of different clubs just won’t ever be settled down. Especially when it’s the Royalists vs the Cules.

    8. I have a solution although I might get some heat for it.

      This talk about la liga being corrupt and all, wont fix it. But I hear le Ligue is very competitive. We’re very close to France and hell, Catalans are more similar to the French then the Spaniards. Lets just make the leap.

      There’s too much money and not enough enforcement and laws leveling the playing field. When was the last time E.E. and Barca came out of the game winning 5/5. I’m happy Barca is winning, but this is bad for la liga.

    9. Obviously that’s ridiculous. We should send RM to Ligue 1 and bring Lyon to La Liga.

      Who said compromise is out of the question?

    10. It is ridiculous, but it’s only ridiculous because we’d be leaving one problem to go to another.

      But being serious now, the biggest problem is the t.v. rights. It should be packaged, and it should be spread out evenl

  9. My view on the Weligton matter is that there should have been some sort of punishment, particularly as the ref in question was sanctioned. But the league seems to handle that sort of the same way they handle TV rights: like they’re reading a how-to guide for putting on a right dandy cluster****.

    As far as conspiracies, I’m calling BS on the lot of it. Yes, certain officials can be said to be partial to any given team. Just as fans will allege that their side was hosed by an official. That’s the game. Fact of the matter is that you have to sell a penalty. Very few of them are stone-cold decisions. Messi can dribble through a brick wall, yet goes down as if shot, when in the box. The ref then has a decision to make.

    But dangerous play is sometimes missed, and should be corrected. Or precedent will be set. And a player will be seriously hurt, and who wants that?

    1. He’s Kxevin, whose fat thumbs and a MyTouch soft keyboard gave him a new screen name. 😀

  10. And, as is necessary to comment on many weekends, I never believed I would absolutely hate that ESPN now has La Liga rights. It’d be great if they actually put the matches on ESPN or ESPN2, but no, “throw it in Deportes for the Latinos, they’re the only ones that give a crap anyway.” (Sorry to be so blunt.)

    I signed up for GOLtv this season so I could watch Barca on TV. I can’t add in Spanish channels because it’s a shared service (with all my neighbors). So I still have to catch Barca on jellyvision… if I can even find a decent stream.

    1. I disagree with you on a major point: ESPN puts Barcelona on Deportes not so that Latinos will watch it because they’re the only ones who care, but rather because all their other networks are showing something else and Barcelona fans are more likely to speak Spanish and be willing to watch Deportes.

      2pm on a Saturday between August and January is College Football time. Period. End of discussion. ESPN will never ever ever ever earn more money by broadcasting Barcelona over Michigan St-Iowa, to throw out a random game. College football is their money-maker. We’ll see Barcelona in HD every Sunday that they play. But if we play on Saturdays, we won’t be in HD, so we’ll be on Deportes. Why we’re not also on Classic, I don’t know, but so it goes. I trust that ESPN is trying to make as much money as possible from their family of networks so if Barcelona earns more money than a repeat of some NBA game, then Classic will show Barcelona. But if until that happens, Classic will show that NBA game.

    2. that nsfw picture was just tasteless. thanks!!!! :^p it was a response to ramzi’s higuita video he posted earlier.

    3. Isaiah is right. It’s mostly about the Benjamins. ESPN capitalized on world-wide interest in La Liga/Barcelona to do a codeshare with GolTV. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll dump it like old coffee grounds.

      College football will draw more viewers by accident than Barca matches will on purpose. That’s just how it is for the beautiful game in this country. TV is about advertising, and advertising dollars. I’m just happy they’re showing us at all. Even the occasional Barca match in HD is a beautiful thing.

      Now, if we could just get HD and Ray-Ray. 😀

    4. Well no ****, Isaiah. That’s what I meant: they’ll show the games to wherever makes the most money. Which happens to be a channel that most often requires a Spanish-language subscription. Which sucks when it used to be that GolTV had the rights and would just show the damn game. Ergo –> I hate that ESPN has the rights. I’m not saying ESPN is unreasonable or not a business; I’m saying it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

  11. Valdano just said RM must win everything this season. Anything else is a failure.
    no pressure ha! 😀

    1. He said quite the opposite actually. He said that it would not be a failure if they did not win everything he said that what would be a failure is if they don’t do a good job. What ever that means.

  12. Oh, Happy Birthday, Zlatan! Make yourself the best present by scoring a 6th goal in the 6th consecutive league game.

    You can also add a 7th or 8th, if you want 😀

  13. Happy b’day Ibra 🙂
    PS, Cyrnaldo isn’t in the squad list against Sevilla.
    Will be great if Sevilla kick their butts !

    1. Would be even greater if they kicked Real’s ass WITH CR94 playing.
      I think it’s rather bad news for us Barca fans, because:
      – if Real Madrid doesn’t win, they can blame it on the absence of CR
      – if they should win without him, it’ll give them an even bigger confidence boost
      – Sevilla might be underestimating RM now (which is kind a reasonable, because without CR, they would have 2 points in CL and 6th place in La Liga… but it’s also dangerous)

      Interesting question is: Will CR join Portugal? They have 2 crucial qualifiers left, so actually they need him. But I’ve read somewhere that RM wants him to stay at Madrid and regain complete fitness. Could develop to a battle between club and country ^^

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