Liga Preview: Barcelona – Atletico Madrid, Saturday 4pmEST
Apparently the people in Spain didn’t get the memo: they weren’t supposed to play any futbol while I was on vacation. Someone read it, I guess, since they had a little strike and now I get to see us take on Málaga instead of missing that potentially awesome match. What, are we going to sign Cesc Fabregas or something too!? Oh, we did? Well, I’m sure he’s having trouble adapting–oh? Really? Lots of goals and assists? Covering well for an injured Iniesta? Hot damn. Well Alexis Sanchez must be burning down the house–injured? Christ.
I know its blurry, but here’s what I learned about Barça while in Southeast Asia: even the rumored jerseys are actually produced in Vietnam. A few minutes later, I saw a teal version of this sort of the color of the mint away jersey, but couldn’t snap a picture. And whenever you wear your real jersey, as I did a couple of times, you get people yelling “Barcelona!” at you on the street and when you smile or respond in anyway, they say, with a thumbs up, “Messi!” Responding, “Xavi!” just illicits blank stares from the vast majority, unfortunately.
And now I’m jumping right back into the swing of things, defeating jetlag by reading about Barça and trying to wrap my mind around everything that has happened. Apologies if I say something completely incorrect because I haven’t watched everything progress.
I missed, for instance, when Pique was injured for all eternity. I knew Puyol was out for a while, of course, but Gerard’s absence has probably been felt quite a lot. Or maybe not. I also missed my Oklahoma Sooners pounding out a win against Luke’s Florida State Seminoles. I’m sorry not to have brought you a play-by-play of FSU’s newly rekindled hope being mercilessly crushed in a hail of Landry Jones touchdown passes. My sincere apologies.
My return also coincided with the end of Ibrahim Afellay’s involvement with the team thanks to an ACL tear in his left knee during training on Thursday. Yowch. Couple that with Sanchez being sidelined, Iniesta on dry dock, and Pique still recovering and we have some concerns to consider. Yet we’re also likely to start something like 42 World Cup winner and Lionel Messi.
Despite the 2 goals allowed against Valencia, having Puyol back is a huge boost to the team and we have less to worry about (though we had precious little anyway). Yes, Radomel Falcao is a beast in the air and it would behoove Atleti to attack us that way, but they’ll need to the ball to do so and unless Diego makes his return (he’s in the squad list), they might find possession difficult.
Part of me wants to respect Atleti like I do Valencia, especially considering Falcao’s presence and my reverence for Gregorio Manzano, but without Forlan, Aguero, and de Gea, I’m a bit leery of being big on them. They’ve got Arda Turan and Diego in the middle now and Jose Antonio Reyes is still capable of the occasional brilliance, but I do not have the same sense of looming disaster as I did whenever we lined up against Kun.
Perhaps I should be worried. They’re only a point behind us in the table (7 to our 8) and they’ve scored 4 goals in each of their last 2 games. The thing is, 3 of their first 4 games have been at home and now they visit the Camp Nou. They’ve been to the Mestalla and lost 1-0 and they were held 0-0 at the Calderon by Osasuna, who Barça beat 8-0. So it’s sort of up in the air, if you look at it that way, but Barça will be looking to exact a measure of revenge on the world for dropping more points in midweek. Then again, Atleti has allowed just 1 goals over 4 games (the 1-0 loss to Valencia) while Barça has allowed 4 (2 in the draws against Sociedad and Valencia). So there’s that.
Atleti’s squad list: Courtois, Asenjo, Antonio López, Domínguez, Filipe, Godín, Miranda, Perea, Arda, Diego, Gabi, Juanfran, Koke, Mario, Reyes, Salvio, Tiago, Adrián, Falcao.
The list is solid, if not particularly exceptional. Our own squad list is exceptional from top to bottom, but that alone ensures nothing whatsoever. The team appears to be playing well, but is having a couple of organizational problems stemming, if I may be so bold as to step on Euler’s analytical territory, from a lack of patience in the back line. Several times against Valencia, Mascherano and Puyol both went for the same player in an attempt to make up for Alves’ high positioning. In those instances, they vacated middle positions that only Abidal was available to cover because Busi was lackadaisical or, more often, completely lost on who to cover while Keita was busying himself covering people that Busi wasn’t covering. All that combined to leave a man open on the back post pretty much every time Valencia went forward. Easy giveaways in midfield obviously compounded that (and meant that Busi and Keita were faced with 3 or more players to defend), but regardless, there was a general panicky approach from the CBs (who were sort of RB and CB in a 3-4-3 whenever Alves was upfield).
Okay, that probably made little sense, but it will have to stand as it goes with my next point: Thiago’s inclusion was a big turning point and allowed for more possession in midfield. Starting him in place of Keita reduces the defensive qualities of the team, but increases the attacking capability and the quality of possession. By that I mean the possession is more dangerous and more likely to create chances because it is actually more under control. So my suggested lineup:
Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Thiago, Cesc, Messi, Pedro.
I’m not a huge fan of putting Villa on the bench again, but I don’t fully trust Thiago, like I would if it were Iniesta, in which case I would bench both Thiago and Cesc for Villa. That may be a consequence of having not seen the matches Cesc has played in, of course–he’s still unproven to me since, well, I have only seen him play once–but it’s a moot point given the injuries. Hopefully we’re just getting those out of the way now.
Official Prediction: 2-0, goals by Messi and Cesc. Cause, well, they’ve scored basically all of the other ones, so why not these as well?
Now, I don’t speak Thai, so maybe someone can tell me if this really is the greatest, latest jersey ever, or just the kid’s name and not Cesc or Fabregas: