CL Preview: Viktoria Plzeň – Barcelona, 3:45pm ET, Fox Deportes
The first game was a 2-0 at the Camp Nou and now matchday 4 arrives and Barça heads to the Czech Republic to play Viktoria Plzeň at
their Stadion města Plzně. Synot Tip Arena in Prague.* The Czechs are coming off a 5-0 home win that moved them into 2nd place; who did they play? The, get this, 13th ranked team (Hradec Králové, of course) in the league. Sure, the Czech top flight only has 16 teams instead of La Liga’s 20, but whatever, I’ll take whatever strange coincidence I can get. This also happened in their match:
Hellooo, Mr. Fancypants! You can view the full match highlights here. Milan Petržela, if you remember, was their speedy winger. He was replaced in the 86th minute as their final substitution. They’re obviously capable of scoring goals, though Barça might be better at defending and controlling tempo than Hradec Králové…and maybe they won’t run into each other like on that second goal. Perhaps Barça will get more butts in the seats too. Lots of crowd shots in this video show you just how empty it was, but also how rabid some of the fans can be.
With Barça’s destruction of Mallorca at the hands of a fairly rampaging Messi (though the crazy thin is it wasn’t that great of a game for him–we’re so spoiled!), the happy times appear to have returned to the Internet-based fan group. Hooray, I suppose, because it means there’s a break in the “What is wrong with Messi?” headlines coming out of every footballing newspaper or website with a dog in the Spanish race. What was wrong with Messi was that he was tired. Perhaps there had been some sort of a Lego-building and cupcake-eating competition he participated in and the sugar was just coursing through his veins and he couldn’t sleep properly. I’m sure he won, though.
Or maybe it’s that we have outsized expectations and we’re all a bunch of nitwits. The Sevilla game was an aberration, really, and the Granada game was an aberration of a different sort. They happen and they’ll continue to happen from time to time. In fact, it’s a minor miracle that they don’t happen more often. We should count ourselves lucky to say “we won 5-0” a single time in a year. Arsenal got destroyed 8-2 by Manchester United and then turned around this past weekend and hung 5 on Chelsea in what looked like an incredibly absurd display of defensive crapitude. Barça hasn’t allowed a goal in 8 full matches. Not since Pablo in the 23rd minute at the Mestalla on September 21.
In that span there have been 3 manitas and a total of 22 goals. The 0-0 draw against Sevilla is the only match Barça failed to score in and they had plenty of opportunities to do so. There was also an 8-0 demolition of Osasuna just prior to the Valencia match. Eight freaking goals. Can you ever speak of crisis or even doldrums when the team is in 3rd and then jumps to 2nd when the top team loses to the team that you beat 8-0? Levante’s loss to Osasuna (down to 10 men for 30 minutes) puts Barça pretty much were every single person guessed they would be around this time: top 2.
In the Champions League, Barça is tied for first in the group. The technicality of who is on top at this point is meaningless to go into because there’s another match against Milan that will end all of the debate anyway. Winning at Viktoria would be a massive step towards qualifying in first place because it would force Milan, who travel to BATE Borisov, to win in order to stay within effective striking distance.
Speaking of which, a quick moment to wish Antonio Cassano the best. I hope he recovers and does so quickly and that this turn of events, which put the sport into perspective, not only doesn’t hurt him and his family more than it already has, but also those around him. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, by the by, it was an ischemic stroke, but my knowledge of medicine is actually worse than my knowledge of Italian, so I won’t even hazard a guess as to what’s going on or how severe that is. Doctors who read this, feel free to explain in the comments.
So, we travel to the Czech Republic and we’re taking Alexis Sánchez with us despite his not being fully fit while Xavi is a serious doubt given his current calf muscle problems. Pedro is still out as well, but Pique and Puyol made successful returns against Mallorca, which was very nice to see.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Iniesta, Thiago, Cesc, Messi, Villa.
Isaac Cuenca has done quite well in the “Pedro role”–should he become Isaac! or should we just keep yelling “feed that boy!” at the screen every time he appears?–but I don’t see him getting the start again given the amount of rest everyone else has had. And Messi doesn’t get rested, so that reduces the options up front. I think a 4-3-3 makes more sense here than a 3-4-3, though any name you give a Pep system doesn’t actually fall into that category for an entire 90 minutes. Alves is constantly in the wrong place for a real 4-3-3 and even a 3-4-3. So, we’re going to be playing um a ?-?-?.
Official Prediction: 1-3. I think we give up a goal on a counter and Valdes’ streak is over.
*There were conflicting reports about where the match would take place, but thanks to alert reader nzm, we have the information that the team will be playing at Synot Tip aka Eden. I vaguely recalled something about that while I was writing the post, but then decided to go with what was being listed on a couple of sites I came across. One said Synot Tip (here) while the official site (as of 11pm ET) says “Struncovy, Plzen“. Yet the official site also says this: “The 21 players that have travelled to the Czech capital have trained normally in the stadium to be used for tomorrow evening’s encounter, the Eden Stadium.” Bollocks to you, confusing websites.