Liga Preview: Valencia – Barça, Saturday 4pmEST, GolTV
A return to the Mestalla brings with it Phil and RayRay and the hyperbole without which many of us could not survive. Also, it brings us back to La Liga, which, thankfully, is going to dominate my life for while and get the pesky memories of World Cup qualifiers out of there. I like the World Cup itself, but give me continuous Barça any day over trivial international fair like “win or go home” European qualifiers. And yes, I stayed up to watch several matches this time around. Shush.
Today is the 5th anniversary of one Lionel Messi’s league debut with the first team. He came on for the final 8 minutes against Espanyol on October 16, 2004, and though he didn’t score the above goal until May 1, 2005 against Albacete, you knew big things were in store for this little guy. Little guy is relative, of course. We can expect a lot more out of Messi against Valencia this weekend, I would think, than we did in that match oh so long ago. Thanks for the memories so far, Leo, and let’s hope they keep on coming.
The title of this post explained, after the jump.
This match is going to be a true test–our first true test in the league, to be honest. We’ve faced Gijon, Getafe, Atleti, Racing, Malaga, and Almeria, the highest of whom is ranked 8th (Getafe; Gijon is 9th) and the lowest 18th. The average ranking of the teams we’ve faced is currently 13th, which isn’t particularly high (but obviously will even out over the course of the season). My point is that while Atleti seemed a tough proposition when the season started, they haven’t shown their true abilities yet and we met them during their down time and while Getafe started so brightly and went into their match with us in first place, they were never going to really compete for the title or even a European spot. Not to denigrate what Barça has done so far this season (6-0-0 is fabulous!), but Getafe is no Valencia.
What we’ll need is strength of feet a la Robin Hood: Men in Tights, a really class-act match against a dangerous side. Though Valencia has not had the best of season so far relative to their abilities, they sit in 5th on 11 points, 7 back of us. They’re the only team to beat Sevilla (on Jornada 1, 2-0 at the Mestalla) and that’s got to count for something.* They’re 3W-2D-1L, 12GF 9GA. At home they’re actually worse, having gone 1W-2D-0L, 6GF 4GA.
You can obviously compare that to our away record (3W-0D-0L, 8GF 1GA) and come to the conclusion that this match is already over, but of course that’s never the case or we wouldn’t even bother playing them. Valencia are going to show up for this one, I’m sure and while they may just walk into our wheelhouse by attempting to play an open style, they’ve got a lot of talent and that could make up the difference between the 5-2 we put on Atleti when they did the same thing and a draw or a Valencia victory. If David Villa, their top scorer and the current pichichi with 6 goals, is able to make the match (and indications are that he will play), then Los Che get a lot more dangerous. Without Villa, they’ve only got 6 other goals to speak of–2 from Pablo, 2 from Mata and 1 each from Silva and Zigic**–but they’re still capable of attacking and winning matches on both the counterattack and through their possession game.
Despite all of this sporting potential, a lot of the focus on Valencia has been financial, with Soccernet writing up a piece about president Manuel Llorente’s recent statements:
Valencia president Manuel Llorente has underlined the club’s deep financial problems, explaining that they could easily have been demoted to the third tier of Spanish football this summer had the regional government not bailed them out to the tune of €74 million.
That would, obviously, have been the doomsday scenario, but Llorente goes on to say that Villa and Silva could still be up for sale, meaning that the hyenas are obviously going to arrive, cackling, in January, with my speculation being that Barça will probably offer something like €30million for any of the their big 3: David Villa, David Silva, and Juan Mata. That’s a tad bit smaller than the €50million that Valencia were demanding for Villa in the summer, but hey, things have changed now that we have Ibrahimovic and we don’t have to accept their transfer demands. It may not be fair to a club that is currently in massive debt (€500million, according to that Soccernet report), but we’re no longer in dire need of a striker and it does appear that they’re still in dire need of the cash. I’d much rather Mata or Silva (especially Silva) than Robinho, but what do I know?
Do these things distract the Valencia players? I have no idea, but when they stop getting paid it obviously gives them less incentive to work, which compounds the problems. Because Valencia is a good side and generally enjoyable to watch, I want them to survive and keep all of their players, but until they figure out how to get out of such monstrous debt, one can only hope that their terrible structural problems (revolving door of presidents and shareholders) doesn’t get the best of them.
Moving on to Barça:
On the injury front it appears that we’ll have Ibra and Xavi back (though Ibra didn’t practice today with the group), which is fantastic news, but we’ll be missing Henry for up to 10 days, meaning he’ll probably miss through the Zaragoza match. With Bojan back from injury and Pedro remaining fit, I think we have enough cover for both Valencia and the Rubin Kazan match, which thankfully is in Barcelona so we don’t have to travel on such tired legs. Instead we’ll have to go to Russia in the middle of the Artic winter that my stupid American ass thinks envelopes Russia 13 months a year.
So, no Henry and probably no Chygrynskiy, which means that we could see a rather impressive lineup anyway, depending on how Guardiola feels about Xavi’s involvement. Assuming our little Humphrey Bogart plays rather than gets what would be some well-earned rest, we could see a starting lineup that looks like this:
Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Yaya, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibra, Messi
If Ibra doesn’t play because of his injury, then we could see the front line be Iniesta, Bojan/Pedro, Messi. Either way I think we have a good shot at scoring more goals than they will simply because Iniesta has been coming back to form (and his match with Spain against Bosnia was a demolition that earned him a round of applause from the Bosnian fans when he was subbed off) and Messi is, well, Messi. Given that Valencia hasn’t been particularly sound defensively, I do think it will be a victory for us, in the end.
That’s not to say that Ibra won’t make it easier–or possible, really, because Valencia has some good defenders–but it is to say that, arrogant or not, we’re the best team in the league. Sorry. We’re 6-0-0 for a reason. Predicted score: 1-3, goals by Xavi, Keita, and Messi. I expect the match to be good, though, with no real winner until later, then Valencia goes looking for the tying goal and gets hit on the counter.
Note: Valencia’s official website claims that the following channels will have the match Canal+ (Francia), BskyB (England), WoWoW (Japan), SBS (Australia), ESPN (USA and Latin America), and Al Jazeera (Middle East). I currently have it listed as being on GolTV here in the US, so expect it to be on that channel and not on ESPN Deportes, which has Fuera de Juego and a repeat of a Dutch league match scheduled.
Match time: 10pm local time (Check your local time here)
* But if it does, then their 3-1 loss at Getafe should mean something as well, right? Oh no, it’s the head-to-head problem rising up again like it does every year in the BCS! Quick, let’s ignore it!
**Barça has only scored 7 goals outside of those scored by Ibra and Messi (5 each), so that is perhaps not as telling a statistic as you might originally imagine. Keita and Pique both have 2, while Alves, Pedro, and Bojan each have 1.