Ladies and Gentleman, Cules and Culettes, besides the extremely hard night of not really sleeping because you’re dreaming about it, El Clásico is upon us. It is here, once again, to break you in half over it’s massive Earl Campbell sized thigh. Yeah, it does that sort of thing. Beware the dark lord and all that.
Typically I’m not a big fan of overly hyped games. If you’re from the US and not from “Geaux Tiger” country, you might remind yourself of the 700 or so hours of pre LSU-Alabama media slobbering prior to a 9-6 overtime slumberfest that would have been out-excited by a Bob Ross marathon. I try not to tune into these hyperbolic cliches more than 1 minute before kickoff or tip off or whatever other starting mechanism they have; it’s just a way of protecting myself from the barrage of montages set to horrific music. For El Clásico, though? I’m down.
I know I’ve kvetched rather incessantly about the last bundle of clásicos: they stole my soul, they crushed my will to live, etc. I know I’ve basically compared to myself to a cartoon character running out over a cliff and continuing going despite the lack of ground beneath him. Soon, I’ll look down and hold up a Wile E. Coyote sign that says “Goodbye!” and down I’ll plunge. Yet here I am, twitching slightly and forgoing all my real life obligations. In the end, the match will be sweet relieve from the building tension, from the questions of who starts where, of formations and tactics, and especially from the endless predictions of one team’s demise and the other’s triumphant crushing of the opposition.
And so, the first thing I did this morning was watch this. And then this. And, for a bit of levity, this. My favorite part of that second link is the part where David Villa slides along the ground after scoring his second and the team’s 4th. There’s a little flash of something written, some hidden message in the midst of the frames. Sherlock Holmes like, I tracked it down, decrypted it, and screen capped it:
It’s funny. I imagine that Isabel is a small child, perhaps the animator’s 6 year old daughter. I see her sitting at her father’s desk painstakingly coloring in the lines that he shows her, adding colors in the right spots, the dash of green on his feet, giggling about the blue fingertips, and in a moment of pure rebellion the bright blue period at the end of her sentence. Then again, if she drew that picture herself, she’s a fantastically better artist than I am, no matter her age.
Whatever, she’s 6 and she’s my favorite artist of all time.
El Clásico can rarely be discussed in terms of stats or current form. Yes, I discuss both of those things a lot, including in the first link of this post, but in the end, the matches rarely make sense when accompanied by their surroundings. They are stand alone matches, yet surrounded by all the peripheral nonsense you could possibly imagine. And some you probably can’t. I didn’t know who Andrea Huisgen was until a few minutes ago and now I’ve seen her in a variety of different outfits and poses. My favorite is obviously the Messi jersey. The things you learn pre-clásico, eh?
And that’s pretty much the point: every few seconds, the mind veers away from the solid thoughts about 3-5-2 vs 3-4-3 vs 4-3-3 and settles rather nicely on the mental equivalent of keyboard mashing: dln&86327!!!7,ns64@. Hey, that’s my email password….
I did, however, record a fairly coherent podcast yesterday morning. Or at least fairly coherent for me at 8am. It’s all relative, folks. Kari’s podcast is here, mine is embedded below:
If you just listened to that, you know my prediction is not necessarily totally positive for Barça’s league chances: a 2-2 away draw. Again. Yes, I know. I know all about that sigh you just let out, the one that says “He’s joking, he’ll say manita later and I’ll run whooping into the street.” I know. I just did the same thing, actually. And so did my brain last night when it conjured up about a thousand scenarios while I tried to fall asleep. 7th minute penalty and Iker is sent off for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity. Adan has to come in and is summarily besieged by the blaugrana in his own stadium. Even Mourinho can’t play down a man for 83 minutes, especially not without Casillas between the sticks to pull his magic tricks.
But that’s just pipe dreams. That’s just me wanting to see an explosion of goals for Barça like every biased individual. Gut instinct goes with the draw, with the league getting all the harder to win (though certainly not impossible), and the Madrid-based tabloids going to town on their statistics (x points equals such and such a percentage of winning the league), much like the Barça-based tabloids have been able to do for the last several years.
I’m the guy who wears his Barça gear throughout southeast Asia and gets shoutouts on the street. “Barça!” they say and I smile. “Messi!” they say and give me a thumbs up. “Xavi!” I respond and get a blank look in return. Ah well. Messi it is, then, and, really, his goals are exquisite paeans to the football gods, yet he is backed up by [deep breath]: Xavi, Iniesta, Pique, Puyol, Villa, Keita, Pedro, Abidal, Alves,
Isaiah, Valdes, Mascherano, Busquets, Adriano, Pinto, Sanchez, Thiago, Maxwell, Fabregas, Fontas, and a host of Barça babies. Ibi is currently injured, or he’d be in that list too. That’s a stunning list of talent. It behooves the fans to have faith in them and to enjoy their time. This is, after all, el clásico and the team has only lost once to Madrid since May 2008 and that took an extra time header and a string of brilliant Iker Casillas saves.
Okay, you know you want a bit of actual perspective on the match.
Predicted lineup: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Messi, Sánchez.
I mean, that’s as good a guess as any, right? Mascherano has been beastly, so it’s hard to think of the squad without him, but Puyol will, until the day his legs fall off, be the heart and soul of the defense. Piqué, when healthy and ready, is simply a class defender that should always start. He can also pull the Piquenbauer thing. Speed on the wings through Alexis will help to alleviate some of the defensive pressure as well as take advantage of whoever gets put in Sergio Ramos’ position. If it’s Coentrao, I’m not completely convinced he’s disciplined enough to hold the wing for 90 minutes after playing a full match in midweek. The slightest bit of fatigue will get taken advantage of immediately.
If we play 3-5-2, I’d start Villa in a second over Cesc. That would put a lot of defensive onus on Alves, but that is how it goes and, really, how it should be. He’s the best right back in the world and as such, he’s got to play a superb game to keep those counterattacks to a minimum. Then again, Cesc provides a crucial link in midfield as well as a strange aerial presence and another goalscoring threat through the middle. Still, if we’re going to shuttle between 3-4-3 and 3-5-2, I say Villa should start. But if we’re sticking with 4-3-3 that shifts to a 4-5-1/4-6-0, then Cesc is going to be more capable.
Whatever. If we lose this one, I fear that we’ll see Pep ascending to the heavens while he leaves a cryptic message saying “So long and thanks for all the trophies” etched on Messi’s Lego collection. But I don’t think that will happen simply because I don’t think anyone in blaugrana will let it happen. Wondergoals seem to abound in these meetings and I think that is simply because the teams are up for it. And I hate that kind of pseudo psychological rubbish. But yeah, they are, they’re f-ing up for it and how can they not be?
As for the other team…they’ve got everyone except Carvalho in their squad list. Thing is, others in the squad aren’t 100% healthy and Karanka has said in the press conference this morning that they’ll play a 4-3-3 with their attack consisting of di Maria, Cristiano, and one of either Benzema or Higuain. Whether you trust Karanka or not is up to you, but I suppose that’s as good of an indication as any that 1) Mourinho thinks he can win this while telling everyone what he’s going to do, much like the end around sweep in Madden 95 that was simply unstoppable or the automatic goal scoring move in NHL 95 and 2) that their most dangerous player, Mesut Ozil, will be a second half substitute and alleviate a lot of early pressure on Barça’s back line. Perhaps I’m foolish, but I don’t see a midfield of Khedira, Xabi Alonso, and Lassana Diarra as the pinnacle of creativity. Yes, they launch counterattacks based on their defensive solidity and front line speed, but Barça’s pressing is of a different sort than, say, Osasuna’s.
But we’ll see. 4-3-3 vs 4-3-3? That’s asking for a 1-0 game where defensive mistakes are what lead to goals. And I put my money on Messi causing a mistake in their back line. But Pep will probably line up in a 1-7-2 with Cuenca and Fontas as those front 2. What do I know?
Time: 10pm local, 4pm US east coast. Check out your local time here.
Where: Skullcrusher Mountain, Lair of Evil, 10th Circle of Hell.
Who: Us vs. Them. But please tell me you knew that…
Why: Because someone has to fight the forces evil.
How: Lightsabers? Wands? The BFG? The other (totally better!) BFG? Shaolin?
TV: Here in the US the match will be on GolTV, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN3. Please post what channel it will be on in your country in the comments.
For those of you wondering, I’ll be at Woodwork in Brooklyn for this match. Feel free to stop by and say hi. You’ll know who we are the instant you walk in. If you show up first and take my seat, though, I will bust out Puyol Rage on you. And you don’t want that.