Better Than a Joy of Painting Marathon: RM-Barça

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.

And yet.

"I want you to score a wondergoal from right there."

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?

Match Details

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.

Final thought:

Visca el Barça!
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Written by:

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. December 9, 2011

    Why do I always come here and find a new topic? I have enough reading on my hands! Oh well, its only Isaiah. He’ll understand 😛

    /Just kidding

    I’m worried for tomorrow. For the sole reason that Isaiah and co. haven’t trashtalked as much as in the previous occasions. I know who to blame..

  2. blitzen
    December 9, 2011

    I adore that pic of Pep and Xavi and if we could still afford avatars it would be mine right now.

  3. Jnice
    December 9, 2011

    Is it sad that I’ve downloaded over 40 episodes of “The Joy of Painting” ? Love that man and his work.

    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.

    Actually I haven’t had a daydream about the match yet. Usually my scenarios are far more unrealistic than that.


    I don’t have any bold predictions, but I don’t think we’ll lose. Not going to try and guess the lineup, either. Just hope we play our game, circulate the ball quickly, defend well on corners, and take our chances when they come.

    Let’s do it.

    • mom4
      December 9, 2011

      I loved that show, too. Let’s paint “happy trees”!

  4. Diego
    December 9, 2011

    I”m calm, Don’t know how or why, But I’m.


    Anyone has Classico Manita Links for under 1GB ? Really really need it. Anyone ? (I’m looking at you, Kari)

  5. December 9, 2011

    As we usually do, everyone is eagerly guessing the line up and what Pep will do.

    And as usual – we’ll likely be surprised and say, “really, Pep?”

    In these kinds of circumstances its often Keita starting that creates a stir. How Pep will fit him in- don’t know. But wouldn’t be surprised if he does.

    The team has been gelling. Hopefully they can keep it moving forward. Pep has some very difficult choices he needs to balance.

    One thing to pay particular attention to isn’t only who RM uses in midfield e.g. trivote, etc. But how those midfielder line up and mark the Barca midfield. How they use Khedira will be particularly interesting. He’s their best defensive midfielder – big question for them is whether they use him to press high like he did against Valencia to mark Busquets or if he marks Xavi.

    This is a match where Iniesta can’t be too generous. He’ll likely be marked by Xabi Alonso – RM most limited midfield defender in the trivote.

    Iniesta vs. Alonso and the Barca LW vs. RM RB are two of the more promising routes for Barca to attack through.

    • Jnice
      December 9, 2011

      This is a match where Iniesta can’t be too generous. He’ll likely be marked by Xabi Alonso – RM most limited midfield defender in the trivote.

      Seriously. Hope he knows that he has to enter beast mode and take players on. He can create all sorts of problems for Madrid if he decides to.

  6. blitzen
    December 9, 2011

    I’m not foolish enough to try to predict Pep’s lineup, but I am convinced that Villa must start. Villa always shows up for big games, and Casillas has mentioned before that Villa always scores on him and rubs it in. There is a psychological advantage to be used there. I suspect the front line will be Villa – Messi – Sanchez, with Cesc coming on later as a super-sub.

    Apart from that I have no idea, except that Messi, Xavi, Puyol and Iniesta will all start. And Valdes of course!

    • December 9, 2011

      Cesc’s form is outstanding – but Villa-Messi-Sanchez is probably their most balanced front line.

      And it looks like this will be a choice between Villa vs. Cesc.

      Other line ups wind up creating a number of complications if you try to fit Cesc in as a starter.

      If they do start Villa – he’ll really need to produce because they may be leaving their second best goal scorer by current form on the bench to do so.

      • December 9, 2011

        I’ve never bought into the “shows up for big games” notion. To me, that just rewards mediocrity with an automatic start. I’d love to see Fabregas/Messi/Sanchez. The injection of direct play from all three members of the front line would be a delight. And it’s direct play that will unlock the door for us tomorrow. I think that tika-taka, unless it’s playing with a 3 or 4-goal lead (I know, dream on ….) will play right into their hands.

      • ViscaCalifornia
        December 9, 2011

        Alves – Puyol – Pique – Abidal
        Xavi – Busquets – Iniesta
        Fábregas – Messi – Alexis

        ‎-that’s my line up for playing in an extremely hostile Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Barca plays our archetypal “Total Futbol” 4-3-3 with Messi and Fabregas interchanging as a false 9 and right winger… Alves is instructed to stay home, not overlapping so much up the flank (unless we open a 2 goal lead), to prevent any wide (Christiano/Di Maria) counter attack.

        Villa comes on as super sub. Then Keita late for switch to a 3-5-2, However, if Los Blancos score the opening goal – Pedro (for his runs)/Cuenca (for his crosses)/Thiago (for his creativity) become attractive options.

        Final Score = Madrid – 1, Barca – 2.

  7. hammeronmessi
    December 9, 2011

    can anybody suggest me how to watch the classico while in a flight.?

    will be on a flight during the game time.

    4 3 3 with villa lexus and pique puyol.

    not so sure about the result but i think we are not going to loose.

    visca barca

  8. Miguel
    December 9, 2011

    ¿Sales Minerales? No. Estoy castigado.

    Ha! I love Crackovia Iniesta so much.

    And who’s Andrea Huisgen? Oh. Oooo….

  9. ooga aga
    December 9, 2011

    who’s that talkin smack about bob ross?! bob ross rules! i am sorry isaiah but you just walked down the wrong street, you cant be talkin smack about bob ross on this block! watch your back!

    • December 9, 2011

      But, you see, it’s my block. And I say he bores me to tears. Happy rock tears, sure, but tears nonetheless.

    • blitzen
      December 10, 2011

      This Hour Has 22 Minutes (Canadian satire show) does a great bit where Bob is happily sublimating all his repressed anger into pictures of happy mountains and happy trees and happy decapitated people… 😛

  10. Dani_el
    December 9, 2011

    Thank you Isaiah, Kari, SoccerMom and the whole BFB team for giving us so many posts and keep us on edge making a good environment pre-clasico.
    I am silly enough to give a line-up, so:
    VV; Alves, Mascherano, Pique, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Messi, Cesc, Sanchez.
    That’s the best eleven, in my opinion to start. Though Puyol, Cuenca Thiago and Villa are close enough.

    Some quotes from Pep:
    “They will go for the win as we. We’ll have to do a lot of things right, be very quick and keep attention in a lot of things, as keeping a high circulation of the ball and finding spaces. (EE) is a intense team.
    Mourinho is a prepared coach. We play in a way in the beggining and the beautiful part, is finding the keys in what they do.
    Cesc is a player who loves big games, being young he was already a leader in an important team.
    I don’ think in how we’ll end the game. In how many point we’ll be on Madrid. I can’t prepare a game thinking about distances.
    We have to focus in what different things Madrid has done
    Tito is allright today, he will decide (I guess if he travels) tomorrow morning”
    Last year we played 5 times. We know each other well”
    It doesnt matter if we play with 3 o 4 defenders
    We’ll go with the intention of being ambitious, I don’t understand the game in another way. If there’s a field where we can abandon that idea, is there (Bernabeu)
    There’s no another player like Messi. He was already a good player. He isnt afraid and has gained experience.
    Barça’s coach always carries a lot of responsability. Every day a player comes to talk. I have pressers every 3 days. It seems that I get a lot of attention, but it’s not because I want to.
    I remember that my first time in Bernabeu I scored a goal with Butragueño ahead.
    Madrid is a strong rival in every sense, they know each other more and they have played more time together. The players understand better what their coach expects from them. I keep thinking that Madrid wins games when it presses high.
    It would be disrespectful to say Madrid’s weakest points.
    It is a very hard field to get any points. These few years he have accomplished that, it was because we went there thinking of winning the game.
    I ask of my players what they know doing
    We have to be bold and brave
    I said a while ago, that Masche was our best defender, but know they all are on their best. They all fill me with satisfaction.

    END OF PRESSER, sorry for any mistakes.

    • Dani_el
      December 9, 2011

      “We’ll go with the intention of being ambitious, I don’t understand the game in another way. If there’s a field where we CAN’T abandon that idea, is there. “

  11. mom4
    December 9, 2011

    I am strangely calm (at least for now). Don’t know if that’s good or bad.

  12. just listenin
    December 9, 2011

    Why: Because someone has to fight the forces evil. Thanks Isaiah.

    The psychology around this one is interesting, Mourinho and crew are playing it cool, big dog on the block, like leaders, just another match, trying to project an inherited superiority of some sort… I don’t buy it though, I think they’re unsettled. Plays into our genuinely quiet and focused disposition. This Barca can unsettle them. They came off their best and most dominant preseason ever, marched into the Super Copa, and we still stung them – they pressured like rabid dogs, scored first and early, and we found a way back. This Barca has something special, it may be kind of quiet and dormant and slightly off form and transitioning toward new horizons, but there is immense talent and an understanding and kinship in this club that, well, …money can’t buy. This is match is different, this club is special, there is reason to be optimistic.

    I hope everyone shows up to play – would be nice if this is the one we’ve all been waiting for, and ode to futbol. I hope so. I’m still nervous it could get ugly and destructive, but I hope not. Go get ’em guys, Stand Up Barca. The time is nigh.

    Still want to see this (with whatever morphing formation(s)):
    VV, Alves, Masch, Puyi*, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc**, Messi, Alexis
    *Maybe Pique – if he can keep his head up in the header space and out of his arse…
    **Maybe we see Villa in first XI – if the dynamics can move him central and experience are key considerations…

    Good luck all, Visca Barca!

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