Never Let Your Guard Down: Barça – Rubin Kazan

CL Preview: Barça – Rubin Kazan, Tuesday 2:45pmEST, Fox Sports en Español

He is out there. Waiting, watching, listening to metal.
He is out there. Waiting, watching, listening to metal.

There’s a man standing in the beautiful wilds of an untamed jungle. He is forty feet in the air, balanced easily on a branch, surveying the scene. His blond locks shimmer and dance in the spotted light seeping through the canopy top. Both camouflaged and elegantly obvious, the man is one with his surroundings: poisonous and beautiful, stealthy and skilled. He has been here for a thousand years, you would imagine, motionless and watchful. There’s movement nearby and his eyes swing to the side, his head never moving, his muscles tensing ever so slightly.

There are words to describe the flurry of movement, the screech of pain, and the scene of horror, but those words are lost in the fear that ripples through you as watch a master hunter at work. He has taken another scalp for his bountiful collection. There is murder in his eyes as he turns his gaze upon his next victim. Be wary, traveler, for there is a killer on the loose and he is approaching another milestone in a career of milestones:


Carles Puyol i Saforcada will equal the great Carles Rexach for all-time appearances in blaugrana when he faces Rubin Kazan tomorrow. On Sunday against Zaragoza, he will step into sole ownership of third place in the all time standings with 453. It’s been 10 years since his humble beginnings and hopefully it will be many more decades before his involvement with the club is complete.

Our jungle scene is not fully finished, however: The man stands above his pray and raises his head to the heavens, screaming his triumph and his warning to all the creatures who dwell in his vicinity. Out of the bushes steps a smaller man, eyes darkly glowing. He laughs. I’ve killed two while you were braying, he seems to say. The man turns, sinewy muscles flexing. Damn you, Xavi, and your 486 appearances.

Onward and only upward, I’m sure:

Rubin Kazan are the reigning Russian League champions and with 25 games played (and 5 more to go), they are in first again with a one point lead over Spartak Moscow. Their full name is Футбольный клуб Рубин Казань (Municipal Institution Football Club Rubin Kazan) and they hail from Kazan, a city of 1.1million people and the administrative center of the Republic of Tatarstan. What that tells you, I’m not entirely sure, but their city seems, from a cursory glance around the Internet, both quaint and modern in equal measure. It is the home of Tatar culture and a city that, like many others as old as it is, lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Kazanka and the mighty Volga, of literary fame.

The Volga, that wide and insane bounty of water that has been in novels and histories ever since people learned to write about rivers. Beautiful and mysterious in equal measure to a Westerner like me, it slices through the heart of Russia, running from the Valdai Hills north of Moscow to the Caspian Sea almost 2,300 miles away; it turns south at Kazan and runs towards Volgograd (Stalingrad) then to the sea. It brought prosperity and war with it, leaving Kazan both rich because of its mineral wealth and desired for that very reason.

I’m no Hey Jenny Slater (can be mildly NSFW), but I might as well give a shout out to Tatarstan’s associated hottie: Alsou Abramova (SFW), a stunningly gorgeous singer from the Tatarstan region whose music I’ve never heard but I’m sure it’s just as curly wonderful hair and smoldering eyes as she is. Are those musical descriptors? I think they are. Whatever, I’m sure all Tatar women are just as good looking so I’m merely choosing one out of a random hat of millions.


Rubin appeared roughly from nowhere into the Russian Premier League in 2003, when they made their first leap from the second division up to the lofty heights of 3rd place in the RPL. They eclipsed that mark by winning the trophy last year and remaining on track to retain their title this year, but this is still their maiden voyage in the Champions League. So far they’ve fared rather well, at least relative to my own expectations, which saw them crashing and burning. While they lost to Dynamo Kiev in the Ukraine 3-1, they drew with Inter Milan 1-1 in Russia and could very well have won that match.

I will not take Rubin lightly merely because I have never seen them play. They have 51 goals scored and only 19 goals allowed in 25 matches in the RPL, which suggests a level of organization and quality that isn’t often present in CL debutantes. I won’t, however, make the mistake of categorizing them as “Eastern Juggernauts” capable of pulling off Ivan Drago style brutality or suggesting that they’re somehow the footballing equivalent of Soviet shock troops arriving en masse to repel the Nazi hordes at Stalingrad. I’m not often given to such stereotypical nonsense (I’m given to much zanier nonsense; see the first few paragraphs of this very post for an example), so we’ll forgo it and hope that we’re not overlooking serious quality in an attempt to be culturally fair.

Valery Karpin has been quoted as saying that Rubin employ catenaccio at every moment, meaning they’re going to come at us the same way that any of the minnows do: close up shop and hack. That means vastly increased possession stats for us, but also the fear of counter-attacks. Karpin suggests that we keep an eye on 28-year old Argentine forward Alejandro Domínguez, something I think Inter Milan will nod their collective head at since he was the one who scored against them on match day 2. Their coach is Kurban Berdyev, who appears to be a workaholic, so I’m sure he’s seen every match we’ve ever played and the ones from our last season three times each, meaning he’s seen our weaknesses, but also our strengths. He’ll have to hope that Domínguez is capable of controlling some portion of the midfield and that whoever he puts out to man-mark Xavi (I’m assuming he’ll do this) is capable of shadowing such a movement-oriented player for 90 minutes. If he doesn’t take the bait and man-mark Xavi (which he shouldn’t do) we’ll be facing a Chelsea-esque bus that breaks out.

Jonathan Wilson suggests that we look out for MacBeth Sibaya, Rubin’s South African hardman because he’s a lynchpin in the middle and is capable of releasing both Domínguez and their captain Sergei Semak, who you might remember from Russia’s Euro 2008 campaign. Sebaya, though, hasn’t appeared for Rubin recently and might be injured, which could be a world of hurt for Rubin if they can’t control the midfield. ESPN Soccernet comes at us with a preview of the match, in which they claim that Spanish defender César Navas will a big help in preparing for the match. I find nothing particularly special about Navas, a journeyman defender for blah sides like Malaga and Racing (who he played for last season) before venturing to Russia for what will probably be the last few years of his career, since he’s already 29. The thing that he has going for him is that he’s 6’5″, which means he’s as tall as Ibrahimovic, though no doubt about 8 super powers less heavy than The Yaya.

They approached the Inter match with what appears to be a flat 4-4-2: Ryzhikov (GK), César, Sharonov, Ansaldi, Salukvadze, Semak, Noboa, Ryazantsev, Gökdeniz, Bukharov, Domínguez. Whether they’ll take the risk of trying to overload us with midfielders and pushing two strikers up front is hard for me to say, but it seems like suicide to push two guys up against us and not have at least one central defensive midfielder (a pivote, if you will) to hold our possession game in check.

If they do play with two strikers or with one “in the hole”, we should be wary of Bukharov, a 6’3″ goal scoring machine in Russia (27 in 57 appearances) who is obviously going to command attention from Pique and Puyol, meaning Domínguez will have a freer role to pursue his dribbling attacks. However, they’ll have to be aware that putting Domínguez in the hole will place him squarely against The Yaya for almost the entire match, something that can’t be particularly enticing for either the player or his coach.

I guess it doesn't always snow in Russia
I guess it doesn't always snow in Russia

So, roughly, I expect them to come in and play defensively (as in a 5-4-1 or a 4-5-1 double pivot) and for the draw. Will they get it?

Barça are not accustomed to losing, having failed to do so since last season, and they won’t want to a reminder of that bitter, bitter taste in the back of your throat just yet. We’re coming off of a 0-0 draw with Valencia that, I think, will readjust our focus and help us concentrate all the more. Messi was off (he got a 2 from Kevin, after all, proving he wasn’t on song), but he won’t be after a couple more days rest and having practiced with the team. He’ll be back in the blaugrana groove, which means he’ll reassert himself in his role, especially when Pedro! is replaced up front by our Ninja Swede, who is expected back in the lineup for the match.

Still, we’re without Henry, which means we have a vital question on our hands: who do we start at LW? So far this season, Iniesta has been fairly inconsistent and not all that great as the LW, but do we sacrifice Keita’s hard work in the midfield for a more fluid version that puts Bojan, Pedro, or Jeffren up front and lets Iniesta do the legwork in the midfield? I would say no, but only because I think Iniesta is due for a breakout game against a team that isn’t going to be able to contain so many dynamic playmakers. Keita is a facilitator rather than a creator, but he has proven himself capable of interchanging on both the offensive and defensive fronts in order to maintain a numerical advantage or to quell the appearance of one for our opponents. That’s why I want him to step in and shut down Semak and further occupy Sebaya’s lunges towards (and if not Sebaya, then someone else in that DM role).

If Ibra is able to occupy Navas and another defender with small runs through the middle of the field, I think that spreads out the game a bit and lets Messi take off down the wings more often, something he’ll do with greater success than he did against Valencia because he’ll be rested and ready. We have until Sunday against Zaragoza (also at home) to recuperate, so I expect our best 11 to be out there from the get-go. The only questions that remain for me are Ibra’s health, who do we start at LB, and whether or not Pep wants to see us play with Iniesta in the middle. Were Henry fit, I would opt for Iniesta in the midfield and Henry up top, but that is not the case, so, again, I want to see Iniesta up front doing his little wriggling runs and causing all sorts of panic in their ranks.

Do we start Maxwell? I don’t know, to be honest. Abidal is a workhorse and I want his speed there, but Maxwell also provides a measure of bus-breaking crosses that Abidal seems fairly unable to provide and certainly unable to provide on such a regular basis. Ibra will want headers and Messi will want to ghost in at the back post, so putting Maxwell on the field is not such a bad idea, but is only a valid option if Keita is on the field to provide defensive cover in case of a counterattack. Putting out those fires is Abidal’s forte (and one he doesn’t get enough credit for), so perhaps opting for him is the best answer to that question, despite the offensive letdown.

Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, The Yaya, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibra, Messi. That’s our best available 11, I think, but you really never know what Pep will have seen/scouted/realized that I haven’t. He’s the master after all.

Official Prediction: 2-0, goals by Ibra and Messi (penalty). Our first penalty of the year is drawn by Iniesta as he makes a sick dash to the corner and cuts back and is promptly flattened by Navas…in the 43rd minute. There you go, that’s a specific prediction if I’ve ever heard one. Oh wait that‘s a perfect prediction. This won’t be pretty, though, as I do expect kicking, hacking, and shirt pulling from Rubin to compliment their Helenio Herrera-inherited tactics.

Match time: 8:45pm local time and 2:45pmEST (check your local time by clicking here). This match will be on Fox Soccer en Español, but if you get DirectTV it should be on in English, though I’m not sure what channel since I don’t get DirectTV. Check your local listings.

And because you should always leave them laughing, here’s some Crackovia for you:

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.


  1. Sick preview, Isaiah.

    Dani with what looks like an amazing safe lol:


    And… The YAYA says hello: *

  2. ibra is a doubt, says pep.

    photos from todays practice session on the official site shows milito practiciing!

  3. God, I love your posts Isaiah.

    To be honest, I see Maxwell starting at LB, mostly for the reasons you mentioned, because I think Pep is getting tired of this other-teams-playing-for-draws business. Scoring early ends this match, so maybe sub in Abidal when we need defense.

  4. dude. that preview was bloody metol!

    can you make a mike blowers type prediction for my dodgers tonight? :v(

    maxwell wouldn’t be such a bad idea. i thought we needed some more attacking options on our left vs valencia. i’d opt for abidal in the back, iniesta in the middle, & bojan on the left though. maybe toure instead of xavi if he isn’t to start.

    tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka!

  5. My soul needs a comprehesive slaughter, but our tools haven’t been so sharp lately. Probably 1-0 or 2-0…I’m asking for a 4-0

  6. I <3 DirectTV. Awesome to know I'll be able to catch every match from now on. On the first match date, they realized they had a discrepancy in that Fox Sports en Espa~ol was not available to all viewers (where the Inter-Barca match was broadcast), yet was still available on the UEFA CL simulcast (a channel that let's you watch ALL CL matches at the same time).

    It was bizarre having the match in this teeny tiny box on your screen, but not being able to make it full screen. Seems like they've fixed that for now.

    Also, it was interesting in that it seemed that some matches didn't have announcers to them, so all you got was a live stadium feed. That was actually very nice!

  7. OT: Altidore just subbed on for Hull–do you think that right now Villarreal are ruing sending him on loan? Not that he’s setting the world on fire or anything (no goals yet) but him not scoring goals wouldn’t make Villarreal worse since they’re bottom of the table (!) with 3 points and 5 goals total (10 allowed). Who saw that coming? Not me!

  8. Our first XI is all too predictable at the minute. The likes of Pedro, Bojan and Busquets can be introduced if Pep thinks that it is an easier match or if injury necessitates, but they are a drop in quality.
    Maxwell & Keita or Abidal & Iniesta is about is much as we can do at the minute.
    I predict that Bojan will start and Pep may go for Maxwell & Keita with Iniesta on the wing, but IF Ibra can start, Iniesta may play in midfield.
    Through the middle will be very very tight so the channels may be important.

    My prediction: 3-0 with Xavi, Dani & Bojan getting the goals. What odds for that one?

  9. Epic. Word is that Ibrahimovic is “unlikely” to play, as he is still having pain, according to press conference comments from Guardiola.

    Guardiola also says (and he’s right) that getting a W is a crucial step toward getting through. And he’s right. A win means we’re top of group with 7 points from 3 matches. The way the group is looking, 12 points probably wins it, which means we’d need 5 points from the remaining 3 matches (Dynamo and Rubin at their house and Inter at Camp Nou).

    1. Ok, no Ibra so… hopefully Bojan will man-up and win the match for us.
      Pedro, Messi & Iniesta is not an answer to our frontline riddle minus Henry & Ibra. Bojan has to start in the centre.

  10. I’m sure if he was on the bench on Saturday Ibra will at least be on the bench for this one. However, it is shaping up as a challenge. The key for me is to get our passing going a bit more slickly than in the last game so that Messi and Iniesta? get the ball a little quicker so they aren’t facing two or three defenders before getting going.

  11. I thought Barca was my life!!! Until.. Isiah introduced me to Alsou Abramova. … I lost track of life for a second…OK OK!!! before you guys kick me out of here.. I am back and ready to watch all the Barca games for the rest of my life!!!

    That Puyol parody was amazing!!! Not that I understand too much Spanish… just enough to get by in Havana on my yearly pilgrimage during the cold winters in Canada. I suppose I could meet up with some Russians this winter there and discuss the Ruben Kazan match and how Alsou deserted Russia for a better life in America.

  12. I’d have preferred to give Messi some rest had Ibra been available, but now that Ibra is not fit & so not going to play or even if he played would be not fully fit I think we are better off playing Messi because I can’t see goals coming from a front line of Iniesta-Bojan-Pedro… My line-up would be some thing like :

    Subs: Pedro for Messi(if we are leading by 2 goals)
    Busi for Xavi
    Ibra for Bojan(if the Rubin defenses are found hard to be broken)

    Aren’t we suffering from lack of depth!? Hope there’s JDS included in the squad list… If we are indeed sitting in a nice position to boast off a lead of 2 or 3 goals, I’d like some JDS on the pitch

    1. Nope, same group as for Valencia: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Márquez, Abidal, Maxwell, The Yaya, Sergio Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Bojan, Pedro!, Jeffren, Messi and Ibrahimovic.

    2. And Maxwell instead of Abidal since Iniesta is assuming deliberately or not his mid-field role instead of providing that depth as every one talked about, Maxwell could come quite handy(I’d like you guys to remember Uncle Sylvinho scored a goal in the group stages last season, although we lost that game)… If his defense makes you worry, then there’s Keita for you. BTW hasn’t Keita played 60minutes less than the maximum possible minutes he could have played this season!?

  13. Read some where that Pep is very satisfied with Marti Riverola & is planning to bring him into main team when The Yaya & Keita are gone for ACN… Is some body tracking the ‘B’? All I could gather is he’s the captain of Juvenil A

    1. I’m really not sure how many people make the jump from Juvenil A to replacing The Yaya, you know? I’ll believe it’s possible when I see him even practicing with the first squad.

    2. You are right… More important factor is that we will be playing Villa Real & Sevilla in his absence. I agree Villa Real are total crap this season, but they might find their form by then and also there’s this winter market in between & if suppose they sign some quick success that would definitely help them!!
      Every body was like we have enough depth with JDS & Thiago for mid-field but they could back-up only the attacking front and Pep is managing that using Keita. But there’s not much in defensive side i.e., when you consider the obvious fact that Marquez, Pique & Maxwell can NOT replace The Yaya

    3. But maybe we can ask RFEF if we can replace The Yaya with 3 players cause that’s how much space he takes up anyway. We’ll play that vaunted RM 4-5-4 yet!

  14. my Possible starting XI: Valdés; Alves, Marquez, Piqué, Maxwell; Xavi, Busquets, Keita; Messi, Bojan, Iniesta.

    1. U know wat im going to be brave and state Ramzi’s Midfield-Independence-Movement lineup with

      looks kinda like a copa del rey lineup.

    1. song sucks but the singer’s wearing an infest shirt so he gets a couple browny points. west coast power violence. go dodgers.

    2. Napalm Death kicks some serious ass. But I prefer them in the “Fear, Emptiness ….” period. Brilliant stuff. Apparently Cannibal Corpse and the Ramones are also part of the pre-match ritual.

      Man, that explains so much. I should send him a Dawn mix. He’d probably start at the back, bring the ball up and kick it so hard it would take the keeper into the net with him.

  15. i’m missing this 🙁 and liverpool vs lyon. and real madrid vs milan. i hate having a job!

  16. am i the only one apprehensive about this game? no Ibra or Henry, an undoubtedly still-fatigued front few (Messi, Xavi, Iniesta) after a long trip to Russia against a hard-playing side who need the points and who’s coach has said “has nothing to lose”. our defense, for the first time in a long time, looks solid; lots of options there. midfield is slightly less good but still acceptable, however our forward line is deeply suspect. Pedro just doesn’t contribute alot for me over the course of a match, despite his handful of goals since the summer, and Bojan is not the kind of striker i see making a mess out of a Russian defense through the middle. that leaves our offense to Messi, who doesn’t seem to be playing 100%.

    will we still win? possibly, but i think predictions of 3-0 scorelines are pretty optimistic.

    1. 1-0 is feeling more like it to me, BA. I’m nervous as hell too, not because I think that we’re going to concede, but because it could end in another 0-0. The Rubin folks say they aren’t going to park the bus, but in a tight group, it’s hard not to have fantasies about coming out of a tight bottom three, planning on having us beat Dynamo (again) and Inter at home.

      I’d feel much better about it if we had a grownup (Henry or Ibrahimovic).

  17. they wont know how to park the bus in such a big pitch, just too hard to train for…What size is their home pitch?What is the average size pitch they play at?

    1. They won’t have the energy to track all the players
    2. We’ll be able to exploit lots of green
    3. Our defense is on form

    1. I thought we had the maximum pitch size? I know there are minimums and maximums, and I thought we had the max. It sure looks that way compared to other fields we play on when we go away.

  18. Guys, Relax, Barca will win the game hands down. Nobody can park the bus at Camp Nou!!! The pitch is huge. It spans the entire galaxy. My prediction 5 – 0. Although Ruben are the Russian Champs they do not have the experience at the highest level. Piquenbauer, Puyol, Toure, and Maxwell will all score because rest of the team will be marking all the other midfielders and forwards. I would give a brace to Piquenbauer.

  19. Sport is scaring the hell out of me 🙁 Now their headline is ‘Robinho signing is imminent!’ Oh what the hell!? And they also say Suarez is the Plan ‘B’!!! I say get robinho, get the maximum out of him for the second half the season during the loan spell and show him the doors 😛 We will sign Suarez in summer, get him accustomed to the team during the pre-season and we are ready to roll baby!

    1. Oh, Bukharov is out? That certainly makes it easier. I mentioned that Sibaya might be out, but good to know for sure. Thanks for the link.

  20. Anyone remember last season?

    The same options that we refused to trust against opponents of less quality were the options that won us the CL final against Man utd.

    – Sylvinho was not good enough to start against teams like Almeria (we may lose if he starts), he was great against Man utd.

    – Busquets is not good enough as Yaya replacement.

    – Alves must play each and every game or else! Any complains about his replacement on May 27?

    In Brief, static starting line up can win you a game, but only using all the squad available wins titles.

    Lack of rotation during some periods of the last season drove us close to winning nothing. Luckily it turned well once, but if we will do the same mistake again, then I will start to feel worried.

    We may not do a complete rotation for this game, but some key players must be benched.

  21. lol, the first part of the preview, excellent!
    Carles Puyol is our very own Predator. A great player and a great movie.

    Then, there is geography lessons and a picture of a damn hot girl. What else can you ask for? 🙂

    I don’t think that Rubin will play physical, I see them more as an primarily attacking team that likes to pass the ball and let the opponent run. I think they are a lot more gifted with technical players than Dynamo Kiev which makes it likely that they play less aggressive. I hope they’ll play their usual style which fits us pretty well.

    No Ibra would be terrible… hope that’s just a trick played by the media!

    1. Don’t think it is. Knee pain is nothing to mess about with. As Guardiola put it, Ibra had lots of little knocks. The abuse he takes in the position that he plays must be unrelenting.

      And Rubin is, on paper, fortuitous. We should be able to do the business without him, just. But it is imperative that we don’t concede, and that we get everyone healthy and rested for the huge matches coming up.

      I’m pulling for Dynamo today, even at the risk of making my November CL match meaningless. Given the fraught state of our squad and the fact that Henry and Abidal will be just back (hopefully healthy) from the France play-in, it would be nice to just be able to focus on El Clasico.

      As far as Robinho, it’s funny. I’m just not sure what to believe. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, right? But there have been no real talks of negotiations, or dollar figures, or anything.

      And yet by all accounts, the Sheikh .being willing to negotiate was the sole impediment to the deal, if press reports are to be believed. Craziness.

      It makes sense that Suarez would be option No. 2. As we’ve all noted, we can’t be messing around with uncertainties at this point. We are certain that Robinho is immensely talented. We are also certain that he will eventually spaz out. But he will definitely be able to hold it together for a half-season, right?

      And does anyone want to bet against him killing himself to help us win the Clasicos, for obvious reasons?

  22. i have a question.

    and its radical so be prepared.

    what if we played this:

    ——-the yaya——-

    i mean, alves played in midfield for brazul against bolivia. i think he could play quite a good game if we just unleashed him of his defensive duties.

    can abidal or maxwell play on the right?

    why is it that we cant play pique or marquez or maxwell in dm during acn? i think pique would be excellent there.

    and one last question that i was wondering about arbitrarily.
    you know how barca travels in the summer for preseason and so do many teams. i know in new york they once played ac milan vs inter. imagine if barca vs EE was being played preseason say in new york or somewhere, do you think all the players would treat it like a classico or more like a friendly? just wondering… just wondering…

    1. If his injury prevents him from playing this game, then why was he on the bench against Valencia?

      I will be surprised if he doesnt play.

    2. I think with Ibra it will all depend on how his knee feels. He was probably alright to play against Valencia, but why risk him? If he hurts his knee he could be out for a long time and that will be far more costly than losing a few points to Valencia away from home. If he even has the slightest bit of pain in his knee then he shouldn’t start tonight either. Leave him on the bench just in case, but really we should be able to handle Rubin at home without Henry and Ibra.

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