La Liga Preview: Barça – Real Zaragoza, Sunday 4pmEST ESNP2HD
There things you don’t do in life: take candy from children, start land wars in Asia, piss off The Yaya. Iniesta and Xavi have spent the last week fending off ridiculous questions about whether or not Barça is in crisis. What? We lose one match and suddenly there’s even the remote possibility that we’re in crisis? Villarreal is in crisis mode, not Barça. Forget that nonsense if you’re an FCB fan, it’s absurd. If you’re a player, I’m sure that it will galvanize you, make you mad, and make you clinical. Crisis? I doubt Real Zaragoza thinks we’re in crisis right now.
And I doubt that we’ll be very kind to the blanquillos when they come visiting on Sunday (check your local time here) not through any real fault of their own, but because the media has made this a match that will define more than just the days around it, but a lot of the season. A match against Real Zaragoza has gone from being a match against the 13th ranked team in the league to being a match that will decide whether or not Barça is having a disastrous season. Now do you see why it’s so absurd?
Lately I’ve been overconfident about our chances (I predicted the Valencia match a 1-3 victory and Rubin Kazan a 2-0 victory), but I don’t see why, in retrospect, I should have been more pessimistic. Against Valencia we ran into a brick wall of solid play and we were bailed out by Victor Valdes, but even so we controlled large swaths of the match and could have won, though probably not 1-3. Against Rubin we were a superior team for 99% of the match. Marquez muffs a high ball and it lands at the foot an attacker who drives the ball in from 8 miles out–that’s not us playing badly, that’s the luck of the draw. We had 13 shots on target and hit the post at least twice. Their keeper didn’t have to have a massive game, but he did enough to keep out shots that might have flustered others. So it goes, but I think that reinforces why I was confident going in: we’re the best team on the planet. In La Liga we’re 6W-1D-0L with 3 goals allowed all year. And we’re in a crisis because the Russian champions and Valencia kept us from winning after we had most of our squad away on international duty? Whatever. If that’s a crisis, I’ll take crisis mode over whatever it is that other clubs have week-in and week-out.
To the match at hand, then:
Real Zaragoza is one of the three new members of La Liga, having been promoted this year after having finished the 2008-09 season in second place in La Segunda A. Their overall league record is 2W-2D-3L (10GF, 11GA) and their away league record is 0W-1D-2L (3GF, 7GA). That’s not too solid a record, to be honest, and should really inspire confidence if you’re Zaragoza fan. Their leading goalscorer is Javier Arizmendi, who has 3 goals to his name. Last year’s team leader in goals, Ewerthon (who had 28), currently has 1, but he has also only appeared in 3 matches as compared to Arizmendi’s 7.
It’s always hard for me to judge the quality of an opponent when I haven’t caught any of their matches during the year, but the statistics suggest that they’re not going to put up too much of a fight. They’ve got some good players (Angel Lafita, for instance), but nobody who is a world beater (not even Jermaine Pennant) and they’ll have a tough time coming to the Camp Nou and finding points. Their toughest opponent was at Sevilla, where they lost 4-1, but that’s not such a surprise seeing as Sevilla has turned out to be pretty damned good.
Let’s compare schedules:
|Gijon||3-0 home win||1-1 away draw|
|Atleti||5-2 home win||2-1 away loss|
|Getafe||0-2 away win||3-0 home win|
|Racing||4-1 home win||2-2 home draw|
The other 3 matches Zaragoza played were against opponents we have not faced (Sevilla, Tenerife, and Valladolid). This little table does help us recognize that Zaragoza is perhaps better than their statistics would otherwise suggest, but it doesn’t lead me to believe they have much of a chance if they can’t even beat Atleti (who lost their coach, Abel Resino, by the way).
Because the midweek match is a Copa del Rey away leg against Cultural Leonesa, I expect the big guns to be playing and not being rested. There’s no reason to think that we can’t start an all B-team squad against Leonesa, so our starting lineup should reflect not only the desire to win this match, but also to make it a statement. We obviously can’t disregard Zaragoza, so let’s, um, regard them by starting as solid a lineup as we can.
We’re without Dani Alves because of injury, but with Thierry Henry on the verge of coming back, we’re getting tantalizingly close to getting our starting lineup intact and rumbling just as we get into the makin’ hay part of the season. That’s pretty cool, of course. So, assuming he’s fit enough, I say start Henry on the bench and bring him on for 30 minutes or so as a replacement for whoever we put at LW. I think our back line will set itself, though Guardiola’s probably not reacting as negatively to Marquez’s efforts against Rubin as some.
A word or fifty, then, about Marquez: Against Rubin he wasn’t horrific by any stretch of the imagination. He didn’t have a masterful game, but the first goal, while being his fault, wasn’t some bone-headed mistake that could have been avoided. It’s not like he made a poor decision, he flubbed the trap, which obviously isn’t good, but he wasn’t doing anything particularly dangerous. The ball happened to spin to a Rubin player who then happened to smash it 40 yards into the back of the net. Shit happens and while if shit happens on a regular basis then you can claim to see a pattern, for now, only one shit thing has happened, so I don’t get the antagonism against him. The second goal was 0% his fault. Bojan pushed the ball back into the midfield when he should have been controlling the ball. That led to a break and Marquez and Pique were both caught far up the field pressing. Hector has analyzed this before and basically what happened was that it became a foot race between Marquez and an attacker. Marquez was forced to guess when the pass was going to be made and he guessed incorrectly, but only because the pass itself from Dominguez was perfectly weighted and timed. Pique had his man (Dominguez) contained in that he was forcing him into Marquez, but that doesn’t mean Marquez has an easy time of just strolling up and taking the ball. Both defenders were backpedaling against two players who are probably faster than they are flat out, much less when one of them is backwards.
Whatever, Marquez is having an off-period only in that he’s not lighting the world on fire, but the midfield has been uncharacteristically generous with their giveaways, meaning that the defense is often caught out of position because of the high line. In the Valencia game it happened at least three times, but that’s not the back line’s fault. That’s the midfield’s fault. Iniesta and Xavi have been sending sloppy passes every which way for a couple of weeks now and while it hasn’t hurt us too much because we do have a good defense (and they’re getting better), they have made it harder to be good defensively. I’m not arguing that Marquez should start every damned match, because I don’t rate him as highly as Pique or Puyol, but I do rate him, at least for now, above Chygrynskiy because our Chygnasty is currently untested and hasn’t shown me any more capabilities in the defensive third than anyone else.
Okay, so that’s out of my system. Good.
So here’s my proposed lineup: Valdes, Puyol, Chygrynskiy, Pique, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Bojan, Ibra, Messi.
I can understand if Guardiola decides to put Marquez in over Pique (more experience to help Chygrynskiy) and I can also understand putting Pedro! in over Bojan. I think that Chygrynskiy gets the start in this one and then Marquez can be captain against Leonesa, just to provide some solid veteran leadership for the youngsters. I like Bojan as a starter here because he’s got something to prove and needs minutes whereas Pedro! might benefit from being rested now and given the starter’s role against Leonesa. Fortunately we travel to Osasuna next Saturday, so it’s not the world’s toughest opponent (though they are a surprising 9th right now), which means we can get all of our players save Alves back to 100% and not have to start Henry and risk a recurrence of his injury. A fully fit Henry against Osasuna and then Rubin Kazan in Russia is certainly worth more than a less than 100% Henry against Zaragoza and Leonesa.
That I’m calling for putting Iniesta and Xavi in the midfield in front of The Yaya rather than reintroducing Keita to the starting lineup has nothing to do with what Keita has offered us this year and more to do with getting that twin-engine supersonic jet that we know Iniesta and Xavi can be back up and running. There were flashes against Rubin Kazan, but there wasn’t quite the breathtaking energy and movement that characterized last year’s title runs because they’re not quite back on the same page yet. They’re close and I think 90 minutes against Zaragoza could do wonders for their confidence as well as for our scoreline.
Now, I think that this lineup only works if the majority of the starters are rested against Leonesa. Xavi must be rested against Leonesa for a start against Zaragoza to make any sense whatsoever. Xavi has already played 1,183 minutes over 13 appearances. Alves is the only outfield player who comes close to that with 13 appearances for 1,169 minutes. Xavi needs to rest, so he should not play against Leonesa. A lineup that Guardiola could opt for is Busi-Xavi-Keita or Busi-Xavi-Iniesta, but I obviously think that Busi should start the Leonesa match and let Yaya do the big boy work in the league for now. Keeping Busi fresh for January while at the same time getting him the confidence to step in and fill Yaya’s Grand Canyon sized shoes will be a tough psychological battle for Guardiola, but I think he can do it and I think that getting Busi a run in the Copa is the way to do it. We need The Yaya to crush people in Russia, though, so perhaps Busi can play his way into the starting 11 against Osasuna if he does a bang up job against Leonesa.
Official Prediction: I know I’ve been a bit heavy-handed with the victory prognostications recently, but somehow this feels like the one where we break out of our “slump” and just run riot on some fools. 4-0, goals by Messi (2), Ibra, Bojan, and Iniesta. Rock the house, boys and remember, boot on throat, twist. We need ice in our veins for this one and I know we’ve got that in spades.
Game time: 9pm local/Barcelona time. Check your local time here.