Copa del Rey Preview: Cultural Leonesa – Barça, Wednesday 5pmEST (check your local time here)
Update! Update! This match will take place at 5pmEST, not 4pm as previously stated! Damned time changes in Spain I didn’t know about…
In the year 68, an aging general named Servius Sulpicius Galba levied a legion and marched on Rome, where he took over the Roman Empire from Nero, the emperor who had appointed Galba as governor of Hispania Tarraconensis only seven years before.
Galba’s reign was brief and ended violently: he was murdered only six months after taking the throne and most have forgotten his name. The city he left behind on his way to Roman obscurity is alive and well, its legacy cemented in its architecture and its place in history secure.
Founded by Legio septima Gemina (Seventh Twin Legion), the legion Galba used to take the Roman throne, León sits in northern Spain, in the shadows of the Cantabrian Mountains along the northern coast. It is a relatively small city (metro pop 200,000), but it is packed with history and culture.
Once the seat of tremendous power during the Kingdom of León’s heyday in the eleventh century, the kingdom slowly succumbed to a political alliance with Castilla, though the official name of the region remained the Kingdom of León until 1833. On October 19, 1469 the history of the region changed course as Ferdinand of Aragon married Isabela of Castilla y León, leading to the eventual unification of Spain by the grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
Modern León is no longer the home of powerful lords who control gold mining routes or command Roman legions, but it is still a beautiful and visit-worthy place, if the pictures and descriptions are anywhere near truthful. The catedral de Santa María de Regla (pictured above) was started in the 8th century and remains a beautiful reminder of the architectural grandeur of the time period. There are also much more modern buildings done by Antoni Guadí, among others, lending the city a blended atmosphere.
If I ever visit León, I know that one of the first things I will do is get myself a heaping plateful of cecina and frosty mug of beer and go to town on both of them. There’s nothing quite like a big plate of “could be horsemeat” to really whet the appetite, eh?
In León in 1923, a small football team was founded and named Cultural y Deportivo Leonesa. They bounced around the Spanish professional leagues for a while, spending the 1956-57 season in La Liga, ending up 15th and being relegated (there were fewer teams in the top flight then). They have not been above the Segunda B since they were relegated from the Segunda at the end of the 1974-75 season. Last year the ended up second in Group 1 of the Segunda B, 5 points adrift of RM’s copa killers, Real Unión. During the promotion playoffs Leonesa was eliminated by Catalan team Sabadell 1-2 on aggregate (1-1 and 0-1).
This year, however, they sit in 17th after 10 matches, in the 4-team relegation zone, having amassed only 10 points with a record of 2W-4D-4L (9GF 14GA). They come into this match hoping for a victory like Real Unión achieved last year, but facing a team that is far better than anyone they have faced before. I won’t even attempt to guess how they will approach this match, personnel-wise, but I can imagine they will try to play the counter game against us, pulling 15 behind the ball until the ref catches on and forces their four extra players off the field. There’s no Nero fiddling in Catalunya, I can assure you that, unless it’s Daniel Sánchez Llibre, but I’m not sure his empire counts as such…
There is, of course, another team that will be on the field tomorrow opposite Leonesa and that team, while watered down, will be looking to impose itself on the game in typical fashion: strangle the other team by holding the ball in a pass-and-move manner, finding space, and never relenting with their own pressing game.
The lineup will look strange, though, for those of you used to the major names being out there. The squad list is: Valdés, Pinto, Iván Benítez, Chygrynskiy, Márquez, Fontas, Abidal, Maxwell, The Yaya, Jonathan dos Santos, Busi, Gai Assulin, Keita, Pedro!, Jeffren, Bojan, and Jonathan Soriano.
If you don’t know some of those names, it’s okay, I don’t either, but that’s what the Internet is for.
- Iván Benítez – 21-year old central defender from the Canary Islands. He’ll be wearing #37.
- Andreu Fontàs – 19-year old central defender from Banyoles, Catalunya. He has made one previous appearance for the first team. He’ll be wearing #32.
- Jonathan dos Santos – 19-year old midfielder from Monterrey, Mexico. He’ll be wearing #28.
- Gai Assulin – 18-year old winger/attacking midfielder from Nahariya, Israel. He’ll be wearing #31.
- Jonathan Soriano – 24-year old striker from Barcelona. He’s played professionally in lower leagues while on loan at Almeria, Poli Ejido, and Albacete and he’s played in La Liga under Espanyol, making 36 appearances for them and scoring 3 goals. He’ll be wearing #36.
Note that this means that the following players were left behind in Barcelona: Messi, Ibra, Xavi, Iniesta, Piqué, and Puyol. That’s a hefty group of players to leave out, especially with Alves and Henry missing through injury. Even so, if you look at the lineups, it will sound like men against boys, though the “boys” may be the heavyweights with the upper hand in the end.
My predicted lineup: Pinto, Fontàs, Márquez, Chygrynskiy, Maxwell, Busi, JDS, Gai, Pedro!, Bojan, Jeffren.
That’s a weak lineup, of course, in that we have no real veterans up front, but, without Messi, Henry, and Ibra, we really don’t have veterans. Pedro! and Bojan are more than capable of carving out some goals when given the opportunity, which means that Gai and JDS behind them will have to hold the fort and Busi will have to be solid and help them to distribute the ball. I think JDS would do better in the Xavi role and Gai better in the Iniesta role. However, if Guardiola thinks that he wants more solidity, he can replace either one with Keita and let the young one play the Xavi. I think our front line is pretty well set, though, since we’ve got too few options and while he’s older and slightly more experienced than Jeffren, I don’t think that dropping Soriano in would be fair to Final Fantasy, who has shown he’s capable, on his day, of torching a wingback or two. That Soriano is a towering man mountain compared to those three because he’s a monstrous 5’11” (1.80cm) is perhaps worth thinking about…He’s scored 5 times in 8 appearances for Barça Atletic, after all, but I’m still betting our future on P!, FF, and Banjo Crickets rather than on him.
Not that Messi is getting too old or anything…
Official Prediction: 1-1, goal by Bojan. I think that despite being vastly out-resourced, under-talented, and out-metal-haired, Leonesa will find a way to bag a goal thanks in part to our disjointed squad that hasn’t played together before. Oy vey, as my lady’s people would say, but as my people would say: “Ya’ll come on down to the Camp Nou, y’hear? We’ll fix ya’lls a nice supper of comeuppance.” There will be some gorgeous moments of free-flowing football, but I don’t expect too much out of the youngsters, even when coupled with veterans. It’ll remain up to us in the Camp Nou to get things done.
A note about TV: this match does not appear to be scheduled for being televised on American TV. I checked all the usual suspects and GolTV has a replay of Sevilla-Espanyol scheduled, while FSC and FSE are showing midweek Seria A action (Napoli v Milan), and ESPN Deportes are showing Jorge Ramos y su Banda (a sports talk show) that they occasionally preempt for actual football. I’ll be checking in there when the time comes to find out if they’re actually going to show the CDR match, but I wouldn’t rely on it. Go for the usual internet streams, if you want to be sure of seeing it live.
A note about format: This is the Copa del Rey Round of 32, meaning that the winner after home and away matches goes on to the Round of 16 where there will be another draw to determine opponents. This is also far from being the first round of matches in the CDR, it’s just that La Liga teams get byes into the Round of 32 thanks to their elite status. Check out Wikipedia’s coverage of the current tournament here.
And because getting hyped is part and parcel of my life and you can never be too hyped (Warning: megahypeness headed directly your way!):
The Yaya will crush you with his random, awesome purplish-blue shoulder lights You have no idea! Even from the bench he can put a stranglehold on a match. Just look at what happened to Zaragoza!