Of Bulls and Fountain Diving: Osasuna – Barça

Liga Preview: Osasuna – Barça, 3pmEST Saturday, GolTV (check local times here)

Oh, why, hullo
Oh, why, hullo

I stood in a square, the streetlights illuminating the crowd, and looked upwards at the top of the tall fountain. A man had scaled the top and was yelling something to his friends below. My brother nudged me and pointed upwards. “Jerk is going to jump,” he said and I laughed. Not likely. He was 30 feet in the air above a smattering of drunk idiots and a whole mess of cobblestones that, given the opportunity, would split his skull like a pumpkin on Halloween. Or something.

Obviously he jumped.Fortunately he survived fully intact because his friends caught him; a rousing cheer went up. Welcome to Pamplona, Spain during the Festival de San Fermin. Every year from July 7 until July 14 the city of Pamplona celebrates their patron’s saint’s day and it has become an international festival of debauchery and absurdity thanks to the running of the bulls and the traditional spritzing of the wine on all and sundry. The actual festival and its traditional meanings have been lost in modern party-making, but it started sometime during the 13th or 14th centuries in commemoration of the grotesque martyrdom of Saint Fermin, who was supposedly dragged through the streets of Pamplona by bulls. So the logical thing to do is, of course, to release a herd of bulls upon the populace and for that very populace to run in front of them. Of course.

No one was injured by the bulls while I was in Pamplona, fortunately (one unfortunate Irish 23-year old was killed when he drunkenly fell off the city wall to his death some number of dozens are feet below on the aforementioned cobblestones), but it was the most absurdly wonderful and ridiculous party I have ever attended and something I would gladly do again in a heartbeat. It is unfortunate for me that I was somewhat sick during the 24 hours I was there, so my desire to physically endanger my frail human body in front of the pointy tips of bulls’ horns did not come to pass (my lady almost killed me when I told her I almost did it anyway)–but of course I gladly partook in late night drinking (3 euros for a liter of wine, which I bought in a children’s clothing store! Seriously!), which didn’t help that whole not-feeling-well thing I had going on.

The history of Pamplona as a whole is, of course, wildly more complicated than “some dudes wanted to make some bulls run through some streets so they made a party” but I’m not capable of recounting it in such a short space, so this will have to suffice: Pamplona fucking rocks. Beautiful countryside, wonderful food, amazing people (who love to party), and a lot of rain. That’s Basque country to me.

In case you would like to be a puritan with your wording, Pamplona in Basque is Iruñea and Basque country is Euskal Herria. Those of you who know your Spanish geography and politics will claim that Pamplona is actually in Navarra, but come on, it’s so basque it’s crazy to consider it anything else.

Welcome to the Reyno de Navarra
Welcome to the Reyno de Navarra

The Basques, the Euskaldunak–they of the unpronounceable language and the fiercly independent mindset–are something to behold when they get to chanting, shouting, and generally being rowdy. Osasuna (“Health” in Basque) greets their opponents with mind-blowing sincerity and a dangerous affinity for the use of the middle finger. Welcome to the Reyno de Navarra stadium, to the lion’s den in so many ways. Come one, come all, but be prepared for a war until the final whistle. Last year’s trip to this land of ferocity and hard tackles ended up in what was, to me, the defining moment of the entire season. I’ve recounted it before, so no need to do it again, but I will find it hard to stay away from Nevada Smiths because I will be hoping that I can relive, for a few magical minutes, the elation I felt when Messi thundered in the winner late on in a testy match against los rojillos, who gave their all, or at least their cleats, to stopping our offense.

2-3. Eto’o, Xavi, Messi.

3 points and a bit of a screw you to the whole concept that we are just pretty boys who can pass, but can we take a stomping? The question now is whether you can take what we can give. Osasuna entered last year’s match already aware that they needed the points (though unaware, I think, of how desperately they would end up needing them, finishing just one solitary point above relegation); this year they enter the match in 10th, with 11 points from the first 8 matches.

Records comparison:
Osasuna: 3W-2D-3W (10GF, 9GA)
Barça: 7W-1D-0L (23GF, 4GA)

Home vs Away records:
Osasuna: 2W-1D-1L (5GF, 3GA)
Barça: 3W-1D-0L (8GF, 1GA)

Walter Pandiani has scored 6 of their 10 goals this season, so shutting him down will help in large part to shut down their offense, but one of their key danger men is midfielder Javad Nekounam who, in the Osasuna matches I’ve seen this year, was all over the place, constantly harassing and creating chances. Nekounam, an Iranian international player who was a member of the 2006 World Cup squad, has been with Osasuna for a while now, but I feel like he has finally found his feet. Their defense is fairly stingy (T-5th), but their offense is very middle-of-the-road (T-10th) and relies so heavily on Pandiani that it may end up being the thing that sinks them. Still, they’ve always been resourceful since I started watching the league (Osasuna’s official page lists results at the Reyno de Navarro since 1993 and only once was their a 2-goal or greater margin of victory…and that was when they beat us 3-1 in 2000) and we cannot take them lightly.

Because we were able to rest most of our midfield and all of our offense during midweek at Leonesa, we’re in a prime position to run them into the ground, but they won’t take it lying down. They’ll kick and they’ll bite and they’ll do whatever they can to keep us from getting points.

Guardiola has correctly stated that this is the beginning of our “Tourmalet”* and I don’t think we will take a trip to Pamplona lightly under his tutelage. Henry is back in the lineup after receiving medical clearance, meaning only Alves is currently missing through injury. The rested players from the midweek match (Messi, Ibra, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol) are all back in the squad and I expect all five of them to start, along with Henry. The return of those players obviously makes the goal of winning a lot easier, but it is never easy and tomorrow’s match will be no different.

The reason, by the way, that it’s being called our Tourmalet is because Barça have games @Osasuna, @Rubin Kazan, vs Mallorca, vs Cultural Leonesa, @Athletic Bilbao, vs Inter, and vs Real Madrid over the coming month (followed by @Xerez, @Depor, and @Dynamo all in a row in the first 9 days of December). That’s a hefty schedule, but certainly not as hard as last year’s November-December gauntlet where we effectively won the league by trashing our main title opponents four jornadas in a row. The question is, of course, whether the midweek games will take enough out of us to let smaller teams grab some points from our clutches. That, of course, remains to seen.

The full squad list is: Valdés, Pinto, Puyol, Piqué, Chygrynskiy, Márquez, Abidal, Maxwell, Keita, The Yaya, Busi, Iniesta, Jeffren, Xavi, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Pedro!, Henry, Messi.

That means we should be able to go guns blazing into this one in an attempt to get our team truly cohesive before the trip to Russia’s blizzardy-sleety-vileness (weather-wise) and the crucial match we have with Rubin Kazan, but be aware that any fatigue will come out in the long trip to Russia, so our good man Pep might do some strange rotational stuff or give Henry only 30 minutes. Pedro! could see the start, though I kind of doubt it, after scoring twice against Leonesa and giving us a much more comfortable match in the return leg at the Camp Nou.

So, I’ll go with a strong lineup on this one: Valdés, Puyol, Chygrynskiy, Piqué, Abidal, The Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Messi.

There are, of course, reasons behind my picks (Don’t laugh at that “of course”! There are always reasons, I just choose not to discuss them sometimes…or have them make sense…): Márquez has currently been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism, some of which I think is fair/warranted and some of which I think is unfair/unwarranted. I’m not his biggest fan, but I do see him as a necessary cog in the wheel for several reasons. It’s just that right now, he is filling a vital role that Chygrynskiy cannot: a CL roster spot on defense. That is why I say Chygrynskiy should get the start against Osasuna, so that Márquez can get 90 against Rubin without any problems. The re-addition of Puyol to the lineup will, I think, give Márquez the stability he needs to pull out a solid performance (Puyol adds that to everyone’s game, before you ask, especially at the back where both Piqué and Chygrynskiy appear much more calm when The Caveman has their backs) and thus it make sense to keep him fully fit and ready for such an important match. Were Chygrynskiy not cup-tied (damn you, Shakhtar), we might be having a different discussion, but since he is, we’ll go with what we have and what we have is Rafa Márquez, a man who is fully capable of stoning an attacker and making him weep.

Official Prediction: 1-1. Yup, we drop some points and I’m being a bit pessimistic, but they’re not screwing around, people. They’re seriously in the top 10 and they’re seriously at home and they’re seriously always good against us. Why would this be any different? It’s once again supposed to quite foggy and a bit chilly there (50F/10C), so no doubt Phil and RayRay will mistake Yaya for Keita, Ibra for Puyol, and Messi for a Mack truck. Sigh.

Game time:
Local/Barcelona: 8pm
EST/NYC: 3pm
Check your local time here

Now that Puyol has renewed until 2013 (woohoo! Check out the gallery EMD posted, it’s sweet!) we know we can rely on his presence until he becomes a coach in our system. Obviously he would be terrifying to meet on that first day at La Masia, but imagine what kind of things he can whittle for the children while he tells them to stop screwing around and get on with kicking a ball/chopping wood/raising sheep. Oh what a wonderful world we live in.

*Tourmalet is the term being used by the Spanish press to mean “the toughest segment of the season”–it is named after the Tourmalet stage of the Tour de France from last year, which was apparently the toughest stage. Check it out.

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


  1. Helge
    October 30, 2009

    Wow, a complete week of partying, wine spritzing and bull running? I always thought it was jsut one day, they seem to have a lot of stamina, those Basques 😀
    And you seriously wanted to take part in the bull running? I would have sticked to the wine and observing the other crazy dudes. Yes, I think that bull running is crazy and also cruelty to animals, but don’t take this as a personal offense, Isaiah.

    Osasuna’s home statistic is really bizarre, only 2 times in 16 years a match with a goal difference of +2 (or more)! It shows their physical attitude and fighting spirit on the one hand, but also a lack of genuine quality offensive-wise. It’s great to say “We never lose with more than 1 goal difference at home” but pathetic that they barely win with more either. Most teams should, independent of their class, win at least one or two matches by 2 goals margin or more, especially if cheered by the home fans ad infinitum, and given the fluctuating daily shape of teams.

    I hope Saturday’s match will be different and Barca wins clearly, with a 2 goal advantage at half time. Because I’m not capable of watching the 2nd half, and I don’t want to leave with a draw or even worse in my mind. So my prediction: 3-1 (2-0) with goals from Zlatan, Keita and Txigrinski!

    • stowe
      October 31, 2009

      Isaiah, I think it would be awesome to run with the bulls, but it was probably a wise decision not to. Although you would probably have entertained youtube viewers around the world, not feeling well and running from giant things with horns don’t mix well. Just think how different this blog would be today if you had decided to run.

      I think Henry will be ready to go and bag a goal, and then taken out.

  2. Miguel
    October 30, 2009

    drinking while being sick is the best! you put your all into it & make sure you have a great time because you’ll surely be paying for it later. sounds like fun. great photo gallery by emd. i can’t wait for a non copa del rey/boring game so that all the peeps on this blog can stop lashing out on each other and enjoy some beautiful football. great article. i’m a little more optimistic though and think it’ll be a 3-1 barca win or something like that. i also think keita’ll get the start ahead of henry(& pedrito & bojan for that matter) as this is a game where we need his muskles in the middle, but i do think abidal will start ahead of maxwell too. agree on the nasty analysis.

    • Miguel
      October 30, 2009

      i should add i’ve only drank while sick for my bro’s wedding & when my other bro got his masters from mit. i swear. ;^)

  3. Kxevin
    October 30, 2009

    I want to see:

    —————The Yaya——-Xavi————–Keita————

    Iniesta and Pedro! are the match-changers if needed, and off we go, 3 points to the good. I’m predicting 2-1, good guys.

    • stowe
      October 31, 2009

      that’s a lot of muscle in the middle

  4. October 30, 2009

    I don’t see Henry starting. Pep almost never starts someone coming back from injury. 60-65 min substitution is more likely.

    • Kxevin
      October 30, 2009

      Pretty sure that you’re right. We’ll most likely see Iniesta over there, with Henry and/or Pedro as a sub. But it can’t stop a lad from hoping. An early goal is crucial in this one, I think. Comebacks are always very difficult against sides such as this one.

      • Aeneas
        October 30, 2009

        I think it would be awesome to see a Keita, Toure, Iniesta, Xavi Midfield with Iniesta/Keita rotating on the wing as needed

  5. Alexinho
    October 30, 2009

    Shoot! I could’ve been FIRST, but I watched that damn video of yours, then watched a few more from last season. Then I scrolled down and saw no comments, only to refresh and see four.

    I don’t see us dropping points, because…Barca doesn’t lose. Not so close to a previous loss. We might just be getting into form as well, so let’s just see what happens.

    Perhaps we’ll pull off a comeback, like we did last year. About that match, yes, Isaiah, you have great taste in favorite matches, as it was mine too (and I think I’ve also repeated that a million times). Good to see it again.

    What I like about your previews is how you bring a taste of Spain to a mostly American audience. Us American Barca fans can unjustly be accused of posing and posturing, but reading this stuff makes me feel closer to the Camp Nou.

  6. Kxevin
    October 30, 2009

    I’d forgotten how many scoring chances we had against them last year.

  7. Tajh
    October 30, 2009

    The previews from u guys always teaches me something new.Truly remarkable.

    The lineup i wanna see 2moro is

    The mid may be lacking some steel but this game we have to come out rearing to go.

    Subs:Henry,Keita & Bojan…….score will be something like 1:3

  8. October 30, 2009

    Ol’ Pit Stains (Clemente) always puts out tough teams to beat. Not pretty but tough. He and Pep also have a good relationship from when he coached the Spanish NT back in the day.

    I actually admire the hell out of Pandiani. A small team Uruguayan version of van Nistelrooy (with WAY less goals scored). Did you know he has won 3 Copas del Rey with three different teams (Super Depor, Mallorca, and Espanyol)? He killed us last year and all he needs is one little slip up on the part of the defense. The key to neutralizing him is to starve him of service. If he gets a few balls, he can make something out of nothing. That means the likes of Juanfran and Nekounam have to be taken out of the game. No stupid giveaways or easy counters please.

    I’m usually the negative nancy of the group when it comes to making predictions but I’m actually feeling confident on this one. We picked up some good momentum in the Zaragoza game. Our big guns are relatively fresh for the first time in a long while and the young guns are confident. I don’t foresee a Zaragoza style pounding (Osasuna is way too proud to give that up) but I think we put in a bluecollar 2-0 or 3-0 “just taking care of business” type performance albeit with a few close calls. We’re gonna get fouled a lot so I hope everybody comes out safe.

  9. October 30, 2009

    I think Pep is more likely to have a full strength team for midweek against Rubin than tomorrow. I think he will play Busquets, Iniesta and Keita in midfield, and Pedro, Ibra and Messi up front.

  10. SoccerMom
    October 30, 2009

    If you get GolTV, you might get Telediario. And if you get Telediario, tune in at 1 a.m. US CST the second week of July. You can see live broadcast of the San Fermines from the corrida to the encierro. And don’t forget to read your Hemingway.

    RM on ESPND @ 12 before Barça. They’re still obsessing about the ‘Alarconazo’ suffered last week and Pelligrini’s job is on the line. The latest scoop is Guti’s refusal to sit on the banquillo after he was benched last week … during a presser he said it wasn’t because he was mad at Pelly, he and Pelly get along smashing … but then again LAST season he was yanked from the field, got pretty ticked off, but still sat on the bench … hmmm, wonder the TVE sportscasters. Hee hee.

    But sportsmanship above all. heehee.

  11. ElShowDeJason
    October 31, 2009

    Goal.com quote of the day:

    “With his long hair flowing beyond his shoulders and his slender frame, Dmytro Chygrynskiy looks more like a lead guitarist for a 1970s rock band as opposed to the most expensive defender in the history of Barcelona”

    Two Words: Daniel Alves. Idiots…

    • jnelson
      October 31, 2009

      haha. I was questing that piece, just like everything else I’ve ever read from BS.com

  12. Ramzi
    October 31, 2009

    I am not following Pandiani since a while but if he is the same guy I knew, any combination of Pique /Txigrinski/ Marquez will find it complicated to contain him. Hector is right that he is a VNR in the box, but he is a bit more dynamic the way he move and create gaps. I still want to see Abidal in the center with pique, leaving the left flank for Maxwell. Especially if we started Henry. Maxwell can help getting Henry into the box rather than playing out wide. And thats where Henry serve most. Its better to have him with Ibra in the box rather than exchanging positions.

    With Maxwell on the flank and Ibra+Henry in the box, we can play Iniesta and Xavi in the midfield without worries while braking the bus. I think Keita will be crucial against Kazan.

    • stowe
      October 31, 2009

      Have we ever played Abidal in the middle? he would definitely add a different dimension with his speed. and i’m wondering if maxwell will play to add a more offensive minded defender to the line-up. Hope he doesn’t give up a million corners if he does

  13. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the ideal soccer players from the globe. He’s speedy, creative, spontaneous, and explosive on the pitch.

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