Resolutions and hatred

You probably made a New Year’s resolution.

It’s probably already laying on the ash heap of intention, a fire caused by a collision between reality and that joyful way in which man always thinks the best of himself. “This year I will keep that resolution to loseweightbebettercleanupnotburnEEshirtsinmyHibachi.”

And once again, it’s March and you’re thinking, “You just wait ’til next year.”

Well, I kept my New Year’s resolution. Both of them, actually. The first was to not make a New Year’s resolution. The second was …. well …. to make one. To absolutely, thoroughly, with every fiber of my being, HATE the first match after an international friendly.

The opponent is, for me, immaterial. Could be EE, could be the Saracens, could be a bunch of guys who claim that Wilfred the Hairy was a sucky king.

In this case, the opponent is Sporting Gijon or, as I affectionately know them, Hee Hon. This, of course, is for the same reason that Seydou Keita defaults in my mind to “Keiteeeee!” Because it’s just fun to say. It’s also, to continue this crazy aside, why I am looking forward to Kiko Femenia starting pre-season with the first team, so that I can say “Keeeeekooooo!” Fun.

Anyhow. Hee Hon, at the Camp Nou, has a record of futility that pre-dates the reign of Wilfred the Hairy. It’s plenty o’ nuthin’, as Porgy would sing. None of which makes me any more comfortable with this match, for so many reasons:

–As usual, #&$*%$! international friendlies never are, to us. So Thiago pulled up lame with a wee knock in practice. Shin pain. So you’d better believe, after what happened with David Villa and HIS shin pain, that alarm bells are ringing like klaxons among the FCB medical staff. Les Bleus, after continuing their domination of Germany (no jokes about World Wars here, dammit!), returned to us a crocked Le Roi Eric. “Et voila. Je suis desolee, et bon chance!” Busquets is suspended. Messi is suspended. The vending lady is suspended. Tito Vilanova’s shoes are the wrong size.

–There’s still quite a bit riding on this match, if you believe, as many of us do, that there is still a chance that we can make up the 10-point difference on EE. That means we can afford to drop …. let’s see about my math skills here …. zero points. As in none. Even a draw would make a difficult task next to impossible, assuming that Espanyol, in a collective finger flicked at what the world considers to be the real (vs Real) Catalan footballing side, will belly up vs EE tomorrow.

–Hee Hon have been noshing on fragrant delicacies, training, and waiting, while our players have been jetting hither and yon to satisfy various international demands. About the only ones who didn’t were a few Bs and Keiteeee!, who is just back from African Cup of Nations. Yes, they sit 19th in the table, with a record of 5-6-13, boasting a +/- of -23. This means that me, Isaiah, both SoccerMoms and Kari can roll out there and probably get in that ass, all proper-like.

Except it never works out that way, does it?

All of this is why I hate the opponent after an international break. Yes, I know that we have a gaudy record. But you also know that good cules will be given a pile of 100-Euro notes, and wonder when they are going to be robbed.

On paper, this is a gimme. But I hate gimmes. I don’t believe in them.

Who will start? Dunno. This isn’t a preview, so I don’t really have any obligation to discuss such things. This is, instead, a chronicle of one man’s hatred of the complexities that arise from stupid, stupid obligations. Who do I think will start? If you had to hold my tootsies to the fire, I suspect:

Valdes, Alves, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano, Keiteeee!, Xaviniesta, Fabregas, Tello, Sanchez. That’s what I would do. Which means that’s not what Guardiola will do. Problem is that there aren’t a whole lot of players we CAN start. Pedro? Okay, sure. Why not? Then bring Cuenca or Tello in for a match that needs changing. Johnny Two-Time in midfield? You’ll see me doing a naked saber dance before you see him starting.

On the other hand, if Guardiola really thinks that the Liga is lost, given the looming Champions League home leg against Bayer Leverkusen, perhaps we might see:

Valdes, Montoya, Pique, Muniesa, Adriano, Keita, Dos Santos, Fabregas, Tello, Cuenca, Pedro.

Or not. Dammit.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. James08771
    March 3, 2012

    This is a game where Pedro must and will start. This match presents the perfect opportunity for him to prove his worth during this uncomfortable time for him. He won’t get many opportunities such as this, with Messi being out and Tello and Cuenca still being groomed in. I quite agree with you, I’ve always held the view that Pedro is really the quality of a sub. But we’ll see, hopefully he will rise to the occasion with the pressure of Tello waiting to explode. I think it’s reasonable to see one of Xavi, Fàbergas, or Iniesta start from the bench this game with the looming return leg against Bayer on Wednesday. My guess would be Xavi as he’s just now returning to full fitness. We’ll need his skill set for that match as maintaining at least 70% of ball possession will be essential in closing the tie. Then there’s Piqué or Mascherano, who should start? They both played 90 minutes on Wednesday. I think based on form, it will be Mascherano as this game presents a higher need for 3 points than the CL match.

    Hopefully we achieve our targets and continue to trudge on.

  2. Messiah10
    March 3, 2012

    Pedro just hasn’t been sharp since his return. I think it’s the perfect match to give Tello his 1st start. Maybe start Pedro and bring on Adam’s Apple for him in the 88th min. Although Shakira played 90 min on Wed. I still think he should play 70+ w/his mates to work out his defensive woes. I know Messi needs a rest, but doesn’t go to show you just how spoiled we are that I’m going to miss his magic today! I mean, he NEVER misses a game. Pep NEVER sits him(b/c he won’t have it)! He’s NEVER injured! The last being the most amazing, since he’s kicked all over the pitch. knock on wood! It’ll be intersting to see what Pep does today. I’m not a big fan of JDS. Not enough creativity for me and seems to hold play up rather than keep it a fluid motion. Could be a great match to bleed Muniesa & Montoya as Kxevin suggests. Thanks Kxevin! I always enjoy your insights and open ended questions for us to ponder. This blog, your writing, and the others, make pre-match, post-match worth while. I don’t ever do live match b/c that requires taking my eyes off the tube!

  3. March 3, 2012

    There’s still quite a bit riding on this match, if you believe, as many of us do, that there is still a chance that we can make up the 10-point difference on EE
    no. sorry, but no.

  4. mom4
    March 3, 2012

    Loved this.

    If Pedro doesn’t start his confidence plummets to hitherto unknown depths and we have another Bobo on our hands.

    • March 3, 2012

      it’s ok that we screwed Bo, as long as we don’t make the same mistake with an obviously average player.

      good thinking.

  5. March 3, 2012

    Pep’s not going to change the “system” per se today. But the team isn’t going to be able to play the same way it usually does with given the absent players.

    They’ll retain the false 9 structure even without Messi but the key question is who will play it and how will that player interpret and implement the role?

    This is the biggest question in attack. Sanchez is the most natural fit in terms of skill set.

    Is Sanchez ready to play after returning so late from internationals? Given the missing players – he’ll likely need to be.

    However at the same time, Cesc really isn’t a wide player. So Pep is going to have to balance those issues – Sanchez fitting in the false 9 without Messi vs. where Cesc can be most effective.

    If we see Sanchez at the false 9 then that will be a strong indication that Pep wants to retain as much of the usual structure as possible.

    Without Messi there’s going to be an increased need for the other attacking players to be able to create their own opportunities. In this regard, playing Tello makes a great deal of sense. Tello’s skill set is such that he can create his own chances. The danger he involves in attack isn’t necessarily contingent on what other players are doing.

    Losing Busi hurts of course. But Gijon is likely going to sit deep for long stretches so hopefully Barca can make up for his loss. Not easy to lose Busi and Messi together down the spine of the team though.

    We haven’t seen the 3-4-3 in a while now. However, in this match that formation has significant advantages to it. It would allow Cesc and Sanchez to pair in the center of the pitch to try to minimize the loss of Messi. It would allow Pedro to get minutes while also getting Tello on to the pitch.

    The 3-4-3 will also augment play in midfield in a match where Busi isn’t playing.

    Against a side which will look to play on the counter – does Pep go back to the 3-4-3?

    To me those are some of the big questions going into this match.

    • March 3, 2012

      I’m going to say right now Fabregas probably is the most able to play the false 9 when Messi is out.

      Sanchez and Thiago are both in for a shout. I think Sanchez has prospered the most and benefitted the team the most when he is able to stay fairly high up the pitch. From there his runs in behind the defense and horizontally across the pitch drag the defense around and open up space for others (while also getting him open). Meanwhile Thiago has become a much more safe player this year than he was last year – he is more careful with the ball and has made the central midfield his own.

      Fabregas has been showing more discipline in midfield lately, but he is still at his best when he is given license to roam. As a side note I think one of the reasons Pep went with the 3-4-3 early in the season was to accommodate Fabregas during his transition (side note #2 – I think Sanchez has adapted faster than Fabregas). My bet is we see Fabregas doing his best Messi impersonation most of the match.

      • March 3, 2012

        Cesc hasn’t played false 9 much so it’s a very small sample. But on the occasions he has I thought he implemented the role much differently than Messi and the team lost some attacking thrust.

        Cesc has good close control of the ball – but it hasn’t been great. And dribbling isn’t a major feature of his game. And it’s that ability which concerns me over his presence as a false 9.

        If as a false 9 a player drops deep to midfield to collect the ball but then can’t beat players off the dribble – he’s not really a false 9 so much as he is another midfielder. Cesc’s finishing and passing fit very well. But it’s that intermediary game where I’m not sure fits with that false 9 role.

        Hopefully today will be another occasion for Cesc’s game to grow.

  6. Messiah10
    March 3, 2012

    I’d rather have Cesc play the false 9 b/c we need Lexi’s pace and creativity outside. Cesc played a little of the false earlier in the year as well as out on the wings. I think he tends to come in for the ball when he’s outside and doesn’t keep his width.

  7. March 3, 2012

    Anyone else notice back then that at the UEFA SuperCup, we and Porto took to the pitch to the strains of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem?” Yes, I’m slow on the DVR offloading. So what.

  8. March 3, 2012

    No Sanchez today makes the game that much more difficult. Gijon will likely look to maintain shape.

    Barca is going to have to break them down. Much more difficult task than usual given Messi’s absence which is now compounded by Sanchez’s loss.

    Team is going to need Cesc to really step up and get back to scoring. And just as important – they are going to need Iniesta to be aggressive and run at the defense to make up for Messi and Sanchez not playing.

  9. Messiah10
    March 3, 2012

    Calvin, I didn’t see your post before I did or I wouldn’t have posted! Exactly! I don’t think Cesc will be making as many runs as Messi or dropping deep to get the ball but he has been scoring more goals this year so if he can play some 1-2’s w/Lexi or Tello he may put 1 in. It’ll be intersting to see.

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