Liga Preview: Barça – Mallorca, Saturday 2pm EST, GolTV (check local times here)
The surprise of the season so far, at least to me, has been Mallorca holding tightly to a UEFA cup spot. They’re in 5th now, one point above Depor and they boats the best home record in the league (5W-0D-0L, 13GF 1GA) and the solitary goal they have allowed at home was let in against Getafe when the game was already 3-0. But they’re winless on the road (0W-2D-2L, 3GF 8GA) and they also lost their away fixture at Valladolid in the Copa del Rey 2-1. That must be somewhat distressing to a team that slaughters you in Mallorca, but just can’t seem to come up with the points anywhere else.
I watched their battling 1-1 draw against Atleti in which they went down to nine men and still should have won thanks to Atleti’s inability to be anything other than total crap for most of their matches. Mallorca really impressed me with their attack, which was fairly weighted towards the counter, especially after they went down a man, but what was even more impressive was that when they went down the second man, they began to control the match. They probably won’t have that luxury against us, but they’re not going to go down without a fight.
This isn’t going to be a 6-1 thrashing, I’m positive of that, but it could turn into a Rubin-esque battle of “Who can waste fewer chances”. That wouldn’t be all that fun, now would it? They’re going to come at us with some physical play and I’m positive that the return from suspension of Ivan Ramis and Josemi (the ones sent off against Atleti) will be big bonuses for them. Perhaps it’ll be a big bonus to us as well because they’ll give up penalties like they did against Atleti…oh wait, we don’t get penalties. Hmm.
Here’s their squad list: German Lux (GK and on my fantasy team!), Dudú Aouate (GK and the actual starter), Josemi, Ramis, Nunes, Ayoze, Rubén, Mattioni, Varela, Mario, Castro, Martí, Julio, Borja, Webó, Keita, Tuni, Víctor.
I think they’ll come out with a 4-4-1-1 in the Rubin style and put Webó up top. They’re missing their top scorer, Aritz Aduriz (5 goals) and that might be a pretty big deal in the end. Webó was very wasteful against Atleti and had the match on his boots several times, but fired wide, high, or not at all. I thought he’d get a hattrick and he ended up with nothing. Weird. They’re not as good as Rubin Kazan, but we can’t underestimate them as Gregorio Manzano is a pretty wily coyote and can spring a thing or two on you if you’re not on your toes.
We don’t have a squad list yet, but everyone is healthy for the first time this season, so I imagine that we’ll use everyone who isn’t Gabi Milito and Jeffren. The reason I don’t think Jeffren gets on the list is because we’re going to have Chygrynskiy back on there and he’ll probably start, meaning we’ll have Marquez as a backup. I also want to see Dani Alves sit, not for some vindictive reasons, but because I think Abidal should get rested and I don’t really want to see Maxwell and Alves on the field at the same time against a counter-attacking team. I also imagine we’ll see Busi starting both this match and the midweek Cultural Leonesa match* because that seems to be how Guardiola is rolling, getting Busi playing time in “easier” matches.
What’s imperative is to continue to play our style and impose our will on matches. Ramzi made a very good series of points that in Kazan it was more important to not lose than to win, going so far as to say that we earned a “golden point” in Russia. I can buy that to a certain extent and am also willing to buy that Guardiola thinks we’re playing better now than we did last year, even if that’s just some rhetoric for the media to eat up. What’s true is that we’re keeping possession and we’re generally not losing while we are playing some pretty beautiful football. I thought we should have had Henry on the field against Rubin for more than 10 minutes, but perhaps Guardiola was going with Ramzi’s concept of “don’t lose by not risking anything” and playing almost a 4-4-1-1 himself with Iniesta back in the midfield alongside Keita (who took over Xavi’s right side position for a while to keep tabs on Dominguez) while Messi dropped into the hole to be that vaunted false 9. Regardless of whether you thought that was a good tactic or not, I’m pretty sure we’ll see a more typical Barça 4-3-3 against Mallorca, whose counters aren’t going to be as lethal simply because we’ll have more juice in our not-frozen limbs.
That’s what I mean by the title: get the motor cranking and let’s get the show back on track. That is symbolized by the sweetass old bus the team used to travel in (at top) and I hope that it means that we’ll be breaking through their bus with a bus of our own but of a different style. My lineup: Valdes, Puyol, Márquez, Chygrynskiy, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Keita, Henry, Ibra, Messi. I know, I know, that’s a wack-tastic lineup. I’d rather see The Yaya in there now and Busi in against Cultural, but what about Iniesta? I think Keita being a strong-arm on the wing will be good behind Henry, though not starting Iniesta sounds a bit crazy, right? Henry needs to be match fit and soon so that when he’s thrown to the wolves in his international matches where he’ll play 180 minutes regardless of whether his legs literally fall off or not. It’s the World Cup.
We’ll be pushing for that early goal, I’m sure of that and I think that this time around, we’ll be able to get it and put this game to bed, though naturally it won’t be that easy, but Aduriz being out will, in the end, I think be a very beneficial. Official prediction: 2-0. Clean sheets are fun sheets. Goals by Messi and Henry. Yeah, you read that right, boooyeeee.
*Will Guardiola start a really serious lineup against Leonesa? We have no matches between then (Nov 10) and our trip to Athletic Bilbao (Nov 21). Obviously there are internationals to consider, but hopefully we’ll come through that unscathed as well as fairly rested–I’m not sure if international managers will call up a lot of our players or not, though I imagine that Yaya will go play with the Ivory Coast, Keita with Mali, and Henry and Abidal with France. I’d be surprised if the Spain-Argentina match on Nov 14 didn’t include our Spanish and Argentine internationals since it’s at the Bernabeu, but I don’t know if del Bosque will actually take a lot of his major stars to Austria for the friendly there on Nov 18 or not. I suspect yes, but I hope that because it’s a friendly neither match is played too seriously and that del Bosque doesn’t leave any players on the field for the full 90 or 180 minutes. Brasil plays England in Doha, Qatar, but will Alves be called up? Who knows!