I speak Spanish, not Catalan. A lot of friends would claim I speak neither, that stringing curses together does not constitute fluency. I tell them to [bleep] [bleep] [bleeeeeep]. Other friends just look at me and shake their heads. I have no excuses other than to point at the screen I’m watching and repeat my vociferous bias. During most matches I try to remain somewhat impartial when it comes to player actions and even the odd referee decision. Not during el clásico. Not then. During those moments I speak fluent Catalan/gibberish.
Call it what you will—passion, nerves, a love of chaos, dementia—it turns a typically mild-mannered Midwestern man into a raging…I was going to say pitbull, but it’s more like a Chihuahua. A rabid Chihuahua! The constant yipping is more annoying than terrifying, but it gets under your skin anyway. And every now and then (but definitely not 4 times in 20 days), that is an absolutely enjoyable way to be. The last league encounter was not so amazing, but it’s been a gravy train for so long that there was always going to be a derailment at some point.
We’ve played this twice so far this year and twice so far this year individual Barcelona players were struck with a case of the dumb-dumbs (I think of a twigging Pinky here while Brain builds up murderous rage in the background) leading directly to goals that ended up giving life and then the trophy to the opposition. Obviously a 3-2 win with Valdes giving up a silly goal is perfectly acceptable in the league (3 points! an 11 point lead!), but keeping those errors and ones where you whiff on long balls to an absolute minimum is a prerequisite for sustained success. The team hasn’t shown a penchant for defensive solidity over the last few matches, but with the return of Andres Iniesta, that could all change.
Kxevin posted about Cesc being pivotal and I don’t necessarily disagree, it’s just that Iniesta’s return provides the midfield with another possession-oriented player who can dribble his way cleverly out of bad positions and into good ones (at once! magic!) whereas Cesc is better at finding attacking space at full speed. Iniesta never appears to move at full speed, preferring controlled aggression to fearless power. Both have their merits, but for a Barça midfielder, I’d choose the former rather than the latter. Still, I’m guessing Cesc gets the call up for the match as does Iniesta. I think it’s Pedro (and width) that’s sacrificed for this one.
Speaking of who plays, I had a conversation with a friend about that…
Isaiah: So who starts for us this weekend?
QS: Valdes, Alves, Song, Masche, Alba, Xavi, Busi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis. Tello supersub if we need goalz.
Isaiah: Oh my god, you hate David Villa!
QS: Well, he was a big meanie to that police car.
Isaiah: Also, why do you hate Cesc? He is basically the leading scorer on the team. Messi doesn’t count.
QS: Iniesta > Cesc. Any day errrday all day.
Isaiah: So you think we’re going to pwn?
QS: No, but I think we’ll win.
QS: Hm. I guess 2-1, though I could also see 3-2. Lots of goals in recent clásicos.
Isaiah: I’ll go with 3-1.
QS: Glad you’re optimistic. On the one hand recent form shows we’re kind of at risk – mainly from dumb mistakes at the back that RM are excellent at taking advantage of. On the other hand…
Isaiah: A MASCHE TO THE FACE. That’s the other hand.
QS: In a way I think RM has come full circle back from the overly aggressive/violent play that won them the Copa del Rey to more open/playing their own game. And if we’re on top of our game, we can destroy them because of that. So my heart’s prediction is MANITA.
Isaiah: And your bum’s prediction? FARTITA?
Isaiah: “Shart” in Portuguese is “Pepe”
QS: Yeah, so is “fuckmongery”
So there you have it, folks: we’re going to win this one while my friends and I remain foul-mouthed, gutter-minded optimists. At least all is normal in the land of Oz. I can’t really get into the tactics of it anymore because I’ll just end up going haywire on the idea that 4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1 is a recipe for someone‘s disaster, but I don’t know whose until I see whether that’s actually a 3-4-3 vs 4-3-2-1 with a trivote.
So will Gerard Pique play? I doubt it. I very much doubt it, in fact. There is simply no reason to force him to play when he is clearly not 100%. Against a lightning quick counter attack like Madrid’s, it would be virtual suicide to put a weak-ankled player in a high back line. Pique’s brilliance against Cristiano Ronaldo is that he can read angles (unchanged by his injury) and turn quickly (radically affected by his injury). He’s not as fast and he’s not as quick, but he’s got a good sense of direction that requires pivoting. So unless he’s feeling no pain whatsoever and has no reduced mobility whatsoever, Pique should sit this one out. Bartra might be out of his depth, but I’d risk him before I risked putting an injured player on the field and probably costing us a goal and an early substitution. That said, I agree with QS above that we’ll see Song in the back line. I’m not too worried about that despite the general cule belief that he’s crap. He had at least one bad match that I’ve seen, but he was no worse than anyone else in that match and the other matches where he’s been called a lot of things he didn’t deserve, he was at fault for practically nothing other than not picking up a straight red for a tackle on Alvaro Negredo. (Yes, he caused a Dani Alves own goal by some anti-fleet-footed bumbling, but that’s just how it goes sometimes–no one screamed at Masche for his similar failures leading to Sevilla’s first goal. “They’re not the same!” scream a bunch of readers, but they are the same. How’s that for tautology?)
In the first Supercopa leg, Barça started: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Alexis, Messi, Pedro. This is not so far removed from the available squad now, though I do see Alba starting on the left, Cesc in place of Pedro, and Alex Song for Pique at CB. That’s a system change rather than full-on personnel change. It’s more packed and will, I think, allow for a few tactical changes without using subs (Cesc drops to midfield, Iniesta spreads wide, Alexis slides wide as well alongside Dani Alves). But I’m sure to be very wrong, as usual.
Whatever the political implications of this match (do read SoccerMom’s brilliance if you haven’t), it will all be played out on the field in an absorbing and heart-attack inducing manner. As it always is. This will be a doozy because RM will know going in that losing will put them down 11 points. Barça will want that, of course, but 11 points is not the end. FCB was down 10 with many, many fewer matches to play and still got within striking distance. Damn that most recent league clasico.
Yet, this one means something. I can’t help but come back to that. Maybe it’s 15-M, maybe it’s Artur and the Esteladas (great band name, btw), or maybe it’s just people in an economic crisis looking for something to hang their hat on. That’s what this is, right? The modern opiate of the masses. Let them eat football. And I, an American sitting thousands of miles away in the comfort of my own recession, am all for it. That is the power and the glory of el clasico: it can sway millions, even those who have no dog in that race.
Hopefully I will have more tomorrow, but if not, here’s something we can all rally behind, regardless of our political persuasions: