Liga Preview: Deportivo – Barcelona, Saturday 4pmEST, ESPN Deportes
Deportivo de La Coruña. The name rings a bell somewhere in the back of my mind. Where have I heard that before? It sounds so familiar…Super Depor. Oh! Super Depor! I know them–they’re from the past. They’re this team that was dominate in Spain and Europe for a little while, even winning the league in 99-00 and then they slid ever so ungracefully into the shadows of the Segunda, riddled with debt.
Now look who is back, in 5th place, four points out of a Champions League spot and looking to take on the mighty Barcelona in the Riazor. Their stadium holds 34,600 and I’m sure it will packed to the tip-top, the nosebleeders having someone on their shoulders to greet the reigning Triple champions in what is truly a tricky affair. I might make light of Depor’s financial situation in the mid-aughts, but they’re back now and despite their hard-nosed style of bargaining with Barcelona over Filipe Luis’ transfer that saw them eat dirt (or keep the player, depending on how you’d like to view it), they’re a team that has to be handled with seriousness.
This ain’t no Xerez, people.
They’re not free-scoring (17GF in 12 games), but they do have a solid defense (12GA) and their home record is 4W-1D-1L (8GF 5GA). Compare that to Barcelona’s 4W-3D-0L (12GF 3GA) away form and you can see a fairly desultory affair heading our way, can’t you? But wait! Who is that on the horizon?
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a dog bat. No! It’s Underdog The GreatZlat!
Yeah, he probably scored a 50meter goal with that one. Because he is a Ninja Gangster with no compassion. But the thing is, we should get used to this sort of thing cause, well, cause of this sort of thing. If Pele had been around during YouTube, we’d all be screaming “Watch Pele now!” but instead, it’s time we get something going whenever Ibra cadabra’s the ball: How did Zlat just do that?
If you’re a Depor defender, the answer is silence followed by tears. If you’re me, the answer is magic you cannot understand. 6’5″ and doing that? Go join LeBron James and Adrian Peterson in the “Should Be Illegal” category of sports stars. Depor will be hard pressed to stop a man on a tear, which opens the door for other players who have so far benefited from his passing. And if you were, like me concerned about his ego being a problem in the locker room, you have probably been won over by his passing and flair, but now is the time when he can truly shine, when he can win me over permanently. All he has to do is become the attacking fulcrum we want him to be, releasing Messi down the wings, through the center, and of course mopping up those back door crosses. Then he will become a hero.
Incidentally, I just beat Depor 0-2 in the Riazor in FIFA10 with goals from Ibra and Messi. Not that that will influence my official prediction or anything…
Let’s talk their squad for a second: Am I the only person who isn’t particularly impressed with Andres Guardado? I watched him playing for Atlas and the Mexican NT while I lived in Mexico and thought “good player” and now I watch him in La Liga and I think “yeah, good player.” But the thing is, everyone else seems to be gushing over him, as if I’m missing something. Am I? It’s certainly possible, but I’ve never seen him live up to the hype that surrounds him. He’s got such pretty, curly hair, though! So cuuuute. F that, dude should be a professional player in Spain, but it seems to me that he’s reached his zenith. Going elsewhere, to a larger club, wouldn’t be productive for him, I don’t think.
All that said, Depor’s danger man is Andres Guardado because, yeah, he’s a good player. He helps create things offensively and tracks back on defense quite a bit, but he doesn’t score often himself (once in 12 matches), which is nice for us. He’s fast, but not fast enough to beat Dani Alves continually. His partnerships up front haven’t produced a solid goalscoring threat (they have 5 players with 2 goals each) but that does suggest their scoring comes from all over the place (if you do math really well, you’ll have noted that the have a total of 12 goalscorers or their 17 goals; compare that to Barça’s 8 sharing a total of 32 goals, with Ibra topping the list at 9 and Bojan being the only player with just 1 goal). Still, their defense isn’t particularly good, with just LB Filipe Luis being any sort of a stud at the back.
The true battle will be on the right wing between Filipe and the Messi-Alves-Xavi trio, who will have to keep him from making his bombing runs down the side. And just in case you were wondering if Filipe would miss the match, here’s a little stat: Filipe has appeared in 82 straight league matches for Depor. Jesus H. Dude is a work horse and a half. That doesn’t increase his talent levels (which are high), but it does mean that he’ll have the legs to stay with our squad at least most of the match. So it will be up to Messi and company to outmaneuver and outdribble him while maintaining a solid midfield line.
What will Guardiola bring to the table? We have a seriously crucial Champions League match against Dynamo that we cannot, under any circumstance, lose 2-0 or worse or we are gone from the competition. I know that sounds easy since we haven’t lost by more than two goals since sometime in 1898*, so I shouldn’t be too worried, but complacency is obviously not okay.
The squad: Valdés, Pinto, Henry, Xavi, Piqué, Don Andres, Busi, Puyol, Pedro!, Ibra, Bojan, Maxwell, Messi, Chygrinskiy, Alves, Abidal, Keiteeee, The Yaya.
The main missing figures are Márquez and Milito. Guardiola explained in a press conference that he left Rafa out for technical reasons and that he’s fully fit. Before anyone jumps on the “sell him” bandwagon of crazy, let’s go ahead and point out that he has 3 other fully fit CBs for 2 positions along with emergency backup in Abidal and The Yaya. No reason to sacrifice a place in the squad for someone you won’t be using at all. But it does mean, to me, that Chygrynskiy will be starting tomorrow.
Predicted lineup: Valdés, Alves, Puyol, Chygnasty, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Keita, Pedro!, Ibra, Messi.
I see resting Abidal, The Yaya, Henry, and Iniesta as important for Wednesday’s very chilly match in the Ukraine (as of now, Weather Underground is reporting 26F falling to 21F during the game time hours–christ), so it’s absolutely possible that Guardiola banks on his second string attackers (Pedro!, Jeffren, Bojan) to at least get a point from this match before sending on Messi and Ibra as super subs once again to save them from overexertion. But there are three full days between the matches, so they should be able to recuperate in time to put in a full 90 even in the bitter cold. Note that I’ve put Busi in over The Yaya because I think that Guardiola wants to keep The Yaya out there in a cold and horrible Ukrainian world where Busi would be swallowed whole by the ghost of Champions League past. Or something. Plus, The Yaya has started 4 of the 5 CL matches and Busi just one. So yeah.
Anyway, in the end, I don’t see us dropping points without some sort of serious weather-related crapfest–20% chance of rain, 59F/15C–or some catastrophic Rubin-style goal that puts us in a tough hole early. We are, after all, the better team.
Official Prediction: 0-2, goals by Ibra and Messi (Didn’t see that coming? Sucka!).
Game time: 10pm local, 4pm EST/New York (check your local time here)
TV: ESPN Deportes
Rock on folks and come back for the liveblog tomorrow!
*Hey fact-checker dorks, go wild with that one!