Barcelona vs. Benfica: Taking It Easy Seriously

 

“This is the Champions League, and there are players coming back from injury, others that don’t get to play as much, and it’s important for the team and our image. We’ll give it one hundred per cent, knowing that Benfica are fighting for qualification.” ~ Adriano

Good morning, Blaugrana Nois – well rested, I trust?  Well, you should be, given that your little heads were resting on feather pillows, and your bodies were cocooned between 100 thread count cotton sheets and silken duvets as you slumbered in your slovenly team camp last night.

Barcelona’s W Hotel – where the boys sat around the campnou fire last night, telling silly “mocmoc, who’s there?” jokes and scaring each other with Portuguese ghost stories

While Barça has already qualified and Spartak Moscow is out of contention, the 2nd qualifying spot is up for grabs depending on both of tonight’s Group G match results.

Benfica and Celtic are equal on 7 points each, with Benfica leading in the head-to-head analysis.  For Celtic to qualify, they must finish tonight’s home game against Spartak Moscow with 1 point more than Benfica, otherwise the Portuguese team is through to the knock-out stages.  Celtic Park will be fully-charged tonight.

Welcome to the Hotel Barcelona
Coach Jorge Jesus arrived last night with his Eagles band team bereft of all its usual mid-field starters.  Injured Argentine players Enzo Pérez, Pablo Aimar and Eduardo Salvio join hamstrung Portuguese Carlos Martins in front of the TV back in Lisbon.

However, Jesus remains upbeat, demanding that his team gives a better performance than the first home game against the Blaugrana, while claiming that Benfica could “surprise” the home team at Camp Nou.  He always looks on the bright side of life.

Benfica’s travelling squad is:
Goalkeepers: Artur Moraes, Paulo Lopes and Bruno Varela.
Defenders: Garay, Maxi Pereira, Melgarejo, Luisão, Miguel Vitor, Luisinho and Jardel.
Midfielders:  Matic, César, Almeida, Nolito, Ola John, André Gomes and Gaitán.
Forwards: Cardozo, Lima and Rodrigo.

At this rate, we might get to see Nolito play.  Bruno César and André Almeida are both one card away from suspension.

The team is fully rested having played their last game over 10 days ago; a Primeira Liga home game against Olhanense which they won 2-0.  They have won their last 7 games, last losing 2-0 on October 23rd against Spartak Moscow.

November was successful for the club, with the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (only the Germans could come up with a name that long), naming Benfica as the best team in the world for the month, as they won all 6 games in which they played.

 

Tito’s Press Conference

“This Tuesday’s training session was fantastic. It’s an important match. We represent FC Barcelona and we have to play at a high level.”

“I haven’t had to motivate the players because they’re professionals and it’s part of their job. It’s a home game in the Champions League and we have players who are freshly returned from injuries. They will profit from playing, along with players from the B team who can prove themselves against Benfica.”

“The team that we’ll field tomorrow will be designed to win the match.”

“We’re very pleased with the team’s current form but we can’t stay here. If we can improve certain aspects of our play, then we have to do it. Every big team struggles to find its best form at the beginning of the season. It seems we’ve found ours and, little by little, we’re recovering our (injured) players.”

“These players are very eager to win. They are as eager now as they were five years ago, when I saw them for the first time.”

How many coaches can actually comment on training sessions being “fantastic”?  Tito can, apparently.

If you need to fall asleep, here are 23 minutes of that training session which was initially open to the media, before it got too serious to show what really goes on behind closed pitch doors.  However, there is some Awesome Abidal Action, so it may be worth having a squizz:

 

The Barça Line-up
Six First Team players are being rested:  Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Cesc and Alba.  Mascherano and Pedro are both one card from suspension, so sitting them out has a double-advantage.

The squad is:  Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Puyol, Villa, Messi, Thiago, Dos Santos, Busquets, Montoya, Adriano and Song joined by B team players Sergi Gómez, Sergi Roberto, Deulofeu, Planas, Rafinha and Tello.

If Tito is serious about being serious, I would seriously expect the line-up to be:
VV
Montoya, Piqué, Puyol, Adriano
Thiago, Busquets, Sergi Roberto
Tello, Messi, Villa

Perhaps Pinto will get the nod for net duty.  No whistling if you do, you naughty man.

Song is also one card away from suspension.

If the game goes well, subs could be Sergi Gómez or Planas at the back with Rafinha or Dos Santos in mid-field, and another helping of Deulofeu.

 

Oh yeah – that Messi guy
Messi asked to be included in the squad to play, as he is soooo close to equalling/beating Gerd Müller’s record.

With tough games coming up against Real Betis and Atlético Madrid, reason would say to rest him, but the chance to achieve the record in the home estadi is too much of a temptation.

Also, a certain #7 pulled ahead in the CL Leading Scorer stats last night, so there is a wrong to put right.

Before facing the press yesterday, Barça team members must have had a joint script rehearsal for they had this to say about Messi:

“If he scores, so much the better. We all want him to beat a record that has stood for 40 years, and want to help to make that happen for him. But it would be best if he plays as he normally does, and doesn’t get obsessed with it. What it shows is that he’s getting better with each game, and with each season.” ~Adriano

“We have to be as natural about this as possible. Messi has the chance to beat the record, but it will be more difficult if we’re all focused on him. However, I think he’s used to the pressure.”  ~ Tito Vilanova

“It’s one of those things that get you excited, because it’s such an old record. But we shouldn’t be focusing on that, because that will actually make it harder for him to score. Messi has to relax.”  ~ Piqué

 

These are a few of My Favourite Streams
Calvin is unable to Live Blog the game due to work commitments, so this post will also serve as a Match Comments depository.  Go ahead, vent all you like. 

The game starts tonight at 8:45pm CET. 

Click here to convert the match time to your timezone: FC Barcelona vs. Sporting Benfica

Streams for the match are usually found here, here and here.

The view over Piqué’s feet during a previous team stay at the W Hotel
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284 Comments

  1. ooga aga
    December 6, 2012

    in re: young players getting knocked off the ball.

    i remember when iniesta first started playing…about 10 years ago, he would only come on as a sub…i remember how easily he was knocked off the ball…it was frustrating to watch…i never would have guessed he would become what he has.

    luckily, there are people in charge who know much, much more than i….

    • nzm
      December 6, 2012

      That really hasn’t left Iniesta – he can still be dispossessed of the ball really easily, but he’s developed ways to countermand that, as well as other skills. Becoming faster is one of them, as well as his awesome ability to juggle the ball so quickly from one foot to the other to bamboozle his opponent.

      I’m not saying that these kids won’t improve – my observations were of their performance in this game, perhaps referenced to other games where they’ve shown the same traits.

      But they have a lot of homework to do – and this should be happening in the B Team because they certainly can’t afford to be performing like this when on show in the First team outings.

      Comparing their play last night to last season’s game against BATE Borisov and I’d say that the quality has gone down. Sure, Benfica is a better opponent, but our guys should have been able to offer a better encounter than they did.

      • barca96
        December 6, 2012

        I fell in love with Iniesta as soon as I saw him making those cameos. He was my super sub.

        But I felt the same way about him re: easily dispossessed off the ball. He was really quick so he usually gets out of it. If he wasn’t able to do that, he wouldn’t become a world class player. And he is actually smart enough to get a free kick out of it by shielding the ball really well.

        @ BATE
        I thought the same thing as well. They performed better last season. It really look like some of them hasn’t really progressed.

        At first while watching the match last night, I thought to myself, it’s okay, they can’t control the match because there are not many first team regulars to show them the way and/or bail them out but the longer the match went on, I noticed that they couldn’t even get their passes right, the most important aspect of the game for them to succeed at this club.

        How come?

  2. ooga aga
    December 6, 2012

    “Las pruebas realizadas esta noche han confirmado que el jugador Leo Messi sufre una contusión ósea en la cara externa de la rodilla izquierda. La evolución clínica marcará su disponibilidad para el próximo partido”

    The tests carried out tonight have confirmed that Leo Messi suffered a bone contusion on the outer face of the left knee. The clinical evolution will mark his availability for the next game.

  3. ooga aga
    December 6, 2012

    Barca possible opponents

    Porto
    Arsenal
    Milan
    Shaktar
    Galatasaray

    Please yes: milan
    Please no: shaktar

    [RM possible opponents
    Paris St. Germain
    Schalke
    Juventus
    Bayern Munich
    Manchester United]

    • nia
      December 6, 2012

      The best opponent EE would hope for is Schalke, everyone else will kinda give em some problems.
      As for Barca Milan and Arsenal look like the easier opponent but…you never know. Shaktar i must admit are better than a few yrs ago and would definetly give us some problems, as well as Porto. Don’t know much about Galatasaray but that they beat Man U a few weeks ago.

    • bhed
      December 6, 2012

      Looks like UEFAlona at it again 😉

      • barca96
        December 6, 2012

        Nah only Juve and Bayern could give them problems.

  4. December 6, 2012

    Couldn’t sleep yesterday properly after watching Messi on stretchers. Some of the comments here that it is not serious make me feel better.
    I hope he gets back to his normal best at the earliest, even if it means he miss the record this time. Dont worry about the record. At this rate, he can reach even 100 goals this season.

    Pretty disappointed by the match yesterday, but not that much with our youngsters. This was a big game for them and we need to be patient.
    However, I was really really disappointed by Villa. some of his offside position were pathetic. This was a game in which Villa could have proved himself as the spear head of an attack. Of course, he didnt had enough service. But see how when Messi came in, it looked like there was more intent on our friend line, those gaps seemed to open, there were more trying passes, more free kicks and so on.
    I really hope Villa gets back to his best, cant wait to see MVP at their best.

  5. Manish
    December 6, 2012

    It is sad Messi injured himself.. Really sad.. Was that a sure shot penalty if Messi had gone down …i wish he had…

  6. KEVINO17
    December 6, 2012

    Thought Song was immense as the stopper, basically keeping the whole show together. Barca seem to have the two best holding middies in the world. But I’d love to see Song playing a bit further forward in the Xavi role making more offensive passes and stiffening our forward defence, with Busquets just behind him.

    • December 6, 2012

      I would agree. He was very good yesterday, except for a few moments. And he can cause more danger than Busquests up front, the only region in which he seems to be slighlty marginally better than Sergi, of course only if the club lets him play in that region.

  7. December 6, 2012

    Thank God Messi is allright…

    Now guys, remember: Xavi at 21 was not the Xavi we know. Be patient with the young ‘uns, especially with Thiago.

    • December 6, 2012

      That’s exactly what Zubi said in that interview I posted the link to way upstream^. We can’t expect these young players to be perfect overnight. The club is being patient with them, and so must we.

      • barca96
        December 6, 2012

        The thing is, Thiago hasn’t improved in anything besides his work rate. He still does the same mistake he did 3 years back. Over elaborate things. One dribble too many. Even his passes are nowhere near the level we would expect.

        I see improvements in Song (who is totally new to Barca), S. Roberto (from what I saw bits of him last season) so it is not wrong for me to expect a bit more from him after spending a full season with the first team.

        Of course I wish he would stay here long enough to learn from the best and then break into the first XI but at this moment, he just doesn’t have the consistency to be a starter or play a full 90 mins.

  8. Art is a blast
    December 6, 2012

    I JUST FOUND OUT THAT MESSI GOT INJURED! GOD I’M SO SLOW!!
    But its a good thing that I found out about it late. Wouldn’t want to have a sleepless night and the chaos here! Reading all the comments, you guys must have been really worried and shocked. We all really love our players, don’t we?

  9. Chiu
    December 6, 2012

    CL KO stages would always be tricky tie, no matter who we get. A single isolated mistake could result elimination. On paper, all possible opponents are beatable if we are on form. But If i hv to choose, i hope we dont get Milan because of their experience and tradition in CL

  10. bhed
    December 6, 2012

    I was just reading some comments on Soccernet on an article about Messi’s injury. All I can say is THANK YOU BFB for providing a space where thoughtful, intelligent Cules can share opinions! Between the comments on Goal.com and Soccernet, one would think only developmentally disabled 11 year olds comment on football. How is it still OK to use “f*g” as an insult?

    So to sum up – thank you mods and community for being generally awesome!

    • barca96
      December 6, 2012

      Guardian blogs are good too except for the few odd guys who I sometimes think are just trolls. But the majority of them are really matured. I wonder if the admin at the Guardian are actively deleting offensive or unintelligent comments.

  11. Jnice
    December 6, 2012

    barca96, you say you’ve been watching Thiago for 3-4 years, but your comments don’t reflect that. To say he’s only improved his work rate is beyond ludicrous. He didn’t have a solid season last year? He didn’t play in several big games and do well in them?

    You’re judging from the hand full of matches he’s played this season in between two major injuries and honestly I expected more from you.

    • December 6, 2012

      Agree. Folks should cut Thiago some slack. Dude still doesn’t look match fit to me, and he has many kick-ass displays in his past. Was he kinda stanky yesterday? Yep. So were many others. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to get ramped up to play a pointless match. Thiago is the business, though I still see him more as an Iniesta type than a Xavi type.

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