Liga Preview: Barça – Espanyol, Saturday 2pmEST, GolTV
I’m not much for corporal punishment and certainly not in favor of capital punishment, but for some reason twice a year I get this urge to massacre poor little parakeets. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the feeling happens four times in a single season: yay Copa del Rey! You see, there’s this team, RCD Espanyol, who live over on Montjuic, in their evil castle, and they’re coming for a little visit tomorrow evening.
Instead of tea and crumpets waiting for them by a cozy fire, I suggest hatchets. Lots and lots of deadly, serrated hatchets. Cause I don’t like Espanyol, if you haven’t noticed. There’s not much in that personal dislike, of course, other than the inter-city fun that comes from finding something that’s a bit unsettling (historical conceptions of fidelity to the Franco regime, for instance, most of which are probably dead and gone) and running with it. But if you’ve ever visited an Espanyol-based blog on derbi day, you’ll know recognize the feeling of reading something distasteful, regardless of how respectful or disrespectful it really is. They want to beat us cause we’re the big brother and we want to beat them because they’re the little brother who nips at our heels. That there’s always the bitter taste of the 18 crazy seconds where they won the league for Real Madrid in 2007 only evinces more dislike from me, of course, and, I would imagine, more gloating fun from them. Which is why I was praying to the football gods to cast them down into the Segunda for this season, where they could unveil their new stadium (Cornella el Prat) to crowds of 200 or 300. Alas…
This is a derbi and it’s a special day, so long as those morons from Boixos Nois keep their flares to themselves this time. I’m still somewhat peeved that Barça received nothing from RFEF about that incident, regardless of it being at Montjuic and not in the Camp Nou. I’d be hollering for perico heads if they had thrown flares at us and it’s only right to have said as much at the time (which I did) and to continue to think the Boixos Nois are a bunch of jackasses bent on fighting more than enjoying the wonders of sport. I’m sure they had a wonderful battle after the match with whatever Espanyol’s ultra/hooligan group is called and I’m sure some of them are still nursing wounds of pride from the day.
Derbies are for enjoying the feeling of tension in the stands, for bellowing at the “wrong” colors on the field, and for feeling some sort of kinship with those around you as you do so. But it’s not about disliking pericos themselves for being who they are–after all, I subscribe to the idea that you don’t choose a club, a club chooses you and if that’s the case, you are who you are and as long as you’re a nice guy (or gal) about it all, we’ll get along. Some of my best friends are madridistas, after all.*
Their squad is riddled with holes: Kameni, Cristian, Chica, Pillud, Víctor Ruiz, Roncaglia, Pareja, Forlín, Baena, Javi Márquez, Verdú, Coro, Luis García, Sahar, Nakamura, Callejón, Iván Alonso, Juanjo.
They’re missing: Moisés, De la Peña, Tamudo, Marqués, or David García. First, not that they have a Márquez and a Marqués. That’s probably not confusing or anything, especially since they’re both midfielders. Anyway, their dangerman is Shunsuke Nakamura, despite his relative lack of form over the 10 matches he’s played (0 goals). And though he’s fallen from where he was a few years ago, especially as a freekick taker, he’s still a brilliant player and can hurt you if you ignore him. It’s Ivan Alonso that’s leading the way in the scoring department, with 3 in 11 matches, by the way, though that’s quite a feat for him as it accounts for almost 50% of their total goals (8).
To the stats:
Barça: 11W-3D-0L (35GF, 9GA)
Espanyol: 3W-4D-6L (8GF, 20GA)
Barça: 6W-0D-0L (20GF, 5GA)
Espanyol: 1W-2D-3L (3GF, 8GA)
Obviously Espanyol is the inferior of the two teams, but many will argue that form goes out of the window on derbi day. I refuse to believe that is totally true, but if take last year as an example, you’ll note that that is mostly true. We haven’t beaten Espanyol in our last 3 tries at home (2 draws, 1 loss), but that doesn’t mean much for tomorrow, when both teams are limping into the Christmas break.
Our squad list: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Abidal, Chygrynskiy, Márquez, Maxwell, Puyol, Milito, Piqué, The Yaya, Keiteee, Xavi, Iniesta, Busi, Pedro, Bojan, Henry, Ibra.
Obviously the missing person is Lionel Andres Messi, who has a grade 2 sprain in his right ankle sustained during the Dynamo match on Wednesday. He may or may not be fit for Wedneday’s match against the winner of Atlante-Auckland City, but for now is out of the immediate plans. Because of that, I see Pedro! stepping into his spot, though switching out to the left.
Predicted lineup: Valdés, Alves, Chygrynskiy, Puyol, Maxwell, The Yaya, Keiteee, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibra, Pedro!
Yeah no Henry again, as well as no Pique and finally some Yaya on the field. Abidal takes a seat so Maxwell can crank up his legs for the first time in a bit, which is cool. Obviously I’m in favor of The Yaya starting, but I can see Busi getting another start in order to let The Yaya enter the game on Wednesday as fresh as possible. There are, after all, 2 games in 4 days (the 16th and 19th) and we have to enter strongly in order to win, especially if we face Estudiantes in the final (poor TP Mazembe lost to Pahong Steelers today despite leading 1-0 in the first half–damn you Pahong, those were my Congolese boys!**)
So go with the box-to-box midfielde (Keita) and put Iniesta on the right where he’s been more effective than on the left. Pedro! is capable of holding his own against Espanyol and then Henry can make an appearance as a sub in, say, the 70th minute, where his pace will give him more opportunities than maybe if he started. There’s a reason I’m selling Henry to the highest bidder on FIFA10, of course: he’s getting old (and he’s worth €25million! That’ll more than buy Juan Mata) and he’s injury prone, so let’s keep him healthy for the fairly meaningless Club World Cup Championship of FIFA Clubs…World…Championship…or whatever…because you know Guardiola and company want to win it (for sporting and financial reasons. Each win is worth something like $1.5million, I think, and the title probably more. That’ll look good next to Ibra’s transfer fee on the balance sheet) and is going to go all out in an attempt to get it.
So, of course, finally, the official prediction: 2-1, goals by Ibra and Keita. We’ll get the three points and RM will know this just as they start their clash with Valencia, which kicks off just after Barça’s match. Pressure? Yeah, pressure.
Gametime: Local time 8pm, 2pmEST/New York (check your local time here)
TV: GolTV in the USA, enjoy your RayRay! I’ll be Nevada Smiths in Manhattan if you’d like to join me for a beer and some screaming.
*Blatant lie. I have one friend who is a madridista and to be honest I haven’t spoken with him for about 3 years (not because he’s a madridista, but rather by dint of geographic separation), so I don’t even know if he watches football anymore.
** If you’re confused about the seemingly random allegiance, I lived in what was then Zaire in the early ’90s and have always been a fan of both their national team (which I track during most competitions) and any players coming out of there. I define soccer by how it relates to African streetball and watching TP Mazembe today was so wonderful because I was able to see some of the touches, some of the flourishes that marked the simple joy of a ball and some kids on the dirt patch outside my house. Sub-Saharan Africa plays like no one else, in my opinion, incorporating the “samba-style” Brasil used to play with (and which Dunga finally killed off) with their own indigenous rhythms that and voice. Poetry in motion, dancing on a field, art as sport. That’s why I was for TP Mazembe.