Ha! You all are probably wondering why I don’t write more previews. It’s simple. I’m not very good at them.
And yet, this match is worth saying something about, for a great many reasons. So rather than getting all prose-y and whatnot, in bullet points, here’s my half-assed preview.
Adversity?: To think that this is a viable notion requires being a cule. Because is it only in that exalted state of soul-crushing paranoia that you can think this club suffers from even a hint of adversity. Let’s have a gander, shall we? Leading the Liga by 8 and 15 points over the 2nd and 3rd place squads, respectively. It has the best player on the planet, scampering about. It has the best midfield on the planet. It’s hard to think of anything at all bad to say about this squad, and yet ….
“Lawd, lawd, we all gon’ die!” Adversity my sun-kissed tush! A draw in the Copa and a loss in the Liga at a ground at which Barça have an awe-inspiring record of futility? This is what passes for adversity in cule-land. All I can say is knock it off, and quit ginning crap up. People don’t beat this club. This club loses matches. As long as the club doesn’t decide to lose or draw today, it will be advancing to a shitstorm of a semi-final against That Team.
Let’s pause a sec to parse that, while everybody in the world says “That arrogant douchebag. How dare he say that teams can’t beat Barça!” Sorry, but it’s what I believe. If you look at every adverse result this season, it’s come from silly mistakes, inattention (like the cat who stops playing with the mouse, only to have the mouse get up and run away) or just plain lack of concentration.
But this will be a good test for the squad, because all that Malaga will have to do is leave with what they came with: a 0-0, to advance. What’s going to happen? Dunno. It’s the Copa, after all, and for anyone who doesn’t know my views on the Copa, read on.
Dump the Copa: I know that the Copa is part of the team’s preparation and peaking program, that has it in peak condition going into the serious part of the Champions League, but you know what? I don’t particularly care about the Copa. I only see it as two draining matches for a secondary cup that is useful only for making phrases such as “Year of the Six Cups” have a nice ring to them. For a team that is serious about the Liga and Champions League, the Copa strikes me as a big pain in the ass.
Draw to Malaga, and a potential boil will be lanced.
Not that such a thing will happen: I think the club is going to come out today and get in that ass, mostly because of the psychological effects and the guilt attendant to being responsible for cules leaping, en masse, off cliffs like so many doom-seeing lemmings. Plus the players, to a man, hate losing. They aren’t used to it, and it makes them angry. Never bet against angry sprites.
What of Malaga?: First, they have two key players out. Second, they are an excellent side. Third, they aren’t as good as Barça. The 3-1 win at their house was more indicative of reality than the 2-2 draw at the Camp Nou. Sorry, Malaga supporters, but you know that’s true. So today, I expect a focus borne of a team that knows it can afford to drop points in the Liga, a club that also knows it will be home for the weekend match. I expect fireworks. I have much respect for Malaga, but I think that Barça is the best team in the world, and won’t be playing the second-best team in the world until the Copa semi-finals.
Surprises?: If Malaga is smart, they will come out and attack, even if that goes against only about a zillion years of football “knowledge.” But if you give Barça the ball and let them keep it, you die. Simple as that. Teams have had success by coming out and playing football, rather than sitting back and trying to nick a result, because to do that, requires luck and mistakes. Getting both is rare. Getting both in quantities sufficient to topple the best club in the world is rarer still.
Players and the scorecard: For me, I like a starting lineup of Pinto,
Montoya, Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano, Thiago, Fabregas, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro and Sanchez, with Messi under orders to unleash the defense. I think that this lineup offers attacking force and is well equipped to take advantage of a Malaga side that will be sitting back, because that’s what it is going to do. It’s so hard for coaches to get religion, even when logic is dictating it. So we will have the ball. A lot. And that means having players who are active, and making runs into the Malaga box. Early and often. It also means that long shots are going to be important, which is why my left back is the man possessed of El Kabonng! and is unafraid to use it. But make no mistake, this isn’t about tactics, formations and whatnot. It’s about the best team in the world deciding to play like it. If it does, no worries. If it doesn’t, for me, still no worries.
Prediction: 1-2 Barça, and a trip to hell in the semi-finals against RM. And no, that won’t be two Classics, because I reserve the Classic moniker for Liga encounters. There are only two per year. The others are just, as I see them, blizzards of bile.
And that’s that.