Liga Preview: Barça – Villarreal, Saturday 2pmEST, ESPN Deportes
When David Farragut uttered the famous words in the title, I doubt he was thinking of a small town on the eastern coast of Spain. In fact, since the game of football didn’t properly exist at the time, it’s probable that he was thinking about just the actual naval mines in Mobile Bay that were threatening to destroy the boats he commanded and not anything about the 2009-10 La Liga schedule. Still, maybe somewhere in the recesses of his mind, in the subconscious,—warning, misused big word coming up—in the cerebellum*, there was something that murmured about aureolin underwater doohickeys that shoot explosive projectiles and are somehow related to eleven men dressed in a similar color exclusively use their feet to move an inflated pig’s bladder around a rectangular field as a large crowd of people scream obscenities at them.
Regardless of Commander Farragut’s intentions or future-thoughts while in the midst of an epic battle that would cement his legacy forever—another thing I’m sure he didn’t consider—Villarreal is going to visit the Camp Nou tomorrow in Barça’s return to competitive action after the Christmas break. Or maybe it’s a Kwanzaa break. I don’t know. And that visit is important for several reasons. Obviously the return to league action after several weeks away will be a jolt to Barça’s system, but at least Villarreal are in almost the same boat. Like I said, aaaall year.
Villarreal’s last match was a 2-0 home win over Racing Santander on December 20. That was like (counts on fingers) forty days ago. Barça’s last competitive match was the day before that (forty—counts on toes—eight days ago) against Estudiantes. Not that anything interesting happened in that match or anything. Several of our players did get significant match time in the friendly between Catalunya and Argentina at the Camp Nou on December 23, but, like Barça’s match against Kazma Sporting Club in Kuwait on December 21, it was a friendly, so it doesn’t really count.
I find Villarreal to one of the most interesting teams in the league, at least from a performance standpoint. They’re currently 9th overall in the table, having eked their way upwards after starting in the relegation zone. At home they’re an impressive 5W-2D-1L (16GF 7GA); the problem for Villarreal, though, has been their away form, which is a disastrous 1W-1D-5L (8GF 12GA). That’s 17 points from home games and 4 points from away games. Those 4 away points came from a win at Atleti and a draw at Osasuna on Jornada 1, so it’s not like they’re lighting up teams from the top half of the table and they’re especially not doing so on the road.
Their squad is Diego López, Oliva, Marcano, Javi Venta, Ángel, Capdevila, Godin, Fuster, Senna, Bruno, Eguren, Pires, Cazorla, Cani, Escudero, Nilmar, Rossi, Llorente.
Unlike last year, I’m not particularly worried about Giuseppe Rossi, who has yet to live up to the potential I thought he had—he probably still has that potential, but is a longer-term project than I had previously thought. Instead, they’ve replaced that potential with that of Nilmar. What’s interesting, of course, is that Rossi is tied with Joseba Llorente for most goals scored in the league (4) on the team. Nilmar is next with 3, along with Robert Pires, Joan Capdevilla, and Santi Cazorla. Those 20 goals account for all but 4 of their total goals on the season. Compare that to Barça, where the top 83% of the goals (29 goals) are shared by Ibra (11), Messi (9), Keita (6), and Pedro (3), so Villarreal actually has a more balanced attack than Barça.
The problem for the Yellow Submarine—nicknamed that, by the way, because they had a penchant for playing a Mustangs cover of the Beatles’ The Yellow Submarine before their home games in the late 60s and of course for the connection between that and their yellow jerseys, which had black shorts beneath them in those days—is that away from home they’re completely incapable of putting together an offensive flow. There Their 4 points garnered away have been a one-all draw and a one-two win, which accounts for almost half of their away goals.
Villarreal away: 1W-1D-5L (8GF 12GA) – 4pts (19%), 1.14GF/match, 1.71GA/match
Barça home: 7W-0D-0L (21GF 5GA) – 21pts (100%), 3GF/match, 0.71GA/match
Why Villarreal is so bad away from home is beyond me, given their talent, but it does bring me back to the point that Rossi doesn’t particularly bother me. He’s quick, but he’s not capable of being as physical with Puyol or Pique (or any of our other CBs, for that matter) as Joseba Llorente, the man who held off our title last year for an extra week by outmuscling our back line to score the equalizer in the final minutes. Quick players are often a problem for us because our CBs aren’t the fastest in the world, but I think that in this case, the frontline speed is neutralized by the lack of midfield speed. Santi Cazorla might argue that point, but I think Cazorla falls into that category of player that is typically marked out of the game by our fullbacks.
So it’s Llorente that is their danger man, but it’s Marcos Senna who is their fulcrum. Typically I’m not worried about defensive midfielders because they’re made fairly meaningless by our typical possession style, which waltzes around that “pivot” position using our 2 attacking midfielders. This, however, isn’t a typical DM: it’s Marcos Senna. We’re talking about a guy who is on the tale end of his venerable career, but that doesn’t mean he’s any less capable of commanding a midfield from box-to-box when he’s on form. Watch out for his hardass tackles and his veteran leadership to help shape the midfield. He’s got a canon if he gets space on the ball too, though no goals in his 10 appearances this season.
So that’s Villarreal, very roughly speaking. Now to Barça:
We’re hurting. Of course we’re hurting. How can you not be when you have your midfield taken apart by the removal of two key pieces so they can play in an international tournament that is taking place at a time that makes no sense from an outside perspective (January and World Cup year). Seydou Keita accounts for just over 15% of our total league goals for the year and The Great Yaya’s absence obviously leaves us without a true DM to backup Sergi Busquets.** This just in: Seydou Keita has not traveled to the ACN, but is instead recovering in Barcelona from injuries sustained at the tale end of last calendar year. Whether he’ll travel once he’s recuperated, I’m not sure, so we’ll have to wait and see on that. As of now, though, he’s out of the squad.
The best news of the day is Iniesta’s return from injury. He’s been given the medical all clear and looks ready to take part in tomorrow’s festivities. If Iniesta, Busi, and Xavi can stay healthy throughout January, that will greatly reduce the stress on the rest of the squad and allow Pep to slowly integrate a backup DM (so far he has experimented with Pique and Chygrynskiy in that position). Busi will have to show why he’s Guardiola’s favored DM during the course of this coming month and one of the ways to do that is to not score against his own team, but rather to continue what he started against Atlante: scoring actual goals.
No official squad has been released for us, but here’s my lineup [updated to included an LB, cause those are useful]: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Ibra, Messi.
I think we should save Henry for the Sevilla match on Wednesday or, if we want to start him against Villarreal, then be prepared to keep him out of the Copa del Rey entirely, as Jeffren is not available off the bench thanks to his hamstring injury. So, then, keep Henry on the bench for starters and get him as close to 90 minutes as you can later in the week. It’s certainly understandable to think the exact opposite: Henry starting tomorrow and Pedro! on Wednesday. There’s no travel involved, so Henry might be fresher than is otherwise true for an aging player.
There is concern in the midfield in terms of fatigue, but those concerns will only really arise later in the month when we have weaker opposition. It is more important now, I think, to give it our all and put our best eleven on the field to win against serious teams (please ignore Villarreal’s current standing in the table) and then fight through the final weeks of the season. I’m not a big Copa del Rey geek, in the sense that I’d prefer to consolidate our league position and continue in the Champions League than go farther in the Copa, but it doesn’t appear that Guardiola shares my concern about fatigue, if last year is any indication.
Official prediction: 2-0 Barça. Goals by Pedro! and Messi. Welcome to a new year and the same old awesome ass Barça.
Game time: 8pm local/Barcelona, 2pm New York/EST. Check your local time here.
TV: ESPN Deportes
Is anyone up for running the liveblog? It appears I am either hosting a couple of peeps or am headed to Nevada Smiths to finally catch another match there.
*if it had taken place before the Civil War, would it have been in his—drum roll please—antebellum? Welcome to 2010, folks, it’ll be like this all year. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Click!
**Make no mistake about it, though: I consider Busi to be The Yaya’s backup, I’m just saying that Busi is obviously the first option at DM until the end of January.