Liga Preview: Sporting – Barça, Saturday 2pm EST, GolTV.
Well then. It feels like my last preview was three months ago, when it was only last Friday. It’s not just that my days are ridiculously long as I rise early and walk around Puebla and go to bed late after nights of hanging with friends–that is, of course, the idea of vacation: tire yourself out so that you need a vacation from a vacation–but it strikes me that life without Barça in midweek is like being in purgatory. Sure, it’s not that bad and you can, if you’re a CS Lewis style believer, just wander around in the rain looking at Napoleon and other famous faces as they pace back and forth in their mansions, but it still feels like an enormous amount of time between matches.*
As several of you have written to me personally, it’s hard to adjust to life without Our Beloved playing more than once every 7 days. Of course I want more Barça, but that’s because I’m an addict, like many of you and I’ve grown accustomed to my fix every three or four days; I realize full well that the rest the players are getting now by not being in the Copa del Rey is likely to help them in the Champions League when they would otherwise be playing on tired legs, but no matter, I just want to remain spoiled. Most of you have not been dutifully recording your second-half predictions, but you still can! Do it! Do it now!
We have arrived at the midway point of our season, a moment when we can look forward to teams we have already played, that we know a little bit about. Last season it was revenge time for the opening round loss to Numancia, but this season we defeated Sporting Gijon at the Camp Nou 3-0. So it’s not revenge, it’s merely pedal to the metal, heel on the throat kind of stuff. Merely. That match wasn’t particularly memorable except as the day that Ibrahimovic broke through and as the beginning of Keita’s fairly wonderful run of form that saw him scoring almost at will. And kinda also the time when I was like, “Bojan is going to score like 30 goals this year!” Ahem, well then. We ran out an awkward lineup of Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Keita, Busi, Xavi, Pedro!, Bojan, Ibrahimovic, which ensured a rather rusty affair, but Sporting never looked up for the scrum and so we basically sauntered through our season opener.
That will not be the case this time around, as we travel to Gijon, to play in the Molinón. It is not as fearsome a stadium as, say, Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames, but it is certainly worth nothing that it is a very venerable ground, being the oldest remaining stadium in Spain. It was built in 1908, which, if you need any sort of history lesson to tell you how old that is–other than to say it is 102 years old–means it was built four years before the Titanic sank (and 99 years before the movie about that boat came out), 37 years before the first nuclear bomb was tested (the same year Sporting Gijon first made it to La Liga–coincidence? I think not!), 65 years before Pinochet took over Chile in a coup, and most notably 75 years before yours truly first saw the light of day. It has outlasted the Soviet Union, seen the rise of computers, and probably cringed at the popularity of boy bands. Just to name a few of the things that happened during that time. It’s old, okay?
And we’re going there to stamp out any thought of us relaxing simply because we’re ahead in the table by five points. Those points are, of course, a nice buffer, but they are meaningless if we don’t put ourselves out there to win each and every match. So we’re traveling to the badlands of Asturias, to where David Villa cut his footballing chops, to the northern coast of Spain; and we are going to kick some serious tail while we’re there. Guardiola knows the value of these three small points, worth only 1/38 of all the points available, and he will have the squad ready.
We’re facing a team who lost midfielders Míchel and Andreu to the clutches of Birmingham City and Polonia Warszawa, respectively, but also gained Espanyol’s Lola on loan for the rest of the season. Milan “Lola” Smiljanić isn’t much of a catch, in my opinion, but he’s certainly capable of kicking you in the shins and that, perhaps, is what Sporting is looking for these days. Sporting also have Alberto Botia in their squad, who, if he plays as he did in the first match, we need to watch out for because not only is he ours and on loan to Sporting, but he’s kinda freakin’ good. Whether or not he’ll ever make it at the highest level of club football is a question I’m not prepared to answer, but he’s certainly a strong prospect and capable of being both strong at the back and strong at the front on set pieces. A young Gerard Pique, if you will, seeing as how our Piquenbauer is really getting up there in age (they were born almost exactly 2 years apart).
Their leading scorer is Diego Castro with 6, followed by Miguel de las Cuevas with 4. They’re not goal-scoring behemoths, by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re dangerous enough. The team as a whole has scored 20 goals, or just barely over 1 per match while they have allowed 21. They drew 0-0 at home against RM, 2-2 away to Valencia, 1-1 at home against Depor, defeated Villarreal 1-0 and Mallorca 4-1, and lost 0-1 to Sevilla. That’s not a bad record against the top batch of La Liga, though the 3-0 loss at the Camp Nou does change that a bit.
Sporting home record: 5W-3D-2L, 11GF 6GA
Barça away record: 7W-3D-0L, 23GF 4GA
It’s hard to think that Barça will lose this match, but that is always a distinct possibility. The more likely “negative” outcome is a draw, which, given RM’s pending match at Depor, where they’ve failed to win for something like 400 years, could actually be a lost opportunity to gain more ground on second place. Not that that should be something the team should be focusing on, but it is certainly something I as a commentator consider noteworthy. And I assume all of you out there in Radioland Internetville have your own opinions about this subject too. It’s only fair and democratic (within the confines of this kleptocracy**, of course) to open up the floor to all of you so that I may pilfer your thoughts for future previews.
Anyway, our squad is almost entirely back to form, with Busi recovering from his kidney bruise–does that make anyone else wince everytime they read it?–and, ahem, drum corps, please prepare the fanfare…yes, this will do nicely…ahem! Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Dogs and Cats, I present the triumphant return of the great, the almighty, the magnificent, the beneficent, the terrifying, YAYA TOURE! Sure, he was booted unceremoniously from the ACN along with his Cote d’Ivoire teammates, but that’s only cause it let it happen. Oh and also Alves looks like he won’t take any part of the match because of a leg/groin injury. Yeah blah blah…The Yaya is back!
Right, so, yeah, anyway. Busi looks set to be able to play thanks to having returned to normal practice, Alves is out, and even The Yaya looks unlikely to start because of the short turnaround time between his return and the match. He practiced for the first time on Friday and while we in this forum understand that he can play a 90 minute match every 89 minutes for the rest of time, he apparently wants to give everyone else a chance at success. Did you know that Buddy from the Incredibles at first tried to become Incrediyaya, but found it too difficult and turned his attentions to the more mortal members of the world? True story.
Our squad list: Valdés, Pinto, Henry, Márquez, Xavi, Piqué, Iniesta, Busi, Puyol, Pedro!, Ibrahimovic, Bojan, Maxwell, Messi, Chygrynskiy, Abidal, Milito, The Yaya.
So, then, who will we see at right back? My first guess, which seems to be fairly unanimous around the blogosphere is that Puyol will start there, leaving Pique and Milito as the CB pairing and Abidal on the left. Then I’m guessing that we’ll see Busi in the DM role, with Xavi and Iniesta in midfield, fronted by Henry, Messi, and Ibrahimovic. Guardiola has set his starting eleven in stone, it would appear, and only injuries and suspensions will affect it. Remember that Busi is entering with 4 yellow cards and the possibility of a suspension if he makes a mistake. Not that he ever makes mistakes or anything. I kind of doubt that we’ll see The Yaya starting, but I hope I’m wrong. Here, I suppose, is where we start to discover Guardiola’s designs for the future: does he or does he not value The Yaya’s services as much as I do? Not that my opinion is important since I can barely go undefeated in FIFA10 when I set it to Professional, but it is still my opinion that The Yaya is a better and more versatile player than Busi. It’s just that he’s not a canterano that reminds the manager of himself.
Well anyway, I guess I’ve got to predict a score, right? Official Prediction: 1-3. Goals by Xavi, Messi, and Ibra. Puyol hits the crossbar with a header.
Don’t forget the Liga Prediction Challenge! Gimme gimme your predictions, postmarked by tomorrow! Send them to info[at]barcelonafootballblog[dot]com. I will post my predictions on Tuesday when I’m back in the States. I will also be updating everyone on the Fantasy league, which I’ve neglected much to my own personal detriment and also to the detriment of the league as a whole. My bad.
*I’m writing this preview over a series of days because of limited internet access and lack of time even when I do get online. So if some of this information is a bit outdated or nonsensical, please forgive me and my vacation-status brain. I am currently experiencing the mental equivalent of a voice mail message: We’re sorry, the party you have reached, ISAIAH , is unavailable at the moment. Please leave your message after the beep….BEEP.
**In case you missed it, during a recent liveblog I put up a poll asking what form of governance this blog has and kleptocracy was the overwhelming winner, coming in first by more than double Noooorrrbeeeertuuusss if I remember correctly and like 800 times more than Democracy or Proletariat Commune***
***Neither Democracy nor Proletariat Commune were options.