The Second Half Begins: Sporting – Barça

How you like me now, eh? (Denis Doyle/Getty Images Europe)

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.

Stats Comparison

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!

Two choices: get out of the way or be vaporized. Choose wisely.

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.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. you know that my brother is now playing for Man city youth ranks. before that he had a tryouts in Greece at Olympiacos when Yaya Toure was a player there. he actually played with him live in a game between the first team and the second. he’s totally Ginormous and totally fun guy.

  2. can’t wait for this match. I feel like a zombie that has gone far too long without feasting on brains. Also worth noting, Sevilla and Valencia play each other on Sunday on GolTV which should be a fun match to watch.

  3. First of all, all credit has to go to amal for being first. Well done man you deserve it Christ knows it’s not easy I take my hat off to you. I know what your saying watching Barca on Saturday is great until Sunday when your wishing they didn’t play yesterday. Is there any way they can arrange to play Saturday and Sunday ?

  4. also crynaldo’s appeal was turned down, meaning he therefore will play no part against depor. pipita is also injured, leaving just kaka and benzema and that other guy whose name i cant remember, some old dude, no not horsey face, they let him go already, oh yes raul.

    1. Glad they fast-tracked that appeal of the appeal. I just don’t like the endless appealing, in the hope of having a player available for the next match.

    2. in england, if you appeal and it is turned down, then your punishment is made worse to discourage endless appealing. for example, rio ferdinand appealed a 3 match ban due to elbowing (maybe this is a manyoo trick?) and he lost the appeal and now has a 4 match ban.

      they should institute this in spain

  5. Man I feel like I’m going to watch a Barca match after some 936’379 light years! Wait light years is a distance! Damnit!

  6. Is it bad that Ive been replying matches??? This 6 day wait is awful! but worth it if we win both liga and champions !!

    I like the prediction. 1-3, better if its 0-4

    oh also… never had I had more fun reading blogs haha that rant about how old the stadium is, that was funny. thanks.

  7. Do you really think that Guardiola starts Busi because he is “a canterano that reminds the manager of himself.” And not because he has some deviously insane/ingenious plan for the future. A plan so brilliant that, should any of us even begin to think about or understand it, our brains would immediately explode? Because if you’re right, that’s awfully biased and arbitrary….

  8. My prediction is
    Puyol Pique Chygry Abidal
    Xavi Toure Iniesta
    Messi Ibra Pedro!

    score 4-1 Messi Ibra Xavi Bojan(sub)

  9. i Believe Chygrynskiy is definitely going to get a start 2moro. Gijon is the perfect team for him to get kick-started again..

    My ideal Lineup is
    Puyol Pique Chygry Abidal
    Xavi Toure Iniesta
    Messi Ibra Henry….

    Although Milito looks like starting…

    1. I don’t know… I have a feeling Milito will get the nod. Marquez and Chygy are too close in style of play to Pique for me, although last season Marquez and Pique had a solid partnership for awhile when Puyol was filling in for Abidal at left back. It’s sad, but I have more confidence in Milito than I do in either Marquez or Chygy.

  10. With Alves not making the trip, I’m looking at a back line of Puyol, Pique, Milito and Abidal. Busquets starts, unless Guardiola was so impressed with the Keita experience that he wants to give it another go.

    1. Keita’s suspended. Now this is were it gets interesting. Yaya is back and ready and fit. Busi is back, not so ready, and kinda fit. Will Yaya or Busi start? Before we had the theory of the ACN preventing Yaya from starting. It’s over now.

    2. Yeah, I’m with you Kari… it will be interesting to see who Pep chooses, because it is not like Yaya has been sitting at home for the past 3 weeks. He is probably the fitter of the two considering Busi is just coming of injury, so this should be really interesting. I haven’t seen Yaya play in so long, so naturally, I’m pulling for him to get the start.

    3. Captain BrainCramp, reporting for duty! Of course I knew that Keita was suspended, having typed it a couple of times elsewhere. Man, it must be Friday. My mind has shut down. 😀

  11. It’ll be interesting to see if Pep does start Keita as DM. I wouldn’t but that would probably mean leaving him out so it will be an indication of whether or not he sees a future for him there.

    For me, its a close call. Busi isn’t quite ready but I don’t think Keita has the particular skillset needed for that position. Chiggy would be well behind both of those for me. I’d rather see Marquez 🙂

    Blue skies thinking – would Maxwell be a possibility? Tackles well, quick over a short distance, left footed (is he?) so might bring our left side in more as he’d naturally turn that way, Brazilian so his close control should be reasonable.

    1. I think we should try Maxwell on the right, he is an alves type player and I believe he has playing on the right before.

  12. Just hope Ibra gets over his drought! Really excited bout today’s game. Get the feeling it’s going to be a tennis score line. Hope I didn’t jinx it.

  13. I think it will be a very close match, Sporting Gijon has improved massively compared to last season. Especially at home, they are really strong this season, as you can see by Isaiah’s lovely stats. I don’t know if they changed half the team, but somehow they succeeded to reduce goals against them from 39 to 21.
    1-0 with a goal from Ibra and I’ll be fine:)

  14. I’d like to see Maxwell at left back. Indeed, it seems like this situation (Alves out, facing a good defensive team) is why he was brought in last summer.

    Sporting are very good defensively (6 goals conceded in 10 games) and it won’t be easy to score against them. Having an attacking full back to give extra width and send in crosses for Henry and Ibra to head might make difference. If you’ll recall all three goals Barca scored in September were from headers.

    My pick for a backline:

    Puyol Pique Milito Maxwell

  15. Manuel Preciado (the Sporting coach) still has the best mustache in Spain and still gives the best quotes:

    – Q: “How do you stop Messi?”
    – A” “With a nine millimeter parabellum (yeah, a bullet).”

    You gotta love the guy.


  16. on a side note, Togo has just been banned from competing in the next 2 ACN for pulling out of this one. FIFA claimed it is too much government interference.

    1. WTF?! Are they stupid or what?! 3 persons dead and all they get is a ban from the next to cups!?

  17. By god this is crazy, has anyone here been in this situation ever?


  18. Remember the time when Piqué connected his iPod into the plane’s speaker and played some loud gagnsta music? I found a video of that:


  19. My preferred lineup:

    Puyol – Pique – Milito – Maxwell
    Xavi – Yaya – Iniesta
    Messi – Ibra – Bojan

  20. Line-up


    No Yaya and a banged up Busi? Maaaaaaaaaaan!

  21. Out of every 3 matches YaYa starts 2 out of the 3 and comes in as a sub in the 3rd one. As for me any other way might not be acceptable.

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