Liga Preview: Barça – Getafe, Saturday 2pmEST, ESPN Deportes
Getafe. They of the Burger King shirts, of the “we’re tots second best in the capital now that Patetico sucks again”, of the inclination to drawing or beating the big boys. Welcome to our humble home, azulones. The last time we met, we ended up with a fairly lucky 0-2 victory with goals by Ibra and Messi. It was the second match of the year in La Liga and provided us with a measure of confidence ahead of our trip to Milan three days later for the first Champions League group stage match. It also catapulted us to the top of the league, where we have remained since, dominating most statistical categories and ever-so-slowly increasing our lead over Real Madrid.
Getafe are not one to do their Madrileño rivals a favor, but they’re in it for themselves first and foremost and with a European position on the line every time they take the field (they’re 3 points behind 6th-placed Depor and one point ahead of 8th placed Athletic Bilbao), they will not be taking this match off. They are looking, as always, to plunge their icy Morgul blades of reality into our backs in an attempt to keep us from running away with the title by mid March and to keep us on our toes, one horrible LotR reference at a time (see title for first one).
Quick stats comparison:
Barça overall: 16W-4D-0L (50GF, 10GA)
Getafe overall: 10W-1D-9L (27GF, 24GA)
Barça home: 8W-1D-0L (26GF, 6GA)
Getafe away: 3W-0D-7L (11GF, 16GA)
Their top goalscorer is Roberto Soldado with 10, followed by Casquero, Manu, Albin, and Pedro León all with 3 each. That total (22) accounts for all but 5 of their total goals, or 81.48%.* That may sound pretty bad, but we’re not much more versatile in our scoring: while Messi has 15 and Ibrahimovic 11 (putting them 1 behind Getafe as a team), we’ve got two players–Keita and Pedro!–with 6 goals apiece. That means 4 players account for 38 of our 50 goals (76%). You could blame these things on players like Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, and Bojan not having stepped up their goalscoring, but Iniesta and Bojan both have 3 assists according to Soccernet and Xavi has 6. The lone man out on that “statistic”** is Henry, who has been credited with 0 assists.
My argument that none of this matters is that we’re still working out the bugs in what is a fairly new system. As Hector pointed out in a comment yesterday, Ibrahimovic was not brought in to fit a system, but rather to facilitate a change from one system to another. This paradigm shift, if you will, means that everyone is learning the ropes once again. Henry, then, is learning once again how to move as part of the overall group. What makes his job more difficult than, say, Messi’s, is that he’s no longer 22. Messi is both the focal point of our attacks and young enough to endure the physical pounding involved. That means, of course, that Henry is relegated to a wider role involving crosses rather than shots on goal. What I’ve noticed is that his crosses are more assured, but no one’s home in the middle because Ibrahimovic is still figuring out that run. When Keita is on the field, there’s much more understanding on our left wing and much more dangerous situations on crosses. Bojan has effectively changed his positioning habits and his crossing to adapt to this new situation (where Ibrahimovic slinks to the back post instead of racing to the near post) and has begun cutting back his crosses on the ground to the trailer, but Henry is typical 2 steps farther ahead than Bojan, meaning the trailer is there yet and Ibrahimovic is blocked by his defender. That’s my thinking, anyway, but I didn’t watch the last two matches–fiending so bad–so perhaps I’m off a bit. Guardiola, however, claims Henry is still several steps ahead of Pedro!, a claim I find to be quite true.
The difference between us “working out the bugs” in a system and Getafe being a mid-table club is that we have the world-class talent to figure out a complex system while still winning and they, um, don’t. Not that I’m disparaging them in terms of talent, but they don’t have the money on hand to create a squad like ours and would gladly take our bench over most of their starters. For instance, this was the depleted lineup we started against them in their house during Jornada 2: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Chygrynskiy, Abidal, The Yaya, Keita, Xavi, Pedro!, Jeffren, Ibrahimovic. While this is a perfectly legit lineup, it was, at the time, something of a wonder that our frontline consisted of P! and Chico Gallo instead of including Messi and our back line had Puyol out wide and Scary Ukrainian Jesus Man in the middle. Iniesta’s absence, of course, is also notable, but he was on the bench and he, along with Messi and Alves, were our substitutes throughout the second half. Now that is a friggin’ bench.
Anywho. One major thing we have going for us is that Getafe is in the middle of its Copa del Rey semifinal against Sevilla. The first leg was this past Wednesday, Feb 3, and the second leg is next Thursday, Feb 11. They’re not worried, of course, about fatigue at this point, because points are points and they’re in a 2-0 hole after their visit to the Sanchez Pizjuan. I expect Sevilla to continue on unless Getafe pulls off some sort of impossible comeback the likes of which has never been seen in their stadium before. Oh. We still owe them for that one, don’t we? Okay then.
Getafe’s squad list: Ustari, Codina, Cata Díaz, Mané, Belenguer, Mario, Rafa, Cortés, Miguel Torres, Ríos, Parejo, Boateng, Casquero, Kepa, Soldado, Albín, Manu, Miku.
Of those listed, their danger men are Roberto Soldado and Juan Albin. I’m not a huge fan of Soldado, but I think Albin has some great potential. My thinking is that of Soldado’s 10 goals, 6 have come via hat tricks against marginal opponents. That is not to say he isn’t talented, but it is to say that Getafe isn’t as good as some give them credit for based on their statistics. Pythagorean Expectation thinks they’re underachieving by a small fraction (2.33%) and thinks they should have another full point as an away team. This is similar to Barcelona’s situation, though, so that’s basically a push (the draw against Villarreal threw us off a bit–had we won that match, we’d be overachieving by 0.08%, which is negligible).
So, then, to our squad. Alves trained on Friday with the first team for almost the entire practice, using a personal trainer only for warm ups and stretches. I believe this means he’ll play 90 minutes on Saturday and keep canterano Albert Dalmau out of the lineup. Abidal–who may or may not be missing teeth after Thursday’s training session (h/t Miguel)–spent the first half of the session with the squad and then returned to solo work, meaning, I think, that we’ll see Maxwell deputizing on the left. Puyol is still out through yellow card accumulation, but with the return of Alves we’ll probably see a much more solid back line of Alves, Pique, Milito, Maxwell. Marquez could very well get the start over Milito and I wouldn’t have any problem with that except to reiterate Hector’s point that Getafe are fastfast in front keeping up with them will be a bit tough with Marquez. Milito is still probably not 100%, but he’s certainly still faster than Marquez. The hair ensures that. Abidal’s absence will be felt most keenly in this department.
Then there’s the DM debate. With Busi at full strength after his kidney bruise–still makes me say ouch–I think we’ll see him start. This is more a matter of principle for Guardiola, I think, than anything else. Obviously I think The Yaya is better, but Guardiola thinks Busi is the future of the club at that position–something I concur with most of the time–and he wants to make that future happen sooner rather than later. The Yaya is 26 years old while Busi is 21 and if Busi can be groomed into the player that The Yaya is within the next two years, we’ll have a monster DM on our hands who has veteran status within the team. I can understand that rationale, but I can’t help but think it’s because Guardiola sees himself in Busi (at least as a player–I don’t know anything about Busi as a person so I don’t know if he listens to intense classical music and wears sweater vests whenever possible), he gives Busi more time on the field. Part of that is that The Yaya is one of my favorite players and I want him to always start, but also because I actually think, thinking as objectively as I can , that Busi is not only not as good as The Yaya now, but never will be. Guardiola, who knows at least a thing or two more than I do about this game and about player development, thinks otherwise. I can accept being wrong about this, but, interestingly enough, I’m not sure I can accept being right because it means both that we’ll lose The Yaya to a cheap transfer in the coming window, Busi will not be all that good, and Guardiola will have created it all. Argh.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Busi, Keita, Xavi, Henry, Ibra, Messi.
No Iniesta in the starting lineup, but only because of Keita’s steel. We need that and Iniesta’s ability to come off the bench and hold possession once we’ve got a lead going into the final 30 minutes.
Official prediction: 2-0, goals by Messi and Henry. I’m betting on Monsieur Titi. Ibra needs to score too, though, but won’t. Instead he’ll get both assists. You read it here first.
Time: Saturday 8pm Barcelona/local, 2pmEST/NYC. Check your local time here.
Weather: ~55F (12.7C) clear skies; should be good for tiki-taka.
TV: Here in the US, the match will be on ESPN Deportes.
Other things: Keep track of what’s going on in the Second Half Prediction by going here and checking it out. I’ll update it each Monday, though sometimes Tuesdays if I forget.
*Those two decimals were for all you haters out there.
**I don’t do assists because of the subjectivity involved in them so I don’t often cite them. This is a rare instance where I think it makes some sense to do so.