Man the Ramparts: Atleti – Barça

The Ramparts, Alberta, Canada (Jim Catley)

Liga Preview: Atletico Madrid – Barça, Sunday 3pmEST, ESPN Deportes/ESPN360

We’re invading Madrid again. It’s been a while. Last time we came out 2-0 winners and before that, I’m sure there was something else that happened in the capital that was memorable. I don’t know what it was. No clue whatsoever. This time, though, we’re going in with a makeshift defense that is one part injured and one part suspended. And like three parts baby canteranos. Whatever. We beat Manchester United with a makeshift back line and we can beat an on-again off-again Atleti with a makeshift back line.

Still, missing Pique and Marquez (suspension) and Abidal, Alves, and Chygrynskiy (injury) and with Puyol still not 100% (though back to working out with the squad), we’re facing up against Kun Aguero and Diego Forlan with, um, Gabi Milito? Really? That guy is still around? And maybe Marc Muniesa, or Marc Bartra? Maxwell on the left, Puyol on the right? Puyol in the center and Maxwell on the right? Keita on the left? What the hell is going on? Last week we had too many defenders and now we don’t have enough?

When we played Atleti the first time, at the Camp Nou, our starting lineup was: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Chygrynskiy, Maxwell, Keita, Busi, Xavi, Messi, Henry, Ibrahimovic and our subs were Iniesta, Marquez, Pedro!. The italicized players are ones who are definitely out for this upcoming fixture. Sure, we torched them 5-2, but they scored twice on us in our own home (Aguero and Forlan), which doesn’t necessarily bode well for us going into their house with a weakened back line.

The good thing, though, is that they’re inconsistent and have all-around crappy defending regardless of whether or not they’re on their game. They have 3 clean sheets this year–Espanyol, @Xerez, and @Valladolid–but have been blanked themselves 5 times. Barça has 12 clean sheets and has been kept off the scoreboard just once (0-0 @Valencia). The most prolific offense in the league (52 goals for) and the best defense (11 goals conceded) against a completely middle-of-the-table club who have scored more than a third of their total goals in just three of their matches (Espanyol, Valladolid, and Sporting Gijon) but have failed to score twice against the likes of Malaga. Yet they’ve also given Real Madrid a run for their money (2-3), beaten Sevilla (2-1), and drawn away to Valencia (1-1). They’re also now in the Copa del Rey final thanks to an abysmal performance against Recreativo Huelva in the away leg (3-0) and then a classic remontada in the return leg (5-1) that saw them through. Then they squeaked by Celta Vigo, of all teams, and faced Racing Santander who they stomped 4-0 at the Vicente Calderon, drew in the league on the weekend, and then lost to 3-2 in Santander to qualify on aggregate.

What to make of a team that has allowed 3 more goals than it has scored, but whose top two scorers (Forlan and Aguero, not surprisingly) have accounted for more than half of their total goals (17 of 31)? Messi alone has 16. Add in Ibrahimovic (11) and Pedro! (6) and Barça’s potential starting forward line has more goals as their entire team. Their league run of form looks like this: LDLDDWLDLLLWWLDWWWLLD. That’s worth 24 points, less than half of what Barça has earned (55) and less than what Barça has earned exclusively in away matches. And yet.

I picked Atleti to finish 4th this year in my preseason poll. Pythagorean Expectation thinks they should be earning almost 10% more points than they are, meaning they should have 29 or 30 points instead of 24 points. They have Kun Aguero, Diego Forlan, Sergio Asenjo, Simao, Paolo Assuncao, JA Reyes, and a couple of other noteworthy players. And yet.

Who can put a finger on them? Who can guess what their next match will be like? They led 1-2 against Racing Santander and allowed 2 goals in the final three minutes. They were in the relegation zone for a while and are only six points away from there now, they lost Maxi Rodriguez to Liverpool on a free, they were drawing scarcely fifteen thousand fans to home matches in a stadium that holds more than fifty thousand. And yet.

So, our squad: Valdés, Pinto, Bartra, Muniesa, Maxwell, Puyol, Milito, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Busi, JDS, Ibrahimovic, Pedro!, Bojan, Jeffren, Messi, and Henry. That’s nothing to sneeze at even if we’re missing some world-class talent.

This is their squad: Asenjo, De Gea, Valera, López, Juanito, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Perea, Tiago, Raúl García, Jurado, Assunção, Reyes, Simão, Rubén Pérez, Forlán, Agüero, Ibrahima.

So what kind of a match will we see? I’m thinking up-tempo, lots of attacking, some goals, a bunch of shots on goal, some yellow cards, and a crazy final few minutes as both teams push themselves to the limits. Still, we’ll come out of this with 3 points because Messi is absolutely on fire (he got better!?) and simply will not let us lose or even draw. This match is going to be killer.

Predicted lineup: Valdés, Bartra, Puyol, Milito, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Keita, Iniesta, Ibra, Messi. We’re looking for some possession-based play rather than more attacking forms (ie Iniesta in mid with Henry up front), so I’m expecting that we’ll play a bit more of a 4-4-2-esque formation, which seems to be how we roll when Iniesta is on the left wing and constantly dropping back to play around with Keita and Xavi in his preferred position.

Official prediction: 4-2, goals by Ibra, Messi (2), and Bojan (sub). We’re awesome, simply put.
Time: 9pm local/Madrid time, 3pm EST/New York, check your local time here.
Weather: ~36F (2C) clear and cold. That’s not good for us, but it’s not good for Atleti either, so I don’t consider it a big factor.
TV: In the US, it’s on ESPN Deportes and ESPN360. Sorry, but ESPN is showing bowling and ESPN2 is showing Women’s College Basketball instead of La Liga. Bowling? No wonder ESPN’s coverage has gotten such a bad rap. Bowling.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. Kari
    February 13, 2010

    Well, according to La Liga Loca, we have 2 good things going for us:

    1) Luis Perea and Tomas Ujfalusi are still Atlético Madrid players.
    2) Quique Sánchez Flores’ words after the rojiblancos 3-2 defeat against Racing, a result that still ensured Atleti’s qualification for the Copa del Rey:

    “The players are professionals,” deadpanned the Atlético boss without a hint of a giggle when asked if they will be taking it easy during Sunday’s tie.

    Oh, and I have a feeling of foreboding with this whole “rating the comments” business. No good will come of this, I tells ya!

    • Kari
      February 13, 2010

      Choosing this picture of Thong Boy was really, really, tempting…but Xavi and Messi win all day and night (I could find one with Iniesta, Messi AND Xavi 🙁 ) 😀

      • Kari
        February 13, 2010

        Darn! It didn’t show up!

        Testing, testing!

          • Kari
            February 14, 2010

            Who’s ‘bogarting’? I was just testing if I could change my avatar picture o.O .

  2. February 13, 2010

    Good preview–I’ll have to look back at the last Atletico match because I swear, I can’t remember a single goal from that…

    • February 13, 2010

      Oh that one! Jeez, that feels like ages ago…

      With Busi and Valdes playing much, much better than they did at that stage, I think we’ll be okay.

  3. fcbfan
    February 13, 2010

    Isaiah. nice preview, but the score probably would be 4-3 or 5-2, or 6-1 all Barca win of course. there are usually 7 goals!

  4. Ethan
    February 13, 2010

    This should be some crazy attacking futbol tomorrow. Gona be a joy to watch. And Isaiah, when should we have those pics to you by? i have way too many to look through, how many do u want sent?

    • February 13, 2010

      If you could send them sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic. You can send as many as you want, but preferably like 10 really good ones or fewer. I’m going to submit 1 and MAYBE 2, for instance.

      • Ethan
        February 13, 2010

        Ok, ill try and get those over to you in the next few days.

  5. Boat Forever
    February 13, 2010

    Ratings for the comments… YAY!!!

  6. Boat Forever
    February 13, 2010


    Has any one seen Sporting – Valencia match!? It seems our Botia had been a total monster against Villa… The kid’s gonna return, not like a kid though 🙂

  7. jordi
    February 13, 2010

    So how does one get an avatar on here ?

    • Eduard
      February 13, 2010

      I couldn’t find a link or anything either. 🙁

      • Kari
        February 13, 2010

        Go to:


        Just follow the instructions. After you enter your email and made your account, choose any image you’d like.

        However, make sure the email you choose is the same email you use when you’re posting comments. If you choose a different email, then it won’t show up.

  8. February 13, 2010


    Its gonna be another bat-shit crazy game. Although I hope its not because like Pep said in his presser today, an up and down score fest favors Atleti. Its going to be interesting to see Pep’s decision for the line-up. The first thing is defense.

    On one hand, our fullback depth has been ravaged. THAT position is one that has grown drastically in importance over this season. For more on that, see Ramzi’s excellent new article

    However, IMO the centerback position in Barca is still more important which is why I agree that given the choice between a rookie as a CB or a right FB, Pep will choose to put the rookie at right FB. Our centerbacks not only start our offense (a much undervalued contribution) but they are also the last line of defense. Playing the ball out while being harassed by Aguero and Forlan AND making the correct decisions is vital. HOWEVA…

    Like Ramzi says in his article, the activation of BOTH fullbacks in both offensive and defensive roles (a big change from last year) has allowed us to use what resembles the original Dream Team diamond 4-4-2 during offense phase. What is a 4-4-2 diamond’s inherent weakness? It depends a lot on the fullbacks to provide width both during the offense and the defense to offense phases. A team with good aggressive wingers can put enough pressure on the FB’s to defend so as to screw up our transitions. A lot of trust is put into the FB’s to make correct decisions. Its an added onus on the fullbacks, more responsibility but better utilization of resources.

    Maxwell should be enough of a big boy to let loose down the left wing. However, Bartra on the right is another story. Does Pep let him loose to rampage down the right wing and maybe get caught out against a Jurado or Reyes? Errr…. OK. How about we leave him at home like last season’s Abidal often was, as a third CB where Milito and the Cap’n can marshal him around? Sound better, right? There is only one problem: who provides width on the right wing when we attack? The only logical choice is Messi which means that unless Pep makes a Cruyffism and lets Bartra loose, we are going to see 05-08 vintage Messi on the wing because he will not be able to cut in as often as he has done in last season and this one. This in turn leads me to suspect that we may see Henry on the left instead of Iniesta to make up for Messi not being able to cut in from the right as often. Think last season’s 4-3-3 with Henry cutting in instead of Messi and Argy Bargy having to put in the work shift providing defensive cover and width on the right. Another intriguing option would be to bring back the false 9 and try to out-gun Atleti through the middle. Will we finally see Ibra in that scheme?

    Its gonna be a fun…and hopefully happy game. 😀

    • Kari
      February 13, 2010

      I just LOVE Barca-Atleti games, even more so when they’re at our home (dude, it’s been 6-1 and 5-2 good guys (i.e us 😀 ) the last two home games. Good football, lots of goals, us dominating, what’s not to love?). Second favourite game of the season 😛

      I also agree that Henry is going to start on the left. No way he doesn’t start after being rested against Burger King FC. I expect him to come out firing on all cylinders.

      It’d be interesting to see Keita at left back.That way Keita can help out Busi in the midfield…we play with 3 at the back anyway, right 😛 ? C’mon, it’s ATLETI we’re talking about–this game is all about the offense! Although, with both of our starting wing-backs out, no way Atletico won’t exploit the wings, especially having the likes of Reyes and Simao.

      Anyways, can’t wait for this match! This game is the perfect game to make a statement. We win any game–even if we don’t have a defense!

    • Jim
      February 13, 2010

      Here’s hoping Messi is given a wider role. To me he plays most of his best football from there.

    • Phil
      February 13, 2010

      LOL well at least he took it well when the fan showed him what flag it was.

    • tutomate
      February 13, 2010

      yeah I told everyone about that in the last post.
      Hector how about putting Pedro! on the right and Messi on the left with maxwell? He had good chemistry with MadMax in the last game.

    • Helge
      February 14, 2010

      LOL 🙂

      Now that’s priceless. Hope Perez will look even more stupid after we’ve won this evening!
      We gotta win this, can’t wait for it…

  9. Jnice
    February 13, 2010

    I can’t stop thinking about this match. Let’s go Bartra or whoever plays.

  10. Boat Forever
    February 13, 2010

    Maxwell—-Milito—-Puyol—-Muniesa would probably be better’?

  11. February 14, 2010

    A. how do I add a pic,
    B. I guess its not as bad as I thought, only starting one young gun.
    C. This is the perfect game to start titi because it is his best chances to get on the score sheet, thus boosting his confidence.

  12. barca96
    February 14, 2010

    maxwell should play RB again considering that last week was his best performance in a barca shirt.connected well with messi.

  13. jordi™
    February 14, 2010

    You know, i watched that 4-3 again from last season and im still immensely bitter we didnt win.Throwing away multiple goal leads is the worse.The 6 trophies made up for it somewhat 😉

  14. February 14, 2010

    Hey guys, I love me some BFB, I am on here 10 times a day lol. I just wanna use this opportunity to plug my new blog, which focuses on transfers (can’t concentrate on Barca, cause nothing tops this site), it’s called Euros’n Sense. I just posted an article, I hope you guys can support me (I am a journalism student in my last semester and I want to write about football for a living). Thanks again.

    • Kari
      February 14, 2010

      I’m a little busy now, but I definitely check it out when I have time!

  15. simple_barcafan
    February 14, 2010

    i think Pep will go with Maxwell-Puyol-Milito-Keita
    Maxwell showed he can do more than a decent job on the right flank..Keita played well as Pep might consider him for LB..with Inesta and Henry both of whom can track back, our left flank will more or less be secure..

    • poipoi
      February 14, 2010

      I’d love to see keita lb and maxwell rb too

  16. auld super
    February 14, 2010

    When did this offside thumbs up/down kick in ? I must now think before I start mouthing off.

  17. poipoi
    February 14, 2010

    atleti barça is always so fun to watch!! I’m excited, their defense is bad and ours is made of a youngster and maxwell at least if pep doesn’t come up with something crazy

  18. JMo
    February 14, 2010

    how do I add a picture to this thing? did i miss something?

    • Kari
      February 14, 2010

      JMo, go to:


      Just follow the instructions. After you’ve entered your email and made your account, choose any image you’d like.

      However, make sure the email you choose is the same email you use when you’re posting comments. If you choose a different email, then it won’t show up.

  19. yogi
    February 14, 2010

    I like changes and seems that we are having few of them at same time. Not too keen on rating the comments stuff.

    Cannot wait for match to start. I doubt if we will see Keita at left back, he did not want to play there in CL final so i doubt he will be keen today. I expect one of young ones to get run in today.

  20. cliveee
    February 14, 2010

    wow, love this new like/dislike button thing here. but i think the words “rate this” can be removed, coz i thought its a little in the way.

    i am predicting another maxwell on the right and a surprise on the left, who is keita. i love our young guns but i think pep is not gonna play them against this dangerous team.

  21. Helge
    February 14, 2010

    omg! Pep has surprised us once again: Jeffren in defence.

    But my “Barca – the best years of our life” has arrived today, hopefully a good sign!

  22. February 14, 2010

    Its Jeffren at right FB. Pep just said “screw defense, we’re gonna come at you from both wings”. Oh boy… Busi and Xavi better be on their toes with their diagonal cover of that wing. Simao is licking his chops as we speak. This should be fun!

    3-5-2 anyone? Return of the Wingback?

  23. jordi™
    February 14, 2010

    Im almost a little regretful jeffren came back from injury early, last time he played at rb wasnt so great but if he plays like dani that will be awesome.

  24. Jim
    February 14, 2010

    Always dodgy putting a forward into defense when up against speedy attackers. Not for pace – Jeffren obviously has that – but for moving out and playing offside. They’re not great at looking along the line at the right times.

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