Liga Preview: Barça – Racing Santander, Saturday 2pmEST, GolTV
There will always be tough moments in a campaign, when things look dismal and darkened, the storm clouds seemingly gathering overhead to unleash hell. But let me ask you this: Did Lot’s wife ever falter in her step? Should Vizzini have been more prudent? Was Homer wrong to question the power of gravity over daredevilry? Er, right…ahem! Like Galileo questioning the foundations of science and faith, we too must forge ahead mercilessly in the face of criticism and misfortune, never release our hold on what we know to be true, and get false credit from future generations for throwing weighted stones off badly built towers.
So, yeah, basically I’m calling for Busi’s inclusion in the starting lineup. More on that later.
In Racing Santander, we face a team in need of a win after being bounced from the Copa del Rey by Atleti and losing 0-3 at home to Malaga. They are, however, entering this match without forwards Pedro Munitis and Mohammed Tchité and midfielder Gonzalo Colsa through suspension (yellow card accumulation), as well as goalie Toño, defender Christian Fernández, midfielder Edu Bedia, and forward Iván Bolado through injury. Instead, they’ve called up youth midfielders Luisma and Dani Espolita and they’ve recovered Henrique after the Brazilian defender went home to his native country to be with his wife while she gave birth to a daughter, Valentina, last week.
Their full squad list: Coltorti, Mario Fernández, Crespo, Torrejón, Pinillos, Oriol, Moratón, Henrique, Diop, Espolita, Lacen, Moral, Serrano, Luisma, Arana, Canales, Luis García, Xisco. Over at his fairly useful Yahoo! fantasy blog, Unai Martin envisions that they’ll play a 4-5-1 with Xisco at the point and I can’t say that I disagree with that, though in Racing-Barça match in September, they played a 4-4-2 with Munitis and Geijo up front. With Munitis out and Geijo playing for Udinese now, they’ll obviously be putting out different forwards, but it’s notable that their midfielder/forward, Oscar Serrano, was the one who scored against us and he’ll probably be looking to get another such goal against the run of play.*
While Eduardo Alvarez over at Soccernet thinks that Racing will lay down** like dogs for us–and even suggests that the three yellow card suspensions were on purpose, an allegation I can neither defend nor attack, having failed to see the Racing-Malaga match–I don’t see it as such a cut-and-dry affair. Yes, they’re on a bad run of form, having scored just once in their last 3 league matches (they did score three against Atleti when their Copa del Rey aggregate score was out of hand and Atleti stopped playing), but they’re still a solid team with good talent. The youngsters filling in for their suspended stars should come out looking to prove something against the reigning league, continental, and world champs (not that anyone is counting trophies) and that makes them dangerous.
As for our squad, Guardiola is once again keeping the list under wraps until the morning of, so we’ll have to make do with best guesses until then. With Piqué and Márquez returning from suspension and Chygrynskiy returning from injury, we’ve now got a full defensive line to work with. I don’t expect Rafa to start simply because there isn’t enough room for him between Puyol, Piqué, Milito, and Maxwell. I would generally be in favor of Muniesa, Márquez, Milito, Maxwell simply for the alliterative awesomeness, but our little Marky-Mark hasn’t been called up, so we’ll have to go with the PP-MM lineup instead. Ah well. Power-packed Pugilism Mixed with Magic. Or something. Sounds like a description of Ibra, actually.
The midfield is where the real questions are, I think. I said before that I’m advocating Busi’s inclusion in the lineup and my reasons are two-fold. First and foremost, there’s the impending return of The Yaya from injury, which means that our DM position should be vacated by our coltish, backward-heading phenom, but I’d rather a 100% Busi than an 80% Yaya who could re-injure himself before the Stuttgart match. Then there’s the question of Busi’s yellow cards. I believe that if he picks up another yellow card, he’ll be out for the next league match (home against Malaga). The likelihood of him not picking up a yellow even from the bench is minimal, so I say play him and get his suspension out of the way while giving The Yaya playing time at the right moment. That means holding The Yaya back and sacrificing a little bit of defensive solidity so that Stuttgart faces a wall of death whenever they venture out of their own half.
Feel free to criticize that line of argument in the comments. I can handle it.
Next to Busi, I’m calling for Iniesta and Jonathan dos Santos. I’m a bigger fan of the little Mexican than I am of Thiago and I’d like to see JDS get more playing time while he has the opportunity. Because I read Thiago as more of an Iniesta and JDS as more of a Xavi, I think the mixture works better if we don’t put two of the same type of player on the field at once. The only argument for Thiago that I can agree with is that he’ll have a better combo attack with Messi because JDS is still a bit sloppy positionally.
You’d think the front three would be the easiest to predict at this point in the season, but Guardiola’s insistence on putting out a different LW alongside Ibra and Messi in every match has been infuriating to a prediction-monster such as myself. I’m going to go out on a limb here and go with Henry on the left, with Ibra and Messi on the right. While I can understand to a certain degree that Pedro! might provide some more attacking verve, so to speak, I think that Kevin is right in repeatedly stating that Henry provides more width and more defense than our little P! can or does. It’s what causes people to admit that Henry is still several levels ahead of our Canarian or our Venezuelan. With Iniesta tied up in play-maker duties, we’ll need stronger LW support, meaning it’s Henry’s time to shine. You can do it, Titi.
The other two choices up front are obvious, so we won’t get into them as predictions. What’s more interesting is that this is Racing Santander we’re playing, the team where Ibra struck a monster header by climbing over Henrique and should have had another goal, but it bounced off the post and away to relative safety. That match ended 1-4 in our favor, with goals by Ibra, Messi (2) on some wonderful shooting, and Pique off a fabulous backheel by Ibra. You want to talk taconazos, do you, Madrid? Well, taconazo this, baywatches. I think Ibra will have another big match up front, but it might not be what you expect. Instead of golazos and a rise up the cherished pichichi chart, I think we’ll see him providing deft assists again and Messi jumping out to a greater goalscoring gap.
Lineup: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Busi, JDS, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Messi.
Official prediction: 3-0. I know that Racing isn’t going to come in looking to get pummeled and will try their hardest, but goals by Messi (2) and Iniesta (!) will ensure that they go home feeling like jackasses anyway. Sergio Canales, their leading goalscorer with 5, is going to get stuffed repeatedly. Welcome to being a Madridista, buddy.
Time: 8pm local/Barcelona, 2pmEST/New York. Check your local time here.
TV: In th United States, this match will be aired on GolTV.
To wrap things up, I recorded another podcast with RealMadridTalk (along with Corey from The Offside and LaLigaWeekly). They’re gracious hosts and I can’t wait to get back into the “booth” with them in a few weeks to discuss the domestic and European situation. And for the record, I know I’ve been having trouble with my mic– I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with that. Nonetheless, enjoy:
*I do think that Unai Martin is getting some of the positions wrong in his lineups, but I think they’re solid nonetheless and certainly worth reading. What I mean is, Serrano most often plays on the left rather than the right, but could certainly be flopped if they want to pressure Maxwell instead of Puyol. We’ll have to see tomorrow, I suppose.
**The picture of Pellegrini at the bottom wasn’t of Pellegrini this morning when I first read the article. Now it’s been changed, but man, ESPN is on a roll with wrong picture credits. Are they hiring goal.com writers?