Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Almería – Barça

Before we get started here, take the time, if you haven’t already, to check out the post about our new background design. We’re building a nice little collection, but please submit your photos  to bfbackground@gmail.com soon if you haven’t. Thanks!

Sport is a strange creature at times. It intermingles, interweaves, and, ultimately, lets you draw your own conclusions about destiny or coincidence. Take, for instance this man: he is from the northern reaches of Euskadi, more commonly known in English as Basque Country, and began his managing career at the age of 16. He rose quickly through the ranks to become the youngest ever first division manager in Spain at the age of 29 and then, ever-so-quickly became a journeyman manager, taking the occasional break to do broadcasting. He even ended up in Mexico for a year before returning to Spain. Take, then, this man: he is from the eastern coast of Spain, where he joined his hometown club, was spotted a man named Johan Cruyff, turned into one of the greatest midfielders in history, and became a hero to an entire region. His time at the club wound down quickly and he too became a journeyman of sorts, moving to Italy and Qatar before retiring.

And then, of course, the coincidence. Or perhaps the destiny. Man one, who we shall call Juan Manuel Lillo, arrives in Mexico and finds himself looking for a midfielder. Man two, who we shall call Pep Guardiola, is hanging up his shoes, but seems amenable to the approach of an old first-division nemesis. The two link up, plans are drawn up, and Guardiola joins Dorados de Sinaloa for six months. But, Lillo resigns in disgust at, it appears, everything from the club to the officiating*; Guardiola sticks with the team until they’re relegated from the Mexican Primera and then he calls it a day, permanently retiring and dedicating himself to becoming a manager. Lillo, of course, has already been a manager for two decades and nothing will stop him from being one, if he’s given enough time.

Guardiola rises quickly once again, becoming Barça B manager and then jumping to the top of the food chain and becoming head of the first team in 2008. After another small break, Juanma Lillo joins Real Sociedad in the Segunda at nearly the same time. He fails to gain promotion while Guardiola wins the treble and then three more trophies. Another short break ensues for Lillo, while Guardiola piles on the victories and hours in the office with Barça. Then, of course, comes their reconnection. Hugo Sanchez is let go at Almería and Lillo finds himself with a job again. Only this time he’s staring down the double barreled shotgun of the relegation zone inches from his face. He backs off quickly, putting space–9pts– between the club and the drop, but there is always March 6 looming and it is now: Barça come to town.

Forgive me for the wordy introduction, but at times these histories overtake me. You’ll see what I mean again in a minute. It is these connections that I find so intriguing about sports: James Naismith invents the game of basketball; he teaches Forrest Allen how to play it and “Phog” becomes a coach; Allen in turn coaches Adolph Rupp and Dean Smith, starting them on their coaching careers, and then Allen recruits a gangly kid from Philadelphia named Wilt Chamberlain; two of Smith’s assistants are Larry Brown and Roy Williams; Brown, then, has two assistants named John Calipari and Bill Self. I am fascinated with these things. If you just followed the coaching history of the University of Kansas Jayhawks you’ll note (other than not mentioning the 60s and 70s) a sense of historical momentum that, I think, is reflected in football: Rinus Michels coached Johann Cruyff who coached Pep Guardiola who is coaching the next great manager.** Will it be Xavi, Puyol, or Iniesta? Perhaps it’s to be Pedro or Jeffren? JDS or Gai? Only time will tell, but I’d bet the house that one of the canteranos will become a manager–and a good one at that.

And so, fresh off internationals, the team travels to Almería, to the southern coast of Andalusia. According to Wikipedia, the city’s name comes from Arabic: المرية, or Al-Mariyya in Latin text. “The Mirror” as it translates to, sits on the reflective Mediterranean (hence the name), with its old castle, the Alcazaba, presiding over everything from its perch on a hill. On the other side of town sits a different kind of fortress: the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos. The stadium holds some 22,000 people and is the home of Unión Deportiva Almería, a team founded way back in 1989…90 years after Barcelona got its first team. But they rose up the ranks and have yet to be relegated from the first division since making their first ascent for the 2007-08 season.

Almería is prepared for us. They know what we bring to the table, which is the desire to hold the ball. As their manager said, to paraphrase, “We both love the ball, but there’s only one in play.” And I, for one, believe it belongs to us. We’ll take our ball and go home, you know, like petulant children. Almería has had a good start to the second half of the season, actually earning more points in February than FCB (10 compared to 9). They’ve also got good players (Diego Alves in goal, Kalu Uche up front, for instance), but will they be able to withstand our frontal assault?

Barça’s squad: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Chygrynskiy, Márquez, Milito, Maxwell, Touré, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Jeffren, Bojan, Pedro, Messi, Henry, Ibrahimovic.

The notable absence is Gerard Piqué because of yellow card accumulation. Márquez trained normally after returning from international duty, while Messi and Henry both had light workouts. Maradona, of course, played Messi for 90 minutes. Great.

Predicted lineup: Valdés, Alves, Puyol, Milito, Maxwell, The Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro!, Messi, Ibrahimovic.

Time: 8pm local/Almería; 2pm EST/NYC; check your local time here.
TV: In the US, the match will be on ESPN Deportes and ESPN360.
Weather: ~50F (10C), slight chance of rain (20%). Shouldn’t be too bad a night.

Apologies for the shortened preview, but I have a job interview to prepare for today, so this is all I have time for. It is also why I have been posting sporadically of late. Hopefully I’ll be back with more later this evening or early tomorrow, but if not, tune in to the liveblog.

*So he moved to Spain to avoid bad reffing?
**I haven’t read Brilliant Orange yet, so forgive me if I should have included several people before and after Michels. I’ll get to it soon, I swear.

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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. eklavya
    March 5, 2010

    How’s the background picture thing going?
    Notice how I don’t mention being “first” and learn 😉

    • March 7, 2010

      Expect some news soon – I finally have some free time to get everything going. As for pictures, they are coming in steadily – but feel free to keep submitting them.

  2. jnelson
    March 5, 2010

    Excellent preview, as always. Good luck with the interview!

  3. March 5, 2010

    Good luck with the interview Isaiah.

    Just one tiny little 1996 where their friendship started. So, taking him to Mexico was not a coincidence.

    • March 5, 2010

      *Just one tiny little info Pep and lillo know each other since 1996…

  4. Karo
    March 5, 2010

    nice preview…“We both love the ball, but there’s only one in play.” that ball will be 75% ours and only 25% theirs

  5. March 5, 2010

    So basically has ESPN has stopped showing games on ESPN 2 which, correct me if I’m wrong, was supposed to the main stage for their La Liga games. I guess bowling, poker, curling and fishing are really awesome in their own right, but am I the only one majorly pissed off that I have to watch Barca every weekend on my computer?

  6. Tajh
    March 5, 2010

    Valdes – Alves, Puyol, Milito, Maxwell- Xavi, Toure, Iniesta – Messi, Ibrahimovic, Pedro . My prediction: Barça 3 Almería 0

  7. Kxevin
    March 5, 2010

    Hats off to eklavya, for being first and actually saying something other than “First!” 😀

    Interesting point, Ahsan. The other one is that it’s Deportes or nothing, so if you don’t have at least some Spanish, you’re kinda screwed. We’ve been on Deportes quite a lot this season.

    Premiership matches are on ESPN2 in lurvly HD, however. I’m sure that it has as much to do with the viewership numbers as anything else. I rather imagine that Deportes has seen a subscriber spike, just like I signed up for TV5 for Les Bleus matches.

    • eklavya
      March 6, 2010

      I don’t think you should have. They play so boringly it’s not worth it at all!

    • Vj
      March 6, 2010

      Well, he did say ‘first’ and I half expected him to say ‘Peanuts’..

      • eklavya
        March 6, 2010

        Damnit, I totally forgot about Peanuts! Fudge! How could I?!

  8. March 5, 2010

    I cannot wait for this match. I don’t think we’ll see any specific revelations from our players, but I do anticipate Ibra having a hell of a game.

    His movement and audacity last week sparked something within the team and we saw for the first time in weeks what this XI COULD be. I’m not saying we’re clicking on all cylinders, but I do think there is a real argument for the reflexive responses between the form of the team, and the form of Ibra. Not that one is more dependent on the other, just, it’s significant.

    Watching the highlights from the first half of the season brings me back down to earth because their back line did seem very organized, which was why we needed a Golazo de Pedrito to save us. But expect seomthing special tomorrow.

    Reporting from Panama City Beach USA – JMo.

    ps – I’m not on spring break, i’m actually working haha.

  9. poipoi
    March 5, 2010

    I’m ready for some pep wizardry if he may 😀 we have to win anyhow, EE is facing sevilla and everything can happen

    good luck with the interview!

  10. stowe
    March 5, 2010

    i’m just hoping we score in the first half. if we can get one in by the 30 minute mark i think we can run away with this one.
    i still don’t know about the puyol and milito pairing. aren’t they too similar?
    it will be interesting if they try to beat us with a possession game, could be an interesting match-up

  11. vicsoc8
    March 6, 2010

    I think Messi could use some rest. Wouldn’t mind seeing him start on the bench this game.

    But talking about players who haven’t seen the pitch in a while, how long do you think it’ll be before we see Chygrinskiy out there again?

  12. fcbfan
    March 6, 2010

    Game after international breaks always makes me nervous.. I think we may see Puyol and Chiggy with Milito sub later on. and Bojan, Ibra and Pedro up front. Messi and Henry will come in later. my prediction, Barce 2 0 Almeria.

    • Jim
      March 6, 2010

      I’d like to see us settle the Henry thing once and for all. I still feel he can come onto a good stretch of games if he gets the playing time, although I accept that he’s done very little to justify this faith. He was poor in the international but he did get playing time and he was always going to be rusty given his limited playing recently so give him a chance tonight to build on that and react to Pep’s comments. I was kinda assuming that was why Pep said what he did.

      If we don’t, i don’t think we’ll see him at the tail end of the season in the big games. After his performance against Spain he also knows that his last World Cup could at least partly ruin his reputation if he doesn’t get playing time to get match tough so you’d think he’d be up for it.

  13. fcbfan
    March 6, 2010

    and good luck with the job interview Isaiah!

  14. AJ
    March 6, 2010

    Good luck isaiah! Tell us how it went…

  15. Helge
    March 6, 2010

    The whole BFB community is with you, Isaiah. Good luck 🙂
    And may the day be sweetened by a 5 point lead over the EE in about 11 hours of time. If that happens, I’ll have a looong party night.

    According to Sport, Pedro will play today. Ibra is also a certain starter, but who will be the 3rd? I can actually imagine Bojan to start and Messi to join the team for the 2nd half. Didn’t Pep recently say that Bojan and Pedro deserve more playing time? And Bojan should be given a chance to get his assist back that has been stolen from the ref last weekend.

    • Kari
      March 6, 2010

      Agreed. Good luck, Isaiah!

      Didn’t Bojan score twice against Almeria in this same fixture last season?


  16. Kari
    March 6, 2010

    Whoa, when I asked to be Hectored, I hadn’t thought I’d be Hectored twice 🙂 Anyway, my .02 for this match:

    No Pique which means we’ll be seeing either Milito (please!), Marquez (I shudder at the thought) or Txigrinski (whoa, when’s the last time he played?!).

    I hope Milito gets the nod (for his beastliness) butI also think the Puyol-Milito pairing is too much ownage for Almeria to take. I think our best CB pairings have to have balance–a destroyer and a passer, so to speak.
    i.e a pairing of Puyol-Pique/Marquez/Txigrinsky


    a pairing of Milito-/Pique/Marquez/Txigrinky. Still, I’m pulling for Milito, and Txigrinky to sub him after, knowing Pep, the 89th minute. Marquez, at this point, will be like reducing us to 10 men (sorry Kaiser, prove me wrong already, will ya?!)

    Pep on l’affaire Henry: “If he’s not playing, it’s maybe because, among other things, there are other players more inspired than him

    “I need him to have the same ambition that made him the best over many years.

    “He knows he has to improve, although I believe he IS better than he himself thinks. I am sure he’ll give us the best of himself over the next two months.”

    Very, very interesting. And by ‘interesting’ I mean “Henry is SO gone this summer”

    Line-up of: Valdes; Alves – Puyol – Milito – Maxwell; Xavi – Busi* – Iniesta; Messi – Ibra – Pedro! , anyone?

    *Me want YAYA! C’mon Pep! And he didn’t even play midweek

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