Liga Preview: Barça-Valencia, Sunday 2pm ESPN2HD/ESPN360
I have a thing against teams represented by oranges. Bitter, horrible memories associated with 2003 and the Syracuse-Kansas NCAA Men’s Division 1 basketball tournament championship game are really what keeps my hatred rolling. And the thing is, I kind of like Valencia in that secondary team sort of way. They’re fun to watch, generally play an open, flowing game. But I hate them. They are orange, after all.
And sure, they’re associated with bats, which Kevin discussed before, but that association is just a sleight of hand: los che are oranges and we all know it. They’re also an incredibly dangerous team that drew us at zeroes when we visited the Mestalla earlier this season—and yes, I recognize how funny it is that, as I discuss their scoring prowess, two of the most dangerous teams in the Primera had a scoreless draw. Anyone who watched that match, though, should know that it was surprising that no one scored and especially surprising that Valencia didn’t score.
Despite Barça’s upcoming Wednesday date with Stuttgart, this match isn’t until Sunday because Valencia had a Europa League match with Werder Bremen yesterday (Thursday),* which necessitates a non-Saturday date. So hopefully the snow that has inundated Barcelona is gone by then or, at the very least, the Camp Nou field is in good enough condition to facilitate some serious pass-and-move triangles.
Speaking of which: can we have some freakin’ pass-and-move triangles? It’s been a while, you know. Not that I’m upset or anything about this. Breath.
So, then, let’s compare the teams:
Barça: 19W-5D-1L (61GF, 16GA)
Valencia: 13W-8D-4L (42GF, 26GA)
Barça: 11W-1D-0L (34GF, 8GA)
Valencia: 7W-3D-3L (21GF, 15GA)
That is fairly suggestive that this should be a victory for Barça, but, as we all know, teams come to play us with everything they’ve got. Only that Thursday match with Werder Bremen will really give us any kind of advantage. We can probably outwork them for 90 minutes and get away with one, but Valencia are not one to “perdonar” (forgive) easy chances like other teams in La Liga. They will bury that which we give them—their misses in the Mestalla were anomalies—and they will make us pay dearly for any silly mistakes we make anywhere on the field. Yes, three teams have scored more goals they have and we are one of those three teams, but another way to look at it is that only three teams have scored more goals than they have. Only two teams have allowed fewer (Osasuna is tied with them) and sure, we’re one of them, but then again, Almería stole points off of us just last week.
Speaking of form coming in, both teams have recently lost to Atletico Madrid, with Valencia having been hammered 4-1 at the Calderon in a controversial match that resulted in punishment against the ref (who wasn’t anti-Valencia or anti-Atleti, but was instead just pathetically terrible). Then they drew 0-0 this past weekend against Racing and lost defender David Navarro to a red card. Because they’ve got a 4-point cushion over 4th-placed Mallorca (!) and 5th-placed Sevilla, they won’t be super desperate for points, but they’ll certainly be gunning for them. Our scalp is, of course, very prized in this post-sextuplet year.
As for us, we enter having lost to Atleti, then gone on to win matches against Racing and Malaga, then drawing away to Almería. While this slight dip in form has dropped us (temporarily) to second in the league (thanks, Sevilla), more importantly it has deprived us of both Guardiola on the sideline and Ibra on the field. Obviously terrible ref calls are part of the game and we should be able to win with only Guardiola’s cell-phone instructions (how is that legal?) and with Bojan and Pedro! up front alongside Messi (I’m assuming Henry will not play because of his recent Achilles problems).
We do, however, get back Pique, which is big, despite Puyol and Milito’s obvious talents. Before the Almería match last week, there were several commenters on this site that suggested Puyol and Milito are too similar to be effective. This is, perhaps, shown by the 2-2 final scoreline of that match, but I’m still not sure I totally buy it—I would just say that Pique is better than Milito. Pique, then, should replace one of those two players. I could easily see it being el Capitan, who has had back problems throughout the week, but he’s generally miraculously good to go when kickoff rolls around. Not that I’m suggesting he’s doping…or that owning sheep helps with injuries.
The major questions for us are going to be in midfield and attack. Given that we have a midweek encounter that Ibra is available for, I suspect that Bojan will get the start and at least most of, if not all, the available minutes. Some think that without Ibra we move more fluidly; I think that is true to a certain extent, but we’re also not as creative and blaming the lack of fluidity while he is on the field entirely on Ibra forgets a couple of important factors: 1) he’s incapable of playing by himself, thus some of the blame must be given to his teammates and 2) the people that we’re saying help move the ball around more fluidly have been in the system for, on average, their entire lives. That’s not an insignificant detail. It’s the reality of having canteranos playing a system ostensibly since birth.
Still, if we have a midfield of Busi-Xavi-Iniesta and a forward three of Bojan-Pedro!-Messi, we’ll have more “fluidity” but less ability to take the hard fouls that you know are coming from Marchena and company. And that, of course, leaves it up to the ref to either call the fouls or let them go, which means we’re at the mercy of someone else rather than controlling our own destiny. Naturally we’ll create chances, but we’ll also give the ball away needlessly more often with Bojan, Busi, and Pedro! on the field. Wouldn’t you feel more confident with Ibra on the field? I can’t see how you wouldn’t and that’s despite my love for Bojan.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Bojan, Pedro, Messi.
I know, I know. I can already hear what you’re thinking: Valdes in goal? Are you mad? But the thing is, I have confidence in VV.
Joking aside, this time around I’m trying to guess Guardiola’s lineup rather than put out who I would. You know that’s true because The Yaya isn’t out there—though he’s been off his game recently, for whatever reason—and I would also start Henry if he was healthy enough. I think the same is true of Guardiola, but we’ll have to wait and see about that. We also don’t tend to look forward to midweek matches by resting players, but instead actually start our midweek starters to give them game reps or whatever the theory there is (keep them from going stale?).
Something else worth considering is that Keita could make an appearance at some point after training with the first team on Friday for the first time in a month. That’s pretty great news for our quickly-tiring team. I don’t know that Guardiola will risk him this weekend, especially if he plans on using him against Stuttgart, but it’s possible that he’ll make a substitute appearance late in the game against Valencia, especially if we have the match well in hand.
TV: this bad boy is on ESPN2HD and ESPN360 in the US. Hells to the yeah.
Time: Sunday, 7pm local/Barcelona time; 11am Pacific/Puerto Vallarta (me!) time; check your local time here. Be aware of the time change in the US, spring forward is this Saturday night/Sunday morning.
*Yes, I’m writing this on Friday for a Sunday match. It’s called planning. Actually, it’s called me going on a short vacation over the next several days, so I’m writing things early, but whatever. Hush.
And now for your finale: