Liga Preview: Zaragoza – Barça, Sunday 4pm EST, GolTV
Apparently there’s still a league to compete in, though you wouldn’t know it from reading the daily rags, which are all focused on their omgcesctobarcaomg nonsense. I don’t even know who that is or what they’re talking about. I suppose I’ll have to figure it out before the 31st, though. Eh, there’s plenty of time.
It’s time to travel just over 300 kilometers (190 miles) pretty much due west to the city of Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon. It’s a smallish city, with just under 700,000 residents, but it’s steeped in history. In college I read The Song of Roland, like so many others have in their European history survey classes, which uses the city of Zaragoza as one of its plot devices. In the story, Charlemagne was aided by angels and divinity in general to sack the city in 777 in revenge for Roland’s death in the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and converted Zaragoza’s Muslim residents to Christianity. In reality Charlemagne never took Zaragoza, which remained a Muslim stronghold (though under various rulers) until 1118 when the Aragonese conquered the city from the Almovarids.
The Spanish Inquisition (which I’m sure totally came out of nowhere) made its mark on Zaragoza, which was the location of several “martyrdoms”, such as the famous murder of Pedro de Arbués in Zaragoza’s cathedral that sparked massive reprisals against the Jewish population accused of the crime that effectively ended the multiculturalism that had dominated the upper reaches of Zaragozan society for centuries. This led, I suppose one could read, to Zaragoza’s inquisitorial courts being stricter than most, but whatever the reason, large numbers of executions took place there.
Later, the city was besieged twice during the Napoleonic Peninsular War, including once where more than 50,000 defenders were killed. It eventually surrendered in 1809 to Napoleon’s forces (apparently the French just hate them some Zaragoza), but was liberated relatively quickly as Napoleon was swept out of Spain.
The city was once based mainly on agriculture, but is now floundering slightly in the modern economic world, with only its Opel factory a few miles outside of town putting it on the economic map. The city was host to the 2008 World’s Fair, which I guess is positive. Anyway, enough culture cause it’s getting boring. They’re all just plain old Spaniards, right? Right?
Real Zaragoza was founded in 1932 and they made their La Liga debut in in the 1939-40 season. They’ve never won the league (they were 2nd in 1974-75, 1 point ahead of Barça*), but have won the Copa del Rey 6 times, the most recent being in 03-04 when they beat RM’s galacticos through goals from Catalunya native and RM youth product Dani Garcia (who played for us from 1999 through 2003), this one guy named David Villa who you may have heard of, and the winner in the 111th minute coming from Argentine Luciano Galletti.
Their venerable ground, La Romareda, was opened on September 8, 1957, just 16 days before the Camp Nou first opened its doors. It can seat right around 34,500 and it’s pitch is listed as 107m x 68m, which is 2 meters longer than the Camp Nou’s and 4 meters narrower. That means it’s 284 square meters smaller than our pitch, though the width shouldn’t be a problem because, um, we’re really good and, they’re, well, read on…
Zaragoza entered their first match with us in 13th place and got a 6-1 lambasting at the Camp Nou for their troubles, with Keita netting a hat trick, Ibra grabbing 2, and Messi 1. They’re currently in 17th place, 3 points clear of the relegation zone, with 23 points to our 65. My preview of their visit was all about regaining our swagger and dismissing the idea of a “crisis” after our loss to Rubin Kazan, which we did with aplomb, but this match is about maintaining our current streak, which is 7 goals scored and none allowed in the last 2 matches. Zaragoza have drawn their last two (1-1 against Atleti and 0-0 at Santander), but they’re still fully capable of putting a hurting on us. It’s their house, after all.
Their leading scorer is actually a 3-way tie between Javier Arizmendi, Abel Aguilar, and Humberto Suazo, who all have 4 goals apiece. Angel Lafita has 3 goals and should be more dangerous than he currently is, but something’s going on with him. They also have Jermaine Pennant, who…well he sucks, so whatever. Sid Lowe’s Pennant watch is just sad at this point. 21 games, 0 goals and, really, very little impact.
Zaragoza: 6W-8D-12L (30GF 48GA)
Barça: 20W-2D-1L (64GF, 16GA)
Zaragoza: 4W-4D-4L (14GF 13GA)
Barça: 8W-4D-1L (27GF 8GA)
Our squad list: Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Txigrinski, Milito, Maxwell, Márquez, Jeffren, Yaya, Keita, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry, Pedro, Bojan.
The absence of Valdes is more worrisome than I would have imagined, but obviously the more important absence is Xavi. Keita is back, however and hopefully we’ll see him as a second half sub. If Busi really is 100% after picking up a small injury against Stuttgart, we should see the same midfield of Busi-Yaya-Iniesta. I expect Ibra to make a return to the starting lineup, but I could see Messi being pulled if he’s not 100%. Apparently he has some sort of a abscess in his mouth (the wording being used is flemón dental) which prevented him from training today. Still, he’s in the squad list, which is good.
Predicted lineup: Pinto, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell, Busi, The Yaya, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Pedro!
Obviously someone will have to step up in Messi’s absence, but I think that that person will be…wait for it…The Yaya. He had a terrific match against Stuttgart, which I think he’ll replicate against Zaragoza. He is, after all, an intergalactic force of good. And that has to count for something.
With RM winning (thanks to some bad reffing, apparently, not that Marca mentions it, though EMD and Sport were all over it), we need the three points to draw even in the league. I think we’ll get them. Official Prediction: 3-0. I would say 5325-0 because I think that the team should embody my devastation at Kansas’ loss tonight, but for some reason I don’t think they’ll notice…
Time: 9pm local time, 4pm EST/New York time, check your local time here
TV: In the US, the match will be on GolTV. Yay RayRay. Hey, that rhymes.
*It’s hard to believe, but Zaragoza ended up second with 38 points that year while champions Madrid had 50. Back then, a win was only worth 2 points, of course, but even at 3 points per win, Zaragoza would only have had 53 points to Madrid’s 70 and our 52. We’ve already earned 65 this year.