Liga Preview: Barça – Athletic Bilbao, Saturday 2pm EST, ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360
A note on the time, before anything else: Europe has now had their daylight savings time, so we’re back to 6 hours of difference between here (New York) and there, which means that instead of a 3pm kickoff, it’s a 2pm kickoff on the east coast. The game is at 8pm local time. Check your local time here.
After an emotional week, it’s back to La Liga and all its glories. This is a huge match for us because it comes right before two titanic matches that could–and yes, this is how we’re rolling today–sink us in both our secondary European endeavor and our primary objective of La Liga. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect to win either, but I know we can and I hope we do. But, as with all things, first things first: Athletic Bilbao has come to town.
I like playing Athletic Bilbao. What I mean by that, is that they always give us a tough game and they’re always up for it, which is fun to watch. I’m not against our team being challenged and I’m not against the team being pushed to the limits. I am, of course, against the Malaga-style whacking to make it possible for us to be pushed to the limits, but Bilbao is generally a class above that. Sure, they have their hatchet men, but they’re not any worse than Gaby Milito’s occasional scything, which, while hard tackles, are almost always fair. Weligton (booo) is the opposite of that.
The last time we played them, I lost most of my preview to a router problem. I’m currently plugged directly into the modem, so you don’t have to worry about that happening again. I am still at war with my router, which has somehow survived the winter and my constant fiddling with it. And now that you know what I spend my time doing while not writing about Barça…I also reviewed the match at their place (San Mames), which ended 1-1 after a goal by Alves and a goal by Toquero a few minutes later. We blew that match much as we blew chances in our last match and eventually cost ourselves the game with some bad defensive work (and good offensive work by the other team, of course).
And much like last time, we’ll be fielding a team that has some makeshift parts. Last time, we put out Valdes, Alves, Chygrynskiy, Pique, Maxwell, Busi, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro. Kind of a strange lineup and one that I do not expect to be repeated. Chygrynskiy has been relegated to the very back of the bench, it would appear, and with his inability to play in the Champions League* I don’t expect him to be in the lineup that is basically a preparation for Arsenal’s visit on Tuesday.
Last time we met, they fielded Gorka, Amorebieta, Ustaritz, Koikili, Iraola, Javi Martinez, Orbaiz, Yeste, Gurpegui, Llorente, Susaeta. Of those, Orbaiz is not in their squad list (below). They subbed on Toquero, Gabilondo, and Oscar de Marcos. Of those, only de Marcos isn’t in their squad list. So then, their squad list:
Iraizoz, Toquero, Koikili, Ustaritz, Amorebieta, David López, Llorente, Gabilondo, San José, Armando, Susaeta, Iraola, Gurpegui, Castillo, Javi Martínez, Iturraspe.
If your eyes are good, between a lot of consonants, you’ll notice that there are several vowels missing: Iker Muniainananannaaaa. Wait, no, that’s not quite right. Let me try that again. Iker Munaianianan. Dammit. Muniain. There we go. Iker Muniain. It’s not really that hard, actually, but the last i always gets me. Now I know why no one can spell Isaiah correctly. Not that that makes me forgive you. Yeah, you know who you are. I’m watching you and your spellings of my name like a hawk. A hawk with glasses cause it has astigmatism.
I also had a chocolate easter bunny for breakfast so perhaps that explains some of my writing. Do any of you talk to your bunnies while you eat them? Like, “Hey there little bunny, how you doing…?” (high pitched bunny voice) “Oh I’m okay thanks for ask–aaargh you ate my face! Why would you do that?!”….No, you don’t? Oh, well, uh, neither do I. How weird would it be if I did?
Anyway, without Muniain’s presence, they’ll be a bit more physically solid, especially with Fran Yeste coming back from his yellow card accumulation suspension last week. Also coming back is Iñaki Muñoz. I just Wikipediaed him praying that his second last name would have an ñ in it, but alas, it’s just Oroz. Not even an accent. He’s just coming back from a severe ankle injury and if he plays, it’ll be his first action of the season. His ankle injury required two surgeries and has kept him from playing since August. Ouchies. Do cheer him if he comes on, but only as he comes on. Then growl at him and demand that The Yaya erases him. Just not in a mean way. In a very nice, gentle, Yaya-demolishing-the-world kind of way. You know how it is.
And that, actually, brings me to the question of our central defense. Will we see Marquez and Milito? Will we see Yaya and Milito? Will we see something I haven’t even thought of? Jeffren and Pinto? I mean, we’ve got to prepare for a Pique-and-Puyol-less night on Tuesday, so do we show our cards early and get some playing time together for the new-fangled lineup or do we just go out there and kick normal ass and deal with what we’ve got to deal with on Tueday on Tuesday and not before? With Alves out for yellow card accumulation, we’ll most likely have Puyol on the wing, especially considering that he won’t be available for Tuesday (not that I have a problem with that).
Our only absences are the aforementioned Alves and the injured Iniesta, who will be replaced by Jonathan dos Santos in the squad list. That means, of course, that Abidal is with us again and even though he didn’t even make the bench against Arsenal, I think he’ll get the start against Athletic. The reason I think this is that he’s had a few more days to rest up and recuperate all the more, but he needs match time to get back into the groove before facing such a stern test as Arsenal’s wingers. He may not go the full 90, but we’ll have to see about that. He’s not typically the guy you substitute if he’s not hurting, so hopefully he can go the full 90, be ready for the full 90 against Arsenal, and go the distance against Madrid next weekend, but perhaps that is asking too much of him so soon off an injury. It’s not that I don’t trust Maxwell (I appear to have a lot more faith in him than others), it’s that I think he must be exhausted after so many matches in a row. He’s not 22 anymore, after all.
Speaking of 22-year olds, Messi missed Thursday’s training session with a migraine, according to the official site, but he’s back in training and appears to be 100%. I did not know he suffered from migraines. Perhaps it was a one off situation like the time I got one while working in 135F (~57C) heat in a sealed attic. You can see the pain coming. It’s weird. Like a tidal wave of pain that crashes over you and just blanks your mind for a while, but not in a good way. It’s one of those things that when someone says “I have a migraine” I’m like “Okay, bye” and leave them in their dark room. My mother gets them, for instance. So, I hope it is just a one-off for him, not because I want him to play for us all the time, but because they suck and I don’t wish them upon my worst enemy.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Puyol, Marquez, Milito, Abidal, Busi, Keita, Xavi, Henry, Ibra, Messi
That’s the lineup I expect to be out there, but not necessarily the one I would put out there. I’m not sure how one should approach this one, but I could imagine Yaya starting in defense and Pedro starting up front again. And of course, if Ibra needs rest, then Bojan up front as well. Hmm.
I think we’ll pile on the pressure here, not that Racing will do us any favors by beating or drawing with Madrid. Oh, yeah, I’m sure Sergio Canales will try his damndest to score a hat trick…of own goals maybe. Whatever, I think we’re reaching our peak at the right moment and we’ll see Messi come back from a fairly complacent game against Arsenal looking to put some distance between himself and Higuain in the pichichi race (he has 25, Pipita has 23).
I haven’t even mentioned Fernando Llorente yet, have I? He’s their leading scorer with 12 and a guy we’ll have to keep an eye on. He’s big as hell and fully capable of destroying a defense. That could be a good argument for putting Yaya out there to keep him under wraps.
Official prediction: 3-1, goals by Messi and, you know, what, let’s do it, Milito. Yeah. You heard it here first, folks.
Don’t forget to update your fantasy rosters to reflect that Dani Alves is out.
TV: In the US the match will be on ESPN Deportes/ESPN 360.
Time: Local/Barcelona 8pm, EST/New York 2pm, check your local time here.
And now I’m going to go walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Love the good weather.
*He is cup-tied, which means that he participated in the Champions League as a member of Shakhtar Donetsk when they were involved in CL qualifiers in August. His participation as a sub in what was ultimately a loss and a failure to qualify for the group stage has kept him out of our CL squad for the entire year and was the reason that I (wrongly) suspected we wouldn’t sign him this season. Apparently Guardiola is convinced that he’s worth the time and effort. I’m not convince, of course, but I haven’t seen him play much (888 minutes total in 12 appearances, 2 of which were substitutions totaling 17 minutes).