A Return to Normalcy: Barça – Athletic

What does the other half of this sign talk about???

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).

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. yay a preview!

    “Here is how 10 worldwide leagues rank in terms of the divide between the payroll of their richest and poorest teams.[…]”


    surprisingly la liga, w/their big two, is not on the list.

    the epl is, though ;^)

    1. I am surprised as well by La Liga’s lack of inclusion. I imagine that it’s wrong and that data is simply not available for La Liga. There’s no way that Xerez pays its players anywhere near 2 to 1 in average salary. For instance, Ibra makes 12 million a year (I think)–I bet that’s higher than Xerez’s combined salary.

      The article itself states “The report gathered the most recent available financial data from 10 of the world’s wealthiest sports leagues and determined how much parity they have in terms of team payroll.” meaning they either didn’t collect the info from La Liga or it wasn’t available. They didn’t collect from THE 10 wealthiest sports leagues, but rather 10 OF the wealthiest sports leagues.

  2. Shit. Three HUGE matches. Losing any one of them makes the season a bit funkier, right? I’d much rather not have this one right now.

    1. beating tenerife like a red-headed step child would have been awesome before the second leg of the arsenal tie 🙁

  3. I’m hoping for a Yaya – Marquez centerback pairing in this game.

    Milito will start Tuesday, without a doubt. Put out Yaya and Marquez and see who earns the right to start next to him.

  4. Video of Toure recent performance:
    Why this player doesn’t get more opportunities this season is nothing short of ridiculous.
    He’s better then both Sergi and Keita and could have prevented Arsenal late resurgence had he been on the field instead of Keita.
    Anyway I fear the coach will start Marquez on Tuesday at CB….

  5. Hey does anyone else approach a BFB preview with: “Hey there little long-ass Isaiah-post, how you doing…?”
    (Yaya-esqe cavernous god voice) “Oh I’m okay thanks for ask–aaargh you skipped down to the comments section without consuming my entire 100+ line greatness! …

    A mere “LOL” response would not do that paragraph justice. Happy Easter Blogero extraordinario.

    Ok back to my preview wheaties..I hope there are some more raisins.

    1. Hahaha hilarious.

      I always make sure I’m sitting down and that there isn’t anything I might have to do for a while. I prefer to have a beer with the preview, but when he gets them out in the middle of the day I have to settle for a cup of tea.

  6. I have to start paying more attention to your predictions… 2-2?!?!?! Are you kidding me?

  7. Any word on Iniesta with regard to the return with Arsenal yet ? I’m guessing that if we haven’t heard anything he’ll be kept for the classico anyway. I know we can beat Arsenal without him but I’m not sure about the EE in their own backyard.

    1. His injury is for about 10 days. He’s out for Arsenal, but he’ll be back for EE.

  8. I think Piqué will get the start just to cancel out the physical advantage Llorente has. So a Puyol-Pique-Milito-Maxwell back 4 for me

  9. Didn’t he also say they would win the treble…?


    This feels like last season when EE won 18 or something in a row and then got thrashed. Also, I get that the press is asking them question, but they really need to learn to shut their mouths. I thought Lyon taught them that 😀 .

  10. *http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/leagues/premierleague/arsenal/7541829/Arsenal-v-Barcelona-Theo-Walcott-halts-Spanish-fine-arts-lesson.html

    delayed, but excellent. massive games coming up beginning tomorrow. too tense to post any more, here’s to hoping i’ll feel better in 9 days.

    1. CurmudgeonJACK
      on April 01, 2010
      at 02:13 PM

      “Barcelona are a team of midgets with great centres of gravity.

      They are not great footballers at all when you compare them to the honest endeavour of the likes of John Terry or Matthew Upson. Messi wouldn’t show in the Premier league.

      I think they are vastly overrated”

      This is the type of people some of you guys are trying argue against. In the end, that’s what it boils down too…

    2. I’m sure Wayne Bridge is massively impressed by John Terry’s “honest endeavour”. 🙂

  11. Tim Stannard from LL on our CB situation:

    “Whilst the midweek clash against Arsenal may have been a very good night indeed for football fans all over the world who could swoon over the most insane opening 20 minutes of a game ever seen, it was not so hot for one particular Mexican defender.

    Gerard Piqué’s yellow card and the rather harsh red handed out to the peerless Carles Puyol sees the very much maligned Rafa Márquez set to start against Arsenal on Tuesday night.

    And this is sure to kick off a week of tutting, moaning and plain rudeness from Barcelona supporters who are not the most amorous of admirers of their Central American stopper.”

  12. The Liga is dulled down for me a bit this weekend, maybe the Arsenal Hype ?? not sure. but sure hope we win, no big deal. I saw no Pique in your predicted line-up… is he able to play? I like having abidal back one match before he can rape Walcott on the left next week. (just saying, maxell was the rapee last time, abidal is the rapER)

    Kevin, Do you really think he will sit Ibrah out? hmm.. doubt it.

    1. Okay, I’ve tried to stay quiet while the myth that Maxwell was “raped” by Walcott’s speed has grown in the posts. Just in the interests of keeping this real can someone point me to the times in the match when this happened?

      I’ll make it easy for you. I’ll give you the goal, despite the fact that Busi lost it when there was no need and we play with our FBs so high up the pitch that that always causes a problem and despite the fact that Puyol made no effort to prevent the ball being played inside the fullback which was the only danger.

      Other than that i can’t find a single occasion when Walcott managed to get past Maxwell with his pace. This was partly down to decent although not great efforts from Keita and Busi ( who by the way were both left for dead at times by Walcott ) but had Maxwell covering. We actually handled Walcott pretty well . . . . . because he’s not very good. His delivery is usually poor so if you let him go on the outside he doesn’t usually produce much.

      In general I think Maxwell has had a raw deal from quite a few of the posters here. At first it was that he gave corners away. I missed a few pre season games so maybe that was when it happened but he hasn’t done that at all to my knowledge since he got a run in the side. I can’t remember anyone citing him as being at fault for a goal scored against us – remind me if i’m wrong. He has a lovely touch on the ball and is actually getting forward now much better than when he started.

      The problem to me seems to be for some that he’s not Abidal. Well, we’ll see when Abidal comes back. I, as will be well enough known in these parts, don’t rate Abidal as any more than an decent all round defender. To me, he has played one outstanding game and is usually reliable. He also has some, but not blistering pace which probably makes him a better choice against Walcott but I have serious doubts about his positional play and pointed out various examples earlier in the season and playing Walcott is more about your starting poistion and cover than pace.

      Whatever your views on the two it is a bit harsh to say that Maxwell has let us down at all since he came into the side.

      Note – Before we leap into exaggerating what I’ve said. I don’t dislike Abidal or think he’s a poor player. I merely don’t subscribe to any god-like qualities on his part. I’ll be happy to be proved wrong this week but those calling for his introduction are taking a chance with the amount of time he has been out.

    2. Alright Jim. You’re entitled to your opinion.

      All I’ll say is six words:

      Abidal. H1N1. owned. Sevilla. January. owned


  13. Oh, and I know EE talk is the last thing we need, but honestly, this is gold. Again, it’s from Tim:

    “With the Champions League being two very dirty words indeed in the Madridista press, both Marca and AS have filled their pages this week with utter nonsense including reports of team dinners (without Karim Benzema, of course) that will surely lead to Cibeles glory and Guti’s latest injury – his 10th of the season, for those keeping count.

    But in an interesting but fairly pointless tangent, a scuffle broke out between the two papers on Cristiano Ronaldo’s choice of mouth protection.

    The ‘ever happy to praise the Portuguese ponce at any opportunity’ Marca revealed the scintillating fact that the forward wore a boxing style gum shield in Atlético Madrid that can only have enhanced his abilities to fire shots into the stands and not pass to Gonzalo Higuaín.

    However, AS hit back the following day with the story that the gum shield was an abject failure and it is a hippy-hoppy ‘power balance’ pulsometer that Ronaldo wears on his wrist that it is the key to his success, before happily revealing where these quack devices can be bought.

    It’s enough to make you wish that Madrid had beaten Lyon after all.

    LL Prediction – away win”

  14. BS.com fail (what else is new?):

    “Energetic right-back Dani Alves is suspended.

    Probable Starting XI: Valdes; ALVES, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell; Toure, Xavi, Keita; Messi, Ibrahimovic, Pedro”

  15. I don’t get what wenger is talking about when he says he not emulating Barcelona’s style of play is actually taking a leaf out of the Dutch National team of the 70s.. Wasn’t Michels our coach in the early 1970s and then later coached the Dutch National team in 1974??? which means he brought this style to our play before he took it to the Dutch?

    Coming from someone as respected as Wenger seems very very childish.

    1. Maybe, maybe not.

      At the end of the day though, I don’t really mind/care if he’s ‘copying our style of play’. I think that’s how the game should be played. If Wenger wants to play the same way, and was inspired by our treble, then by all means, he can adopt the 4-3-3. It’s not like it’s been copyrighted or anything 😀 .

      The more teams play that way, the better, I say.

  16. the problem you have with muniain is the same problem i have typing isaiaiaiaiah…damnit…..isaih….not quite….

    did you see what i did there?

    1. goddamnit. i finished the sentence and saw you pointed out the same thing. sometimes you need to let me be the first to make the joke

  17. Does GolTV have any Barcelona games this season. It feels like ages since I watched a Barca game there. I like the HD on ESPN and although he is an acquired taste to most I miss hearing Ray Hudson do the games. Plus I don’t speak Spanish.

    P/S delurker here

    1. GolTV is just taking request from their two commentators. We all know Ray and Phil love Real. Ray has admitted that is the team he prefers in La Liga, although he loves how we play and his favorite players are Messi, Ibra, Iniesta, and Xavi and I know for sure Phil loves them with all of his ridiculous comments.

    2. Tell me about it. I don’t get ESPN Deportes (I do get GolTV, though), because my service either makes you pay for ALL the Latin channels or none, which I have no intention of doing (regardless of being, uhhh, Latin).

      Similarly, I miss out on Fox Sports en Espanol, so during the Champions League, I used to miss out on Barca-Inter or AC Milan-EE games because CLAM* was playing random Eastern European Team X.

      I just hate how they buy the rights and just dump the games on their Latin channels. I know it’s business and all, but still.

      *Chelsea Liverpool Arsenal Manchester

    3. Welcome Cindy!

      Tell me about it! I don’t have GOLTV, but I do have a reliable stream for it that has good quality. The last couple of weeks has all been EE and I’m just as annoyed. While I don’t miss Phil, RayRay is, well, RayRay 🙂 .

      Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that I have GOLTV CANADA ( utter, utter crap BTW. 85% of the channel is about Toronto FC and the MLS, but meh. Better than nothing) for a month on free preview. They are showing the game, but the original isn’t. I can only surmise that a “foreign” commentator will take over the game.

  18. I am in new York for the weekend, i was thinking of checking put nevadas for the first time. Hope to see some bfb peeps there.

  19. Ooh! Poor chocolate easter bunny 🙁 Mine is still alive ^^

    I’d like to see Yaya and Milito as CB, not because I don’t trust in Yaya playing a perfect match as a CB without any preparations, but because that would be a huge hint for the Arsenal match – and I FEAR to see Marquez there on Tuesday…

  20. If I was a betting girl, I would include Abidal in the starting XI for sure.

    I think Maxwell starting against Arsenal was his reward for playing so many matches relatively solid. I think Pep was thinking ‘Alright, I’ll let him play this big match, but from here on in, it’s all Abidal”.

    Dude, Abidal can back the same day as when he supposedly had H1N1, and completely dominated his flank. W.T.F. 😀

    I hope Yaya plays, and I have a feeling that he will.

  21. Oh ho ho! Chelsea is up 2-1 right now in the 85th min.

    Joe Cole opened the scoring in the first half with a backheel. Then Drogba scored what looked like an offside goal in the 79th, but Marcheda (what happened to that kid anyway?) scored to pull one back in the 81st.

    Now United are dominating. Deco’s had a solid game for Chelsea.

  22. I’m going to miss the game tonight cos i have to go for midnight easter mass. Is there any site where i can watch the full game delayed? URGENT!! PLEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSEEEEEEEEEE!

  23. We really made Walcott look better than he actually is, it has to be said.

    Watching Arsenal v Wolves second half, he really is just fast. He hasn’t been able to cross the ball to save his life…so far.

  24. Arsenal score! Bendtner in last minute of stoppage time against 10-men Wolves!Looks like they’re still in the title race.

    At least they’ll be in a competition after Tuesday 😀 .

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