La Liga Preview: Real Madrid – Barça, Saturday 4pmEST, GolTV, ESPN Deportes, ESPN360
It’s here. Finally. The match that was billed as the maker-or-breaker of La Liga, as the clash of opposite styles and institutional approaches, as the be-all and end-all of this whole sporting season. Naturally it’s none of those, but it sure is exciting anyway! El Clásico is here and so is your preview. Rejoice!
We’ll start of with the histrionics, naturally enough: Match of the Century! Clash of the Titans (part 2?)! Messi vs Cristiano! Guardiola vs Pellegrini! Laporta vs Voldemort Perez! It’s almost as if there shouldn’t be fans in the stands, but rather the world’s largest orchestra playing Ride of the Valkyries for 90 minutes. Wagner would, no doubt, himself be conducting. It’s that damned important, people! So, yeah, apparently there’s some hype surrounding this match.
A more measured take on the match is somewhat hard to come by, but here’s the best I can do: Match of the Century! Clash of the Titans! Messi vs Cristiano! Aaaaaaaaah! It’s the freakin’ clásico, people! There’s no time for measured takes on things; morbo y mas morbo, por fa! Oh, there’s something we can talk about in measured tones: morbo is an undefinable word and, as such, only Phil Ball can really let us now what it’s all about:
“It [morbo] entails a lot of slippery little notions that just won’t rub shoulders with a convenient English synonym…Most treat it as a noun and translate it as something like ‘disease’, which is hardly appropriate to this context…It’s not merely that they [Real Madrid and Barcelona] hate each other with an intensity that can truly shock the outsider, but that each encounter between them always has a new ingredient…it feeds off itself and keeps growing until it becomes a self-regulating and self-perpetuating organism…once the morbo is up and running it can never die.” (p17)
Yeah, that’ll do. It makes you chew your fingernails to nubs days before the match, when all you’re doing is nervously wondering what’s going to happen. It makes you yell vile things at anyone wearing a white shirt on the streets of New York–that they ignore you because, well, it’s New York and you might not be the only guy on the color-coding his insanity only urges you to greater lengths to get their attention. It makes your girlfriend happy for the first time ever that she’s got class on Saturday so she’ll have to miss your pacing and muttered obscure references to Ghostbusters 2 concerning Figo: Figo the Cruel, Figo the Torturer, Figo the Despised, Figo the Unholy! followed quickly by obscenities–you filthy rat! you dirty, rotten, scum-eating–okay, yeah. See? Morbo.
Not that ESPN is really paying attention to any of this. ESPNHD is showing the University of North Carolina’s Spring Football Game, which is, to let those of you who aren’t familiar with this concept know, a game played between the offense and defense of the same school. For like 30 minutes. Meaning not only is it not a game between two different teams, it’s not even close to a full length game. And you can’t hit the quarterback. And that’s airing instead of el clásico. Because that makes sense. ESPN2HD is showing repeats of the 2009 World Series of Poker Maine Event. I’m sure they’ll make a ratings killing with those shows. They’ve instead relegated it to ESPN Deportes, which is fine, except, obviously, it’s not in English and they’re showing fucking spring football games instead. Poker isn’t even a sport!
I think I can hold it together long enough to give you some statistics, but we’ll have to see. Check em:
RM: 25W-2D-3Losses like whores–sorry! (83GF 26GA)
Barça: 24W-5D-1L (75GF, 19GA)
RM: 15W-0D-0L (50GF, 13GA)
Barça caaaaampeooooon–sorry again: 10W-4D-1L (32GF, 10GA)
RM: Gonzalo Higuain (24). Oh, were you expecting someone else?
Barça: Lionel Andres Messsssiiii (26, current Pichichi, European Golden Shoe, and top scorer in the Champions League, not that anyone is counting).
Blatantly Cherry-Picked Statistics:
Zamora trophy: Victor Valdes (Barça, fyi) with 0.63 goals allowed per game.
Fairplay Records: Barça (66 points), RM (73). You filthy, dirty merengues! Learn to play without fouling!
Fewest red cards in the league (discounting Sporting and Getafe): Barça with 4, 5 of which were undeserved. RM has 5, those filthy, dirty madrikitis!
Fewest goals allowed: Barça (19)
Fewest away goals allowed: Barça (10)
Best away record: Barça (34pts)
Best away goal difference: Surprise! Barça (+12)
Okay, now it’s just getting absurd. Let’s move on…
Highlights of the last one, to get you prepared (the full match can be found here):
On to the squad lists, which are obviously extremely important to this match.
RM: Casillas, Dudek, Arbeloa, Albiol, Ramos, Garay, Marcelo, Metzelder, Xabi Alonso, Gago, Lass, Diarra, Guti, Van der Vaart, Granero, Benzema, Higuain, Raul, Cristiano Ronaldo
Barça: Valdés, Pinto, Piqué, Puyol, Alves, Milito, Márquez, Maxwell, Chygrynskiy, Yaya, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Jeffren, Messi, Henry, Pedro, Bojan.
The most notable absences are Ibra and Kaka, both of whom miss due to injury. Abidal is also out, but that was a foregone conclusion after he went down against Arsenal. I think this means that we’ll see roughly the same squad that faced us at the Camp Nou, but with Kaka and Pepe replaced by lesser players (such as Granero and Garay or perhaps Marcelo out wide and Sergio Ramos in the middle). In my interview with him yesterday, Adam Bader says that he expects some tactical changes, which Ronaldo attacking mainly down their left flank to keep Dani Alves honest. I disagree and believe he’ll stay with the right side more often than not simply because Abidal’s speed will be missing. Maxwell can certainly do a good job, but Abidal is obviously our first choice at LB.
As for our squad, we’re definitely going to reshuffle, especially compared to our Athletic lineup. Pique’s return to the lineup really bolsters our defense, I think, even though both Marquez and Milito did fairly wonderful jobs against Arsenal. So, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell as our back line. The midfield is, of course, a question. I’m suspecting that we’ll see Iniesta’s return, meaning we’ll have Busi, Xavi, and Iniesta in the lineup. That does sacrifice Keita, who I think could do very well in what will be a physical match (Lass and Xabi Alonso don’t keep the boot out), so I could also see all 4 of those players starting. The front line, if my predicted midfield is put out there, would be Pedro, Bojan, Messi.
So, let’s discuss all that, very quickly. Henry doesn’t make the cut because he hasn’t played since the Arsenal debacle when he was timid and didn’t look like he was up for it. So he sits behind Pedro, who has been working his tush off and deserves to start. Bojan gets the nod simply because, well, there’s nobody else. I didn’t think he was all that wonderful against Arsenal, but he worked hard and that’s a huge part of the battle. Henry just doesn’t deserve to start over anyone in our first team squad and probably not over most of the kids in our B squad, despite his obvious qualities. And because I just said that, Guardiola will start him.
Okay, so, it’s time to get hyped again.
AAAAAH I AM SO HYPED RIGHT NOW. It’s so on, baby. Time to forget about tactics–that’s Guardiola’s job–time to forget about statistics–they’re meaningless anyway–time to forget about pants–they’re constricting–wait, okay, no, no, don’t forget your pants. The bar might turn you away. Forget everything except the lyrics:
Tenim un nom el sap tothom:
Barça, Barça, Baaarça!
If you’re a madridista reading this and you’re headed to the Bernabeu to watch tomorrow, don’t forget your white hankie cause you’ll need to be waving it in surrender and abject hatred at your squad come full time. Mooooorbooooo. Obviously it would be stupid for Madrid to sack their coach or sell their players if they don’t win any titles this year (they won’t–win any, that is), but man, seeing those surrender flags waving in the Bernabeu and the whistles raining down on the players clad in white is just so…refreshing. I mean, not that it’s ever happened before:
Official Prediction: you heard it on the podcast and I’m going to stick with it. 0-3, hattrick by Messi. Talk about stopping him all you want, madridistas, but until you actually do–and that means neutralize him and keep him from shooting or controlling the match–you should learn to appreciate how wonderful the little giant is.
Time: Saturday 10pm Madrid/local, 4pm EST/New York, check your local time here.
TV: This match is on ESPN Deportes, ESPN360, and GolTV, so that you can hear Ray Hudson burst a blood vessel at some point during the second half. That guy needs to relax…says the guy yelling at people in the streets.
Weather: ~60F (~15.5C), clear skies, 0% chance of rain. 30-40% humidity. Should be a perfect night for some football.
And there you have it folks. Visca el Barça!