Liga Preview: Villarreal – Barelona, Saturday 4pmEST, GolTV
It’s always tough to refocus on the league after being bounced from the Champions League, especially when the hyperbole (Mourinho is a genius!) is taken to the extreme like it has been by several typically astute and intelligent writers (from The Guardian to Zonal Marking on down to personal friends). But that is neither here nor there in the greater scheme of things for a Barça fan because if Mourinho leaves Inter and moves to the Bernabeu, we’ll get to see this “genius” every day next season and judge him on our own; we have a league to win anyway and The Special One can shove it.
We head to Villarreal, against whom we’ve recently had some trouble winning, including a 1-1 draw in the Camp Nou in the first half of the season. That match (Kevin’s review here, highlights here), was a strange one and it included Jonathan dos Santos starting and Iniesta coming in off the bench for him. This time around we’re taking little Thiago Alcantara with us, perhaps because JDS is currently injured or perhaps because Thiago has proven his worth to Pep. Whatever the reasons, here is our squad list:
Valdés, Pinto, Puyol, Márquez, Gabi Milito, Chygrynskiy, Piqué, Alves, Maxwell, Xavi, Busquets, Keita, Yaya, Thiago, Jeffren, Bojan, Messi, Pedro, Henry, Ibrahimovic
Note that Xavi is included after having trained normally today. Yesterday he was sidelined because of a slight calf problem, but that seems to have resolved itself and he’ll start. Puyol is back with the squad as well after having been suspended for the CL match on Wednesday. Otherwise, it’s just Iniesta and Abidal that are missing from the first team. Apparently Abidal wasn’t really ever close to fit for the Inter match, which is unfortunate because I think he makes a big difference for us with his pace and understanding. That said, Maxwell is fully capable of being the rock-solid player he’s been for the last couple of months (he has 4 more appearances than Abidal overall and 7 more in the league). Iniesta is a loss, of course, but I have full faith in our midfield to dominate this match.
There’s usually a hangover from the kind of loss we suffered on Wednesday, but I think the squad can pull it together for 90 minutes, even if it’s against as good a squad as Villarreal. But who is the Yellow Submarine these days? They’re currently 6th in the table (15W-7D-12L; 49GF 40GA), but they’re rather magnificent at home: 13W-2D-2L (33GF, 14GA) which tells me that they’re just like Mallorca. And we beat Mallorca at the ONO Estadi. And that tells me we’re fully capable of beating Villarreal. Their top scorer is Nilmar with 11, followed by Rossi with 8 and Joseba Llorente with 7. They’re a dangerous crew, but they’re also not the most talented team, they just work hard and know their tactics well (both commendable things).
Their 2 home losses have come against Real Madrid (0-2) and Osasuna (0-2). They out-possessed Osasuna, but were down a man for 55 minutes against RM and still only lost by 2 because of a late penalty (it was 0-1 when Gonzalo was sent off). I see no reason why we can’t win 0-2 and make a trend of this. While we’re probably a bit tired (Guardiola says we’re not) and we might be a bit depressed (Xavi says we’re focused), there is no reason whatsoever to hold back during the last 4 matches we have in front of us.
This is it. La recta final. This is the homestretch, this is the final turn and the straightaway to back-to-back Liga titles. This is our chance to unleash hell on Villarreal and the rest of the league. This is our chance to show them that you can beat us once, but you cannot beat us twice. It is time to get our blood up, to make the league cower once and for all. There is nothing left: if we lose this, we lose the league. And that, of course, we cannot do.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Yaya, Keita, Xavi, Pedro, Ibra, Messi.
There is no tomorrow, so do not let fatigue creep in. There is only Villarreal and there is only ourselves to blame if we lose. Put our best team out there and let them do their thing: crush. I have excluded Busi from the lineup and will continue to exclude him until the end of the season. It is the punishment he deserves not only for his embarrassing crap from Wednesday, but also for his lack of productivity in other on-the-field situations. Yaya deserves to start. Pep must see that or, unfortunately, we are doomed to repeating the mistakes of the San Siro that have cost us the Champions League final (and that’s the truth).
Excuses are for babies and, besides Busi, we don’t have any of those. Take that Busi. See if you ever dive again after such a hiding from me. So, the point is: we have to go out and we have to do our thing and no refs and no others are in charge of this. It’s just us. It’s just Barça and our next opponent. It’s us scoring more than they do and doing it beautifully. It’s just us playing with joy and passion, with the knowledge that we are a team, that our next pass, our next flourish of skill, is another piece in the wonderful puzzle that is Barça, that it is about playing, that it is about going out and being who we are, not who others say we should be. It is about results, but it is also about caring how we get those results, it’s about doing unto others and we’d like to see done unto us. It is about open, attacking play. It is about that moment you realize you’re a Barça fan because you can’t get the rhythm, the drumbeat of tiki-taka out of your head, out of your heart, out of your feet. That’s all I ask. Is that so much?
Leo Messi, our pichichi hasn’t scored for a few matches, so is this his time to shine once again? Well–let’s see. I’m going to say no. I think we’ll win, but it won’t be through Messi putting one in the back of the net. Official Prediction: 1-2, we go up 2 through Pedro and Ibra (yup, you read it here), and then give up a late, stupid goal that has most of us furious with the squad. Whatever, let’s welcome the month of May with three points, shall we?
Time: 10pm Local/Barcelona; 4pm EST/New York; check your local time here.
TV: In the US, this match will be on GolTV
Weather: ~63F (~17C), 30% chance of rain
Unleash hell, boys, but maybe I should say unleash heaven instead. Visca el Barça!