Liga Preview: Barcelona – Tenerife, Tuesday 2pm, GolTV
Before Saturday’s game, I exhorted the boys in blaugrana to unleash hell on Villarreal and to a certain extent they did just that. It was refreshing to see a game that wasn’t all hard tackles and closed space, but instead was full of one-touch passing and attacking moves by both sides (gasp!). Obviously our goals made it a little easier to accept some of the defensive frailties that led to Villarreal’s best chances, though I still don’t understand what happened on their goal and I still don’t know what Valdes was thinking with his Zambrotta-esque clearance to the wrong team. Fortunately, those are fairly easily corrected mistakes (says the guy in his house almost 4,000 miles away), so I’m not too worried about them in the immediate future.
That future is, of course, the arrival of Tenerife at the Camp Nou. It would be a tragic mistake to take the Canarian outfit lightly, despite their points haul (roughly 2/5 our own–35 to 90), despite their abysmal away record (6pts in 17 matches), and despite their prior loss to us in their home stadium. This will not be an easy encounter because they are fighting relegation with everything they have. Sure, the gulf in class is obvious, but if Osasuna can get within one horrendous miss from downing Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, there is no doubt in my mind that taking the day off will cause us to lose the league. And that would be some fun payback for the merengues whose memories go back far enough to remember Tenerife “stealing” the league from the capitaleños.
Matches like that remind us all that we have to fight until the end and never consider it done until the trophy is in our cabinet. We’re not there yet. 9 points remain on the table and only 1 separates us from Madrid, who have the luxury or the curse (depending on how you look at it) of playing on Wednesday with our result already known. We currently have the league lead and that means we hold our own destiny in our hands, which is perfect. Win out and we are champions. There is no margin for error here, despite Madrid’s visit to the colossal fortress that is the ONO Estadi (which we breached, but just barely). If, and that’s a huge if, Madrid loses or draws on Wednesday, we’ll be primed for the title, but we cannot rely on their follies to gift us anything. We have to fight through and stay focused on our own matches.
Barça: 28W-6D-1L (87GF, 21GA)
Tenerife: 9W-8D-18L (37GF, 67GA)
Barça: 16W-1D-0L (49GF, 10GA)
Tenerife: 1W-3W-13L (13GF, 40GA)
It’s the best home record against the worst away record, the overall goal difference versus the worst. Only Espanyol and Deportivo have scored fewer away goals than Tenerife (9 and 12, respectively; Tenerife are tied with Valladolid at 13–we play Valladolid at the Camp Nou on the final day) and only RM has scored more home goals than we have (55 to 49 with a game in hand). No one has allowed fewer goals at home than we have (10) and no one has allowed more than Tenerife (40). This bodes well, of course, but it means nothing come gametime, when we have to put our foot on the gas pedal and not let up until the final whistle. Guardiola himself has said he remembers the terrible first 10 minutes we had against them in their stadium and the danger that they presented. Fortunately we didn’t concede and we ended up romping all over them in a most-undeserved way. So:
Their leading scored is Nino (Juan Francisco Martinez Modesto, if you’re not into nicknames), who has 13 goals on the season and was last year’s Segunda Division Pichichi (and Zarra) winner. He’s obviously capable of scoring goals and shutting him down along with their midfielder Alejandro Alfaro, who has 7 goals, will be a big step towards winning the match. Their squad list includes both players: Sergio Aragoneses, Luis García, Marc Bertrán, Ezequiel Luna, Culebras, Manolo Martínez, Héctor, Pablo Sicilia, Mikel Alonso, Ricardo, Román, Richi, Juanlu, Kome, Ayoze, Alfaro, Nino, Omar, Ángel. They love players with just one name, it would appear (or perhaps it’s cultural? Pedro, a Canarian, is known by just one name as well).
Our squad practiced as almost a full unit today, with only Andres Iniesta missing. Abidal’s status is still unclear at the moment, but if he isn’t available for the match tomorrow, I don’t think he should play against Sevilla regardless of his fitness levels. I think he’s a better LB than Maxwell, but Max has been fantastic after being forced to step in full time and I don’t want to underestimate how much it means to a back line to play together on a regular basis. If Abidal can get 90 minutes against Tenerife, I’m fine with him playing against Sevilla, but if not, we’ll need our back line to be fully synced in order to get out of the Sanchez Pizjuan with 3 points. No rust can be evident or we will lose to the likes of Luis Fabiano and Freddie Kanoute.
Thankfully–and I say this grimly, not joyfully–Busi is suspended for the match because of yellow card accumulation (the second yellow supposedly shown him during the Villarreal match was instead shown to Joseba Llorente, but Busi is still a jackass for not just subbing off). That means Yaya will start at DM along with Xavi and Keita, assuming that Xavi, whose calf muscle problems will not go away, will start. I can imagine Guardiola gambling here and putting Xavi on the bench to rest him, but I don’t know if that’s the smartest thing to do simply because it would require Thiago Alcantara to get his first start of the season.
Pep could do something completely radical, of course: Pique at DM with Puyol and Milito at CBs or Milito and Chygrynskiy. That would allow Yaya to play the Xavi and Keita to continue his box-to-box invisible enforcer role. Up front I expect the return not only of Ibra, but also of Henry, whose combined success against Xerez should be enough to inspire Guardiola to pick them again. Because Tenerife is fighting for survival, they’ll have to come out of their shell a bit to get some goals, which means we should be able to cut them to pieces if we create space through our midfield. That means Messi playing the way we’ve unintentionally become accustomed to (little flicks over the top like his goal against RM or his second goal against Villarreal) and Ibra playing the way he did against Xerez, floating sideways and facilitating using his passing skills rather than attempting to make diagonal runs (his goal against Xerez is the perfect example of his ability to find space when he’s not the focal point of an attack–but more on that later in the week).
So, my proposed lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Yaya, Keita, Xavi, Henry, Ibra, Messi.
My “Peppy” lineup, which is the most outrageously Guardiola-ish lineup I can think of: Valdes, Alves, Chygrynskiy, Milito, Maxwell, Pique, Yaya, Keita, Jeffren, Pedro, Messi.
Holy balls that would be a wild lineup. And I, for one, don’t know which is the more likely lineup given Pep’s enduring awesomeness at picking absurd lineups no one saw coming. I therefore claim both of them as my guesses and any combo thereof. Booyah.
I’ll update everyone on the Fantasy and the Prediction Challenge on Thursday as well as attempt (attempt) to get both a tactical post written and the Schedule and Where To Watch pages updated. No promises, though, because it’s a busy week for me and, well, I’ve got a league to freak out about.
Official Prediction: 3-0, goals by Messi (who I specifically didn’t call as scoring against Villarreal to give him a shot), Keita, and Thiago.
Time: 8pm Barcelona/local, 2pm EST/New York, check your local time here.
TV: In the US, this match will be on GolTV.
Weather: 55F (~13C), some small wind gusts, 30% chance of rain. Not perfect, but the ball should fizz across the grass throughout.
And just remember, we’re a team: