Liga Preview: Barça – Valladolid, Sunday 1pmEST, ESPN2HD
This match is somehow under the radar, despite its significance. There are no Ens Hi Deixerem La Pell shirts being displayed, there are no slogans, no commercials, no gratuitous news coverage of the team’s every move. Yet this match dwarfs the Champions League semifinals because it is the match that will decide who earns the La Liga title this year. I know it’s just Valladolid, but we cannot take them lightly and we must beat them.
This is for everything. It’s easy to fall into the hyperbolic sewer of claiming each and every game is the most important one of the season. I’ve done it, of course, but at least this time I have the luxury of saying that I won’t do it again this season…which is akin to saying my favorite Zoolander movie was the first one. Which it was. Still, this match has become the defining match of the season for those who define seasons solely by trophy hauls. It’s either we win this and rise above the rest of the league or we lose and Madrid surfaces from beneath the murky depths to somehow claim our prize.
I want to say this now: whatever happens against Valladolid, whether we win, draw, or lose, whether we come out with a league title or not, whether there’s a goleada historica or an epic choke job, this team and this season are as far from failures as you can get. They are winners and overachievers, they are artists in a world of hacks, and they are successful through beauty despite the hard fouls, despite the bullseye on their backs, and despite the inclination of others to dismiss their grievances because they need to “man up.” Man up this, suckas.
So we await the arrival of Valladolid, the pucela, of Javier Clemente and his band of relegation-battling boys. They have the same personnel as they had before Clemente’s arrival in April (they started the season with Jose Luis Mendilibar, who they traded out for B squad manager Onesimo Sanchez two weeks after they lost to us in Jornada 19), but they’ve picked up the pace, going 3W-3D-1L (6GF, 5GA) and allowing various media outlets to talk about how good Javi Clemente is at this whole coaching business (and he is).
Thing is: we need to win this to win the championship and they need to win this to survive relegation. That is one of those things that makes you pause and go “hmmm” when you really think about it. Yes, they’re a decent enough squad, but they’re still fighting relegation and their leading scorer is Diego Costa. I can’t believe it isn’t Manucho…Diego Costa must have like 50 goals! Oh, he has 8? And Manucho only has 4? I guess he meant next season he’ll score between 30 and 40 goals. That’s the only logical explanation.
My whole point is that you can’t discount Valladolid, but you can say that we will probably win. The bookies, according to 101 Great Goals, are so confident in Barcelona winning the title that they’re offering 13-1 on a draw and 28-1 on a Valladolid win (unless I’m reading that wrong–I’m a terrible gambler), which is to say that Barcelona really is that much better than Valladolid. Guardiola, of course, is demanding his team not consider themselves champions yet, because, frankly, they’re not. 90 minutes against Valladolid could ensure or destroy that, so we have to play hard and we can take nothing for granted.
But I still think we’ll win.
Xavi is missing for this match thanks to his absurdly childish yellow card against Sevilla, which was his 5th of the season, ensuring his suspension against Valladolid. He got that card, by the way, for protesting Luis Fabiano’s goal instead of getting on with play–what stupid thing did he say to the ref? What could it have possibly been that mattered enough to say it despite the obvious consequences? Xavi is generally an extremely mature player, with his head screwed on correctly, but all 5 of his cards this year (4 during a match and 1 in the tunnel after the Villarreal 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou) have been for protest. Seriously, buddy? Come on. (And no, I don’t buy the blah-blah from El Mundo Deportivo about it being an unjust suspension. He committed the acts, he must sit. That the committee has unfairly rescinded suspensions against Kameni and Albiol merely means that the committee is bunk, but that doesn’t mean Xavi shouldn’t be suspended. He f-ed up, he pays the price. Fair.)
What could be the exultant return of Iniesta has been put in jeopardy by the fact that his injury is still an ongoing problem. It is possible he’ll make the bench for the match, but extraordinarily unlikely that he’ll make the starting lineup. Keita, too, has been hurting this week, but looks good to start. That’s obviously good news since Xavi is missing.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Yaya, Keita, Pedro, Ibra, Messi.
That’s who I think will be out there. Busi is only included because, well, we don’t have anyone else who isn’t busted up. That’s how that goes, even if I don’t like it. We beat them last time with goals from Xavi, Alves, and Messi with a strange starting lineup including Keita, Xavi, and Iniesta in the middle fronted by Henry, Ibra, and Messi. Unheard of!
We’ll need tactical control of this match, which means stepping in and stepping up. An early goal would change everything, either way; if we score first they must come out and play because a loss is as good as relegation for them and that just can’t be from their point of view. They’ll try to hit us on the counter, but with Abidal back in the fold, we should be fine covering any wing attacks they launch our way. Expect Messi to drop into a more central role and try to spring attacks with his dribbles and undercuts while the “central striker,” be it Ibra or Bojan, trying to peel away for a through ball.
Official Prediction: 3-0. It is time we put this league away and I think we will. Goals by Messi (2) and Pedro to seal the deal. How hot would it be if it were Ibra, though? Yeah, I said it.
Time: 7pm local/Barcelona, 1pm EST, check your local time here.
TV: This match will be on in the US on ESPN2HD as well as ESPN Deportes.
Weather: ~63F (~18F), clear skies, 0% chance of rain. Perfect for some friggin football.
Just so you know: It. Is. Goddamned. On. Let’s do this, woooooo!
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