State of La Liga: Season Preview 09/10 [Update]

The dawn spreads its wispy fingers over the roofs of the neighboring buildings, sliding casually down Atlantic, splaying sideways at Flatbush. It dims the street light that shines through my window at that perfect angle where any attempt to block it from my eyes causes me to lose the air circulation in my room. I shift and try to sleep more, longer, anything to get rid of this feeling in my stomach. For once it’s not last night’s rounds with the boys that is causing me this insomnia. I look at my watch: 5 more hours to go. I roll over, pressing my face into the pillow. I roll over again, pulling the sheet over my legs then flipping it off moments later. I look at my watch: 4 hours, 59 minutes to go. I roll over, exhale.

“Stop tossing around, honey.” We love each other, of course, my girlfriend and I, but at 6am on Sunday morning, there is no such thing as empathy, just mumbled hatred. I try to hold still, but it’s too hot. I sit up and take a drink of water from the cup on the nightstand. I plop back down, exhale. “Stop tossing around, dickhead.”

I can’t explain it to her, she’ll never understand. It’s August 30 and I’m waiting as patiently as I can. I think she knows, intuitively, without having been reminded, that it’s Jornada 1, it’s el primer dia de la primera. It’s kickoff, it’s the beginning of another obsession. It’s gameday. No wonder I can’t sleep.

You say I can’t tell the future, but I already know how that morning will go, despite the distinct lack of FC Barcelona on that holiest of days. They play on Monday Night Futbol this time around, just this once, but that doesn’t make it any less special in the end. Or so I tell myself as the sun lifts off and kills any hope of falling back asleep. But you probably still don’t think I can tell the future. Well all right, let’s find out, once and for all, whether Professor Trawlaney college taught me anything about analysis and hypothesizing.

To the league, the protagonists of this preview:

The newbies, recently pulled from the purgatory that is La Segunda A, are Real Zaragoza, Tenerife, and Xerez. Of those three, Xerez might be in the worst state, despite being my FIFA 06 team, where we conquered everything in our paths because Barcelona didn’t want a new coach and the glory that went with hiring me. They floundered and Xerez, needing no capital influx to sustain its young and brilliant striker corps, went on to win La Liga in their first year “above ground” and no doubt would have walloped Europe as well, had FIFA 07 not come out. Reality is a bit harsher to the boys in blue and white, though they survived an RFEF inquiry into their finances that could have dropped them back to their previous league despite their championship year last year. It’s Xerez’s first season in La Primera and they’re probably not long for this top-flight thing.

But my first prediction is that Tenerife will finish 20th. Chalk it up, it’s as good as done. It’s not at all hard to predict that a team with few resources and no top-flight experience will be relegated, but I was wrong about Sporting Gijon last year, so there’s hope yet for the minnows. Not that you doubt me. They haven’t made significant moves in the transfer market (they lost Alfaro back to Sevilla is about all), which some might use to discredit their team, but what do you need a lot of reinforcements for if you’ve got a guy named Bellvis on your team? Sure, he couldn’t cut it at Valencia, but I’m guessing that’s because Soriano/Soler/whoever the crap is in charge over there couldn’t take another Butthead joke. Oh wait. Yeah, they’re going down.

19th will be Sporting Gijon, whose stay in the top flight has been far longer than anticipated despite their absurd goal differential (-32, worst in the league last year). They don’t have the financial sticking power that other clubs do and only an utter tank job by Betis, among others, saved their skins last year. History should be kind to these guys, but they cost me a drink last season (hey john!) and I cannot condone such insidious actions.

18th is the trickiest of them all, really, because the last day usually dramatically changes the landscape and a single goal can shift teams from third-to-last to 15th. Or vice-versa. Granted, last year was an insane year for the relegation zone, made all the more intruiging by a lack of competition at the top of the table, but still, there’s usualy something going on between 18th and 17th places, at the very least. Accusations of suitcases of money being handed out for good or bad performances will no doubt be replaced by delivery trucks of hair gel for Cronaldo, but I digress. I’m calling out Osasuna for this position, for falling into the gentle waters of the murky underworld. Sorry, guys, but life’s just not fair and your escape last year was but a small reprieve from the tightening noose. Think of it as your own, personal Incident Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (take that, David Pearce!).

Moving up the table, to the “sigh of relief” group, we find Valladolid, who will survive despite threatening to sink for almost the entire season, sort of like last year, except without Asenjo. They’ve got a guy named Pelé, so you can’t really argue with me on whether or not they’ll stay up. Nor can you argue with Manucho, who has claimed he’s as good as anyone else on the planet and has guaranteed some 350million goals this year while on loan from Manchester United–I think he actuallysaid 20 or was it 30? I’m going back to 350million.

Just above Valladolid, millimeteres from safety as well, is Xerez. Two promotion survivors? you ask. Well, yes, like last year, there will be teams willing to play worse than others.  I know they’ve got a crap budget and they’ve got kind of a wankery team, but they’ve added Victor Sánchez, so they have a solid utility player (to borrow a baseball term), but little else has come their way of any serious quality. Still, you have to like their chances against the above-mentioned clubs.

Almeria trundles in at 15 thanks to having to sell back Alvaro Negredo and his upteen number of goals, along with Bruno and Mané. They had a good run last year, but, like with Valladolid and Asenjo, you don’t lose a player of Negredo’s quality and do better. Goitom will help a bit, but not enough to push them anywhere near the top half of the table. Plucky, they certainly are, but I get to combine my fairly random antipathy towards Hugo Sanchez with a fairly nonpartisan guess that they’ll be near the bottom of the league. Yay, I suppose.

Athletic Bilbao, cup finalists last year, will do their part and stay up for another year, insuring that we’re all happy there’s further proof that you can, indeed, make a living by owning an all-Basque side. Llorente, ever the goal poacher, will score 50% of his teams total goals. Don’t act so surprised at such a statistical statement, it’s only going to be 25 goals. Yeste will have a lot more shots than that which will end up as souvenirs for some lucky kid walking by outside the stadium.

Real Zaragoza will get to stay up and handily — all the way in 13th — mostly because I fondly remember El Payaso Aimar and the Milito brothers rather than for any actual footballing reasons. None of those 3 players are still with Zaragoza, of course, but, among others, they have added Kalu Uche from Getafe and Jermaine Pennant on a free from some team in Blighty that dresses in red or something. Benitez is heart-broken about the loss, I’m sure. Lucky 13 is somewhere I’m sure most Zaragoza fans would be completely satisfied to trade their whole season for right now.

Poor Espanyol, who see their season begin to flounder even before the opening kickoff. Dani Jarque, blanqiazul to the core, got his wish and became captain, only to die a few weeks later (and 3 weeks before his girlfriend is due to have their first child). The tragedy that is a lost life is, of course, more important than a scuppered season (indeed a lifetime of scuppered seasons), but in a season preview, the importance of this loss to Espanyol cannot be overlooked. The team has quality — just as it did last year when they threatened to have the best stadium in all of La Segunda — but will it have cohesion without Jarque? They added Verdú from Depor, Ben Sahar from Chelsea, and Nakamura from Celtic, so they’ll stay up nicely, but won’t challenge for a European spot simply because Nakamura is getting older (as opposed to the typical player who gets younger). Match of the season, for them, will be hosting Barça at Cornella-El Prat. Sink or swim, our hearts go out to Jarque’s family and friends and I hope his child grows up to be captain of Espanyol (if it’s a girl, then I hope she’s the first female player for the team or something).

Dropping in at number 11 is Racing Santander, a team known mostly for not being all that good. They lost a boatload of people (Pereira, Zigic, Garay) and didn’t really get anyone in return (some guy named Crespo…but not that Crespo, unfotunately), but somehow I see them getting workmanlike wins against crap teams and getting hammered by the teams above them. Too good to go down, not good enough to break through. Ah well, call it intuition or whatever you’d like. There’s no rhyme or reason to this particular pick.

The crazies are out in force at Getafe again, enlisting The King (dude’s creepy) as well as some insane-ass ad agencies to tell us they’re going to run with the big dogs this year. They’re not. They’ll finish 11th and like it. They lost Uche to Valladolid and Granero to RM and then turned around and paid too much for Dani Parejo (€3m). They’re not big boys, but they’ll beat RM at least once, I’m sure, and garner that all-important top-half finish. For want of someone better to fill the spot, it’ll have to be Getafe.

Mallorca is basically the same team as last year, except with different personnel. What’s the point of betting against a team that, every single year, just goes about their business and ends up mid-table? So there you have it, Mallorca in 9th, not quite in striking distance of Europe, but never looking like dropping too near the relegation zone either. Ho-hum, guys, can’t you spice it up a bit? Where’s a retiring Eto’o when you need him for one last push towards the top 6? (La Liga Loca has them going down basically because they lost Juan Arango, so it’s really a competition to see who is most rightest, isn’t it?)

I’m going with Once-Super Depor in 8th. They haven’t lost all that many players of interest and also didn’t get anyone of interest, really. Omar Bravo is making the same rounds as always, shuttling between Mexico and Europe, confusing the crap out of me as to where he’s playing, why, and for how long. So…maybe he’s a part of their squad and totally maybe not. I’ve never been a huge Andres Guardado fan, but I have to admit that against most Liga competition, he can do damage with his pace alone. And that’s sort of how I see Depor as a whole: completely capable, but always overrated. So I’m going to overrate them and stick them in 8th.

The surprise of the season will be Malaga in 7th. And do you know why? It’s because they signed Xavi Torres from Barcelona and are going to find that they’ve got a pretty decent player on their hands. Obviously he’s not their only signing (Albert Luque still plays?), but he’s the one I’m most familiar with, so you’ll have to forgive me for focusing on Xavi Torres. If names meant anything, he’d be the greatest striker midfielder of all time. Unfortunately for the previously mentioned Pelé, they don’t.

There’s never a really good reason why Villarreal will do better than 12th, but they are always in contention throughout the year. Last year’s late-season self-destruction was a rarity and I don’t think it will be repeated. They added, among others, Nilmar and Jonathan Pereira, got a new coach (Ernesto Valverde), and lost Nihat and finally offloaded Guille Franco (end of contract and now he’s out of work despite starting for the Mexican national team). 80 league games and 15 goals does not a world-class striker make, but what do I know? I assume all 15 of those goals were against Javier Aguirre’s Atleti sides, making him seem irresistible as an attacking option. Now that he’s gone, there will be some serious ability up front for The Yellow Submarine, which is dangerous for everyone else. Expect Rossi to do good things this year, despite not having Altidore around to help him out — the problem is that everyone else above them has more talent than Villarreal. 6th, kiddies, is a decent showing in this league, just ask Malaga what they’d do for the Europa Cup spot

Oh no, Valencia in 5th? No Champions League for you, Messrs David, David, and Juan. The trio of Valencian midget attackers is a good one — a great one, you could argue — but the general incompetence that surrounds the inner workings of the club has seemed to have an effect on them quite similar to a tranquilizer. Why they’re so loyal to a team that occassionaly doesn’t pay them for a couple of months, I don’t know, but I suppose it’s commendable. I still think that it would have been better for Valencia to cash in on at least one of their stars to provide liquid assets, but if they’ve found a viable alternative, it’s somewhat hard to argue with that. The main reason for them sitting behind the other European contenders is their defense. They’ll score goals, they’ll have fun doing it, but they’ll also get manhandled a few times in defense. You read it here first, folks.

The eternal question of whether or not Atletico Madrid will choke and fail to make it to Europe seems to have been put to rest last year, but…And that’s the problem. There’s always a “but” at the end of a sentence where you predict Atleti will make the Champions League. Always. They’ve made all the typical moves you’d expect of Atleti in the transfer market, like keeping Forlan and Aguero, moving Leo Franco to Galatasaray and Coupet to PSG and picking up Sergio “the next Casillas” Asenjo (for €4m!), getting Jose Antonio Reyes back from Benfica, and they picked up some defensive reinforcements as well, all while offloading some inconsistent players like Banega (loan to Valencia), Maniche, and Seitaridis. You won’t find me arguing with their transfer policy, especially not when you consider how cheap their world-class goalie arrived for. So there you have it, Atleti will make spot number four and get into the Champions League…but…

After picking up Didier Zakora and bringing back Alfaro and De Mul from loans, Sevilla were basically the same team they were last year and I was going to drop them to 6th and then they went and got Alvaro Negredo from RM and beefed up their already pretty-damned-good front line. They’re still party-poopers for pretty much everyone else, simply because they’ve got gobs of quality (Kanoute, for instance) and everything to play for, but games against the men in blaugrana and the men in white will end in fat lips and L’s. Games at the Sanchez Pizjuan are always tough, of course, so look for a few key defeats there to paralyze others’ campaigns and boost Sevilla all the way to 3rd again.

It’s looking awfully similar at the top of the table, with Real Madrid coming in 2nd, despite their spending spree. If the focus is on winning the Champions League in the Bernabeu — and make no mistake about it, it is — then I think their league form will suffer to a certain degree. The talent on hand is massive, of course, but they are not yet a team ad have not yet found a way to win during the periods of strife that inevitably surface during a run at a title. That’s not to say that they won’t overcome such hurdles — actually that is precisely my prediction, what am I saying? Come the visit to the Camp Nou, they might be doing well, but they’ll leave with an L and a points deficit to the arch-rivals. I could probably devote a thousand words to their particular form of “transfer policy” but I’d rather move on, to something else. Like bird watching or smacking myself in the face.

And finally you have your champions: FC Barcelona. A 2-peat worthy of the ages, where a transfer policy that is a little bit more grounded will pay dividends. There are serious mountains to climb to win the league again, I know that, but my upcoming Barcelona-specific preview will take that on. Suffice to say that while our squad may not be mammoth, it is filled with quality from the top of Ibra’s shaggy hair to the bottom of Messi’s golden feet. It should be a battle for the ages when the two clasicos take place (no 2-6 drubbings this time around), but Barça will, in the end, come ou on top thanks to continuity and Guardiola’s Total Football philosophy. Pellegrini may be an excellent coach (and I have sung his praises before), but he has never worked in a situation like the cauldron that is the Bernabeu on a bad day. White hankies and whistles are par for the course in a 1-0 win. Imagine if there’s a 0-1 loss early in the season…Guardiola has dealt with this pressure and he will lead the 4-3-3 to stunning success once again. While the departure of Eto’o was sad for me, the arrival of Ibrahimovic has got me all atwitter in the brain, which is a wonderful feeling. I am anticipating what will happen, rather than dreading what we might not accomplish with such a talented squad. I have expectations, of course, but I am happy with last year to the point where I understand if there is no triplete waiting at the end of this go-round. Not that I’m not interested in it or don’t think we have the talent to achieve it, it’s just that I know how hard it is to repeat these things (it’s never been done, for instance).

I’m like a schoolgirl the day before prom: excited, nervous, happy, and, above all, I can’t wait to show off my pretty dress to all my friends.

The standings that you can hold me to in late May:

20. Xerez Tenerife
19. Sporting Gijon
18. Osasuna
17. Valladolid
16. Tenerife Xerez
15. Almeria
14. Athletic Bilbao
13. Real Zaragoza
12. Espanyol
11. Racing
10. Getafe
9. Mallorca
8. Depor
7. Malaga
6. Villarreal
5. Valencia
4. Atleti
3. Sevilla
2. Real Madrid
1. Barcelona

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater Philadelphia area.

171 comments

  1. Last season Sid had RM as favourite because they just won the league and Barca have a new coach, and that’s logical. So why isn’t he using the same logic this coming season? he is a madridista! I love his articles though.

  2. Probably because RM has a solid team this season.

    Good coach, great starting 11 and decent depth. CRon, the most well-rounded player in the world, Kaka, a great playmaker, Benzema, a good striker, Xabi Alonso, etc. In any other league, that’s the team that’s gonna finish 1st.

    Of course, in this league, there’s another team called Barcelona. Now we all agree that there are certain positions that lack depth. (Xavi) And there’s a player that most people (and this includes highly-respected journalists) think flops in big games, called Ibrahimovic.

    On paper, it looks like a decent match-up.

    Through the eyes of a FAN however, there’s a clear-cut winner. And Sid, being human, is looking at it through the eyes of a fan, hence the RM prediction.

    I think it’s highly unfair to label him a hypocrite, or to call into question the greatness of his humanity based on this one prediction. He’s just doing what WE do on a regular basis.

    And although we all love to talk about objectiveness, it’s just impossible to reach anything resembling that when you’re talking about football and predictions. This is not a science!

  3. Hes saying we only have 19 players so we wont win the league? Well im pretty sure he didnt know who busi was at the start of last season. Yet look at his rapid rise, to start a champions league final, in just a yeal.Or who would have thought pique would have become one of the best center backs in the world so fast, in contrast to the begining of the season.Similarly, i feel if push comes to shove this year we can trust our youth again if wee have to. JDS and Thiago are very capable if we need to use them.Hopefully it wont come to that though.

  4. jordi: It goes both ways. There are times when young players are predicted to rise to the very top, but they don’t. There are times when they slip through the cracks, and rise to the top suddenly, almost over night.

    So, if you want to say that the young ones can very easily provide the depth necessary for a team to competitively play sixty-whatever games within the course of 9 or so months, that’s fine. But you have to know that it’s basically a 50-50 bet, AT BEST.

    Realistically, you’re talking about young players that are consistently inconsistent when it comes to the top-tier leagues. Busquets had terrific games, and terrible games, just like any other young and inexperienced player. Pique is an exception to the rule.

    Will JDS, Thiago, Jeffren, and the other youngsters provide enough depth to win the league? Maybe. But there’s a really good chance that they wont because young ones rarely do.

  5. Let me add that I’m just being Devil’s Advocate here.

    The one thing I agree with is that Barca needs more players, particularly creative midfielders.

    But I disagree when it comes to who will win the league. I actually think RM has a great chance to finish 3rd because with all that pressure, all of those egos..it’s very hard to remain a good coach.

  6. If I wrote for the Guardian, you bet your ass I would be much more objective with my writing.

    I absolutely love Dr. Sid as a writer. His style and ability to bring to life all the details and personalities of Spanish football in English are extraordinary. I never put much attention on his stances. Like Jeff said, he made a damn good argument last year for putting RM 1st and there are definitely reasons to argue that they’ll be first this year but he didn’t lay them out. It just seemed a little shoddy by his high standards.

    I guess I may just be a little disappointed given how I admire his writing style. I KNOW Ray Ray is a closet madridista. His delight in screaming “Hala Madrid” the past few years was definitely palpable. Yet I still love him despite his eccentricities and ocassional obnoxiousness and over the top-ness. Its his job to be sensational. Its Sid’s job to present a rational argument every now and then when he gives opinions.

  7. No, he did provide a rational argument. The one I presented in my initial post regarding this topic.

    “Real Madrid: Higuaín, Robben, Van Nistelrooy, Sneijder, Diarra … and that’s just the players on the bench. (Although Madrid would like to get rid of Sneijder and Robben still). Ronaldo, Kaká, Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Lass, Casillas … It might take a while to get it really right but they will score plenty of goals. And, contrary to popular belief, their defence isn’t their weak point – certainly once Pepe is back. Champions.”

    It’s very hard to provide a rational argument that will convince everyone in a short paragraph, but there’s something there.

    He’s saying they have improved their defense, there’s a lot of attacking power, tons of talent, and plenty of depth.

    Barcelona gets a short paragraph as well, and his reasoning is equally consistent.

    “Small squad, long season (World Club Cup, European Super Cup, World Cup at the end of it), but still brilliant. Last season Messi and Xavi stayed fit; if that doesn’t happen this year, they could pay for it. Will lose Keita and Touré to the African Cup of Nations, leaving them with only three midfielders. Really should be favourites but something somewhere suggests they won’t be. Second.”

    Small squad, long season. Who doesn’t agree with that? Compare the size of this squad with ManU’s squad the previous season. Small squad = less depth.

    The new argument presented here is injury. I also think we all agree that if Xavi and/or Messi get injured for a lengthy amount of time, that would seriously jeopardize our chances of winning the league. 2-4 weeks out for either of those guys at the right time (e.g. during game against the better teams in the league) and there go a handful of valuable points.

    As far as the favorites thing.. RM spent a shitload of cash on a shitload of highly rated players. It goes without saying that they could steal a lot of hearts before the season even begins.

    ————————–

    It’s impossible to be objective when it comes to opinion. It’s hard to even come close. Never mind football predictions. Objectivity goes out the window.

    All I’m saying is: Cut the guy some slack.

  8. yeah, as much as i like his writing, i just read the article, and his “rationale” for why madrid was going to win was their squad list, and the reason we’d be second is lack of depth.

    Often, experience and training count more than the quality and quantity of the tools that you have at your disposal.

    and this is under the assumption that they have better players, which i’m not buying.

    Valdes v Casillas … (E.E) (i’m objective)
    Alves v Ramos … (FCB) (Ramos = Inconsistent and a shitty defender)
    Puyol v Pepe… (FCB)
    Pique v Albiol (FCB)
    Abidal v Marcelo (FCB)
    THE YAYA v Lass (FCB)
    Xavi v Xabi (FCB)
    Iniesta v Kaka (FCB)
    Messi v Cronaldo (FCB)
    Benzema v Ibrahimovic (FCB)
    Henry v Raul (FCB)
    10 to 1for us.

    or more importantly, Puyol > Cronaldo, Yaya > Kaka, Messi > Marcelo

  9. the pots for the CL group stage draw

    Pot 1
    Barcelona (ESP)
    Liverpool (ENG)
    Chelsea (ENG)
    Manchester United (ENG)
    AC Milan (ITA)
    Arsenal (ENG)
    Sevilla (ESP)
    Bayern Munich (GER)

    Pot 2
    Olympique Lyon (FRA)
    Internazionale (ITA)
    Real Madrid (ESP)
    CSKA Moscow (RUS)
    FC Porto (POR)
    AZ Alkmaar (NED)
    Juventus (ITA)
    Glasgow Rangers (SCO)

    Pot 3
    Olympiakos (GRE)
    Olympique Marseille (FRA)
    Dinamo Kiev (UKR)
    VfB Stuttgart (GER)
    Fiorentina (ITA)
    Atletico Madrid (ESP)
    Girondins Bordeaux (FRA)
    Besiktas (TUR)

    Pot 4
    VfL Wolfsburg (GER)
    Standard Liege (BEL)
    Maccabi Haifa (ISR)
    FC Zurich (SUI)
    Rubin Kazan (RUS)
    Unirea Urziceni (ROM)
    APOEL (CYP)
    Debrecen (HUN)

    tomorrow at 1:30pm eastern!
    we could get inter… imagine that

  10. does that mean that we cannot be grouped with Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan, Arsenal, Sevilla, or Bayern Munich???

    isn’t it also true that we cannot be grouped with Real, Atleti, or again, Sevilla?

  11. who do i want to be grouped against? from group one, Rangers or Alkmaar sound easy, I’m picking Rangers. from group 3, Besiktas sounds tempting, but i want Yaya to tackle Hleb, so, Stuttgart,. and From 4, i guess anyone other than Wolvsburg or Zurich.

  12. Jason, it is true that we can’t play against a team from the same country until quarters.

  13. “Often, experience and training count more than the quality and quantity of the tools that you have at your disposal.”

    Barca has the best 11 in the world. No doubt about it.

    But it’s ALSO critical to have the depth. Because there are going to be around 60 games for the team to play, and like I said, an injury at a important time could jeopardize the entire operation. At that point, you can still have the best 11..but parts of it will be in the waiting room and not the field. 😉

    Imagine injuries during the ACN! My, oh my, how interesting things would get.

  14. since when did real madrid’s surplus of players mean that they have depth? they have many good players to choose from in certain positions, yes, but i wouldn’t necessarily think of that as having a deep squad. with players like ruud, robben and higuain on the bench it seems more like overcrowding and locker room problems to me. having depth also means having balance and right now RM don’t have that.

  15. I wont be surprised if we get Inter from pot 2.But then we always seem to get lyon at some stage. Ideally, a group with Rangers, Beskitas, and APOEL would be great 🙂 It would set off the conspirathists for sure.But im up for anyone really.

    As for depth, it depends. If we had a squad with 25 players but 7 of them were hleb’s (the bad version f him), we might have the quantity, but not the quality. Then that wouldnt be of much help.

    A lot of quality players dont want to come just to ride the pine, unless we paid them like City and Chelsea do.

  16. Good points, Corrine.

    And I completely agree with you. It’s the egos that I think will cause the downfall of Real Madrid.

  17. The real question, and one that will, frankly, decide whether the Liga is a horse race or a blowout, is whether all of the highly-paid talent at the EE will subsume any ambitions and ego to the greater good.

    What made us so good last season were two things, really: luck on the injury front, and the willingness of the players to in effect act like canteranos trying to secure a spot in the big dance. They played like dogs, in other words.

    If that same effort is there this season, we’re in with a real shot. But objectively, you can see how Sid Lowe’s prediction could come to pass. If Pellegrini can get that talent clicking early, look for a horse race. But every club has a lull in the season. We did, they did, and the same will be true of this season.

    And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m nervous about this season. We’re one wrong foot plant away. Messi we can play without. We showed that we could last season. Xavi? No way. Henry? No way. Ibrahmovic? No way. We’ve already seen the difference that those players make.

    So now we play the games. In many ways, many teams are weaker this season, making the task easier and more difficult. More matches have become gimmes, which also means more bus parking, and playing for the 0-0. And over the aggregation of a season, draws will kill you more than losses will.

    Just as we had the magical season last year, there is no reason that another club can’t have a season like we had, where everything just goes right. Frankly, I like that we’re getting used to playing without the likes of Iniesta and Marquez. Henry was, until recently, playing in his traditional early-season pain.

    I’m excited about this year. Hopefully if we win the Super Cup on Friday, Guardiola will think about contesting the WCC with a passel of young’uns, augmented with some veteran spine.

    Oh, and shock of shocks, Gudjohnsen doesn’t want to leave. Shit, who would?

  18. The Champions League draw will decide a lot as well, I think. If we get stuck in a group of death and have to catfight out way out, look out. That could mean fatigue for the knockout stages, and trouble in the Liga.

    I look for the kids to get a lot of time in the Copa, which is almost certainly the one competition that Guardiola has already decided to blow off. That, and the Copa Catalunya.

  19. I don’t care who we play as long as the team doesn’t have to play in Eastern Europe or Turkey. There’s truth about the depth, however, most of our players can play multiple positions. That being said, our guys count as 1.5 opposed to R.Madrid players that count like 1.0 per player. that means barca have more depth. 🙂

  20. yer i just hate how rm’s overflowing squad is suddenly being praised as a deep squad now. you can’t splash out big bucks on a bunch of big names on top of the class players you already have and get boasting rights of a deep squad, you have to earn it with good coaching and clever signings and every player needs to have a role. but blah blah blah

    @kevin draws will kill you more than losses will
    lol oh god, you mean like liverpool? 2 losses in the entire season, maximum points against chelsea and manutd, biggest goal difference in the league, but a 2nd place finish. the thing is, like manutd, RM know how to win. their winning streak between the clasicos just proved it and they always seem to end up with the 3 pts no matter how crappy they play. same thing with manutd too… they had a pretty dull season and won most of their games 1-0, but bagged their 3 pts anyway. i’m actually really impressed with how far they got in the CL being the defending champions and all, and on top of that they had they won the league, the club world cup, the carling up and went far in the fa cup. hopefully we can kinda do the same

  21. I honestly think that both Barca and Real will be a lot closer to the chasing pack (Sevilla, Villareal, Atletico, Valencia) than many people think. Barca can’t POSSIBLY have as good a season as last year on the injury and everyone-happy-in-their-role fronts. Real will take time to settle. If there is separation from the pack, it might happen in the winter months when the CL is off and teams get into a rhythm. But for the first 3 months of the season, I expect the top to be fairly bunched up.

    Real have an awesome team, let’s not kid ourselves. The only things in favor for FCB with respect to Real is (a) the possibility of dressing room and morale issues, similar to Barca’s in the 07-08 season and (b) on-the-field gelling issues. On (b), I’m also super interested in what formation and team they will play. For me, they should have 4 in the back, Alonso and Diarra as double pivots; and Ronaldo, Robben and Kaka playing behind Benzema. The problem with that is that it leaves Raul on the bench, which might cause issues, and that all 3 of the attacking midfielders are either classical wingers (CR, AR) or like coming in from the wing (Kaka). It also leaves the middle of the park completely empty, but on paper, that’s their best team and best formation.

    One way or the other, it’s going to be a helluva lot of fun. I can’t wait.

  22. All I’m saying is, we don’t play Madrid every week. Their squad is nothing to worry about until El Clasico.

  23. Corrine, i disagree with you on the squad depth issue. i think the collective quality of a team is bound to increase if you have world class players on the bench looking to breakthrough into the first team. However, on the flip side if the coach doesn’t look after the squad and makes sure everyone gets playing time, then you’re spot on cos that’s where the dissension sets in and disgruntled fringe players are not exactly the ideal recipe for a healthy dressing room atmosphere.

    Can’t wait to see ibra in action again tomm.

  24. Kxevin,

    do you mean that we CAN survie without messi,
    but CANNOT without Xavi, Ibra, or Henry?

    i’ll entertain the idea by saying that w/o messi, it is hard as hell, but do-able.

    I’ll even etertain the xavi thing, although, i think Iniesta is up to the task.

    as far as Ibra: Messi-Henry-Pedro, or Pedro-Messi-Pedro are suitable alternatives. If not, messi-henry-iniesta with keita in the mid.

    and finally, i cannot agree that henry is more irreplaceable than messi. I love henry, but he hasn’t turned the tide completely in as many matches as Messi has.

    i dont wanna start a who is more valuable to the team, but i cannot agree with the “messi we can live without, henry we cannot live without” statement.

  25. You guys do know that Sid is a self confessed Madridsta, right?
    Just like both Phil Ball and Eduardo-TheNewGuy on ESPN. Not that it makes them any bad journalists but they’re always gonna be biased. Take most of what they say about Barca/Madrid with more than just a pinch of salt. Hell, take it with a handful.

    Seems like i have to tell the ins and out of everything :/

  26. Well, I think we can live without Henry for a bit as long as Iniesta plays LW. If that was to happen, then I would want Yaya beside Xavi with Busquets. Or even Keita next to Xavi with Yaya behind aka the usual. In that case, I think we could survive without Henry for a bit. If Iniesta isn’t healthy, then I think we will suffer greatly with Henry’s absence.

  27. Yes, Jnice. If you ever get a chance to read Morbo, which I recommend, you will catch his bias, however slightly.

  28. Messi and Xavi are the most vital player for the team.

    Last season Alves was the third irreplacable player. But with Maxwell this season we will always have an offense oriented Fullback.

    Yet even without Messi or Xavi, it will not be a problem. Iniesta can do the job. He proved that last season, though he will always be underrated in a way or another.

  29. On a side note, i think we have to acknowledge how cool the name Dmytro is for our newest potential signing. he shall be nicknamed Dynomite! and/or Dynomitro or Dmytrosaurus

  30. Oh then Ibra and Yaya come on the same level regarding their importance for the squad.

    The only reason I put Ibra as replacable is not having Bojan, but Henry. his record as a main striker last season was impressive. He played 3 games in the league I guess, scoring 5 goals.

  31. Off-topic question: anyone know where I can get an AVI or WMV torrent for the Barca-Bayern first leg from last year? I found it in MKV format, but since I don’t have one of those converter thingies (and I’d like to burn it to DVD), I need it in another format. Anyone care to help?

  32. Great post Isaiah. I think that Sevilla will fight for a second place against EE. And I would put Valencia ainstead of Atletico. Although they lost Albiol, they still have Villa and Silva, who are better that Aguero and Forlan. But their defence sucks.

    25M for Chygnasty is, I think, an overrated price. I would give for him maximum 17M or something. But if Pep wants him, I’m with him.

    @Eduard
    What’s wrong with Eastern Europe?

  33. I find it surprising that Kxevin thinks that Messi is replacable but rest are not. Xavi and Messi are the two players that we cannot do without. I can bet that if those two are there without any of the first 11 in midfield or attack, we will still give as good as it gets to almost anyone. Imagine those two away from first team and things change. I think this season will show us relative value of each member. We will need to rotate players so that means we will play without one or two and then lets see how we play.
    I wish no one was irreplacable but that is too much to ask for.

  34. Well, I think Kevin may be saying that we can play without Messi as long as Iniesta is fit and on his game. Not that Messi is replaceable for the whole season. I think we are speaking in terms of weeks or at most a month.

  35. I must mention this, just to get it from my chest.

    When we missed Iniesta last season, we almost always without exception lost points. I believe this fact makes him maybe the most invaluable player.

    Anyway, One thing is for sure; If we are without either one of Xavi, Iniesta or Messi we will suffer. Should we be without two of them, we will have a very hard time. Should we miss two of them for an extended period, I believe we could start missing out on a lot of silverware.

    So yes we have a depth issue. Problem: who can you get 2 replace those players at a reasonable price? If we buy “cracks” they will become unhappy due to a lack of playing time, if you buy cheaper we will probably have quality issues (think about Guddy). Should we rely on Canteranos than we have a bunch of overenthousiastic and unexperienced players replacing our keyplayers. All in all quite a dillemma, any thoughts besides playing the allmighty Yaya at the CM positon (as this is imo nr. 1 solution)?

  36. Thanks jnice. I had already come across the Spanish one, but wanted an English one. Maybe I’m being too picky and there simply isn’t one out there. Ah well. Thanks for your help though.

  37. Ahsan, this is an English one, but it is x264. I don’t know what type that is.

    First Half:
    //http://www.mininova.org/tor/2466896

    2nd Half:
    //http://www.mininova.org/tor/2467119

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