Sunday, August 29, 2010. 1 PM EST, 7 PM Barcelona time. ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com
So this is the new year? Yes, yes it is. And isn’t it about damn time we get down to some La Liga games? As far as benedictions go, this is a good one. On Sunday, FC Barcelona begins its 80th La Liga campaign and another league championship title defense at Racing Santander. For a squad that many are predicting will win its 21st league title this year, Barcelona certainly faces a number of questions ranging from the starting front line to depth concern and the prospect of youth and young manhood taking over in the midfield. Then again, the club also sports the greatest amount of talent in the league, and likely of any club in the world. So… let’s preview shall we?
A little housekeeping first. Normally Isaiah dutifully handles the previews and Kevin deftly rolls out the reviews but this year we are doing things a little differently and I will be handling a few of each to relieve the workload. I do my previews and reviews differently, so there will be less talking about the histories of cities and more of me waxing prophetic, cause that’s how I roll.
Ignoring the giant purple elephant in the room for a moment, we find ourselves on the road in Santander to start the year. You’ll forgive me if I am none too afraid I’m sure. Last year Racing took a big step back after approaching the middle of the table in 2008-09 and giving our boys a ton of trouble, regression set in and they barely finished above relegation, and were made to look bad on both occasions by our Blaugrana. Sadly, they look to be doomed to relegation now.
The team has done very little to improve after selling Sergio Canales to Madrid and somehow not getting sure guarantees that he would be sticking around on loan this year too (although it is unlike that their poor showing are 100% their fault since all the big clubs in La Liga keep all the money with no revenue sharing that might make the minnows spend a dime or three, but I digress). Instead, they rely on the ageless, and sometimes toothless, Pedro Munitis for goals (although he did get a ton of assists last year). So yeah, it’s not looking good. This does not even mention that Barcelona will be looking to put an ugly offseason behind them and Pep is likely going to beat the boys to death so that they will not underrate the Cantabrian side. In short, this one is going to get bad, and it’s going to get very bad early.
I’m sure you’ll forgive me if I leave off the prose in relation to Santander and tend to our own mountainous and nebulous concerns that have been piling up, since oh, hoisting number 20 last May. Call it a preview distracted by external factors, but that’s where we are, I cannot help it. As if to make matters more hectic in regards to any preview that was going to be put up, everyone decided that 4 days before the end of the transfer window is the appropriate time to buy a highly-coveted MF from Liverpool in Mascherano and sell last summer’s big swipe, Zlatan for more than $40M.
Then there is the possible World Cup hangover that Valdes, Pique, Puyol, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro, and Villa might suffer from. Such an affliction may also hit Messi… And where does Villa fit now? Is he playing on the left with Messi in the center and Pedro on the other side? Vice versa? How does Pep fit everyone in? How will the team react with actual, perceivable depth at every position? What is the meaning of life? Will Thiago, JDS, or Fontas make lasting contributions? Should we build a Captain D’s 2 blocks from the BP oil spill? Many of these are unanswerable. However, as your gallant and epic preview writer, I will make some seemingly bold predictions for the upcoming season.
Thiago will make a huge impact
Huge by degrees obviously, but still. I am a foremost proponent of our Brazillia-Spanish (ok, maybe Ramzi has me), but I think the chances are going to be there for him to step in. He played very well in the U-19 Euros and seems to be tailor-made to step in in the event that Iniesta is injured, or for Xavi as well in a pinch. The fact that he scored his first and only first team goal against Racing is just icing on the cake.
FC Barcelona will have to deal with increased cynicism from all sides
Face it, when you are involved in 4 high profile transfer sagas, one of which involves a most beloved EPL player, and 2 more involve asshole agents publicly bashing your manager, things are going to be very public all summer (if you’re counting it home, the blame lies as follows, that one kid-media/FCB/his club; Yaya-agent/himself; Mascherano-player; Ibra-FCB/agent). All of this following a disastrous trip to Asia, in terms of PR (although I think that’s horse shit, when everyone is exhausted that stuff happens, you’ll move on I am sure), means one of the most well known clubs in the world with a reputation for being fan-centric is going to have its rep besmirched, mostly through its own doing. The way this Zlatan business has ended up just makes us look worse, as Kevin alluded to here, is only going to further damage our reputation. When you win, it also makes it worse. Rightly or wrongly, it’s coming.
Maxwell will continue to impress, and Adriano will fill in that role as well
The unheralded Brazilian left back that we signed for $3M last summer has been more than a revelation, he’s been a savior. When Abidal was injured last year, he filled in. He played up front on the left. He provided pace, skill with the ball, and defensive alacrity when needed. He fits Pep’s system perfectly and does what is needed. The perfect signing. Likewise, Adriano can play roughly 5 positions on the field, maybe more. He’s never going to score a lot, but he will fight for the ball, cross well, and use his pace incredibly. What’s better is that he will provide a break for Alves, something we could definitely use without moving Puyol out.
The offense will be better, somehow
Subtract Ibra, add Villa. Another year of maturity for Pedro, plus World Cup success. Xavi is who he is. Iniesta had an amazing World Cup and can hopefully be healthy. Jeffren, well, he’s still alive I think. And Messi, well, he exhibits all the powers of Cthulhu, with none of the awful tentacle-ish side effects of godhood (and as well all know, just like Cthulhu, Messi waits…). And then there’s Bojan, cute little sweet Bojan. Of anyone who is going to benefit from Ibra leaving, it is our midget 11. Running the 4-3-3, the offensive front is going to look like this:
Villa (Iniesta, Maxwell, Adriano) – Messi (Bojan) – Pedro (Jeffren, Alves)
Iniesta (Thiago, Keita) – Xavi (JDS) – Busquets (Mascherano, Keita)
Last year Messi flourished as a false nine after acclimating, and this year, we likely have the trident back with Villa and Pedro on the wings, cutting inside and providing their scoring flourishes. The midfield is equally stacked with the earth, wind, and fire combining. All of these players know their roles, where they fit in, and how to play with the other players. The only one that we may worry about it Villa, but at home on the left with Iniesta and Xavi feeding and Messi providing space and passing lanes, he won’t have trouble acclimating I am sure.
La Liga CL Spots: Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico, Villareal
Europa League Spots: Sevilla, Bilbao, Valencia
Relegation: Hercules, Racing Santander, Levante
Champions League: Barcelona (lose in Finals); Madrid (lose in Semis); Sevilla & Valencia (into Europa after Group Stages)
Copa del Rey: Barcelona (lose in the Semis)
Oh yes, I remember why we were here in the first place: Santander. Predicted score: 4-0. Goals by Messi (x2), Iniesta, Pedro.
Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal
Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
Pedro, Messi, Villa
Get excited about the new year, cause here, we, go.