La Liga Preview: Barça – Hércules, Satuardy 12pm EST, GolTV
Here in New York City, the week after Labor Day is the regular resumption of school after summer vacation. It’s the end of the beach season, of people lazily hanging out on golf courses, and of course, it’s the return of the NFL. So instead of wasting my time outside in the beautiful sunshine, I get to sit in my underwear and watch large men attack each other. Or, because Spain is as lazy as us Americans, I can get back on the La Liga bandwagon and watch me some Barcelona futbol, baby! If I were capable of lighting off fireworks in your house as you read those italicized words, I would have, so imagine that having just happened.
Because of personal obligations 2 weekends ago, I have yet to watch a live La Liga Barça match (in fact the only La Liga match I’ve seen was Atleti-Sporting because it was on a Monday) and so my heart is already going pitter-patter and The Lovely Lady Who Puts Up With Lots of Nonsense is already rolling her eyes. It’s going to be a joyous season, I tell ya.
My team-by-team preview has already left you in no doubt whatsoever as to what is going to happen in the end, so it seems superfluous to write individual match previews, but I’ll do it anyway, because I’m that good to you. And you should love me for me. And perhaps send me chocolate because that’s what’s really driving this preview right now. Did you think I was going to start off this year without eating a container of fudge? Ha.
So it’s Hércules, that wonderfully named team, traveling 5 hours up the Autopista del Mediterráneo along the Costa Blanca, to meet its doom at the hands of Mighty Barcelona. Hércules have added firepower to their squad by bringing in David Trezequet, Royston Drenthe, and Nelson Valdez. Their 9 is some guy named Javier Portillo that you may have heard of and Francisco Rufete once graced Depor’s field in the blaugrana shirt, so you know they’re no slouches as a team. And yes, Barça is going to be slightly tired from international duty, including a trip to Buenos Aires for the bicentennial match in which Messi, Milito, and Mascherano eviscerated the likes of, um, well, does Spain have anyone good these days? They’re the perennial chokers on the international scene anyway, right?
Thing is, it’s the home debut for the team (if you forget about the Supercopa, which you will) and so it’s that much more exciting than any ol’ league match at the Camp Nou. Guardiola knows this and has tamped down expectations by playing up Hércules’ abilities, which is commendable. Yet I’m in a buoyant, festive mood because, well, because La Liga is back and who in their right mind thinks Hércules is going to stop Messi from running rampant? I mean, Hércules is so respected that Soccernet’s preview spent the first half talking about a former player that never had anything to do with Hércules. At least they do end up covering the team, though, saying they are missing Olivier Thomert, Javier Farinos, and Matias Fritzler while Cristian Pulhac is doubtful.
Okay, but that’s the thing: who the hell are Olivier Thomert, Javier Farinos, and Matias Fritzler? Two over 30-year olds and a 24-year old on loan from Lanús, that’s who. Hércules is in a pretty unique situation: everyone knows their front line, but no one knows their back line. No, really: Juanra, Mohamed Sarr, Abraham Paz, Cristian Pulhac, Kiko Femenía, Paco Peña, Sergio Rodríguez, David Cortés, Noé Pamarot. Get your thinking caps out. Who of those do you recognize?
Answer for yourself, of course, but I came up with Sergio Rodriguez (Barça B and Barça, the latter for 5 matches back in 04-06) and David Cortés (Getafe for the last 4 years). Juanra maybe, but I’m probably thinking of Juanma even though he played for Numancia during their stint in La Liga. I have mentioned him literally once in a preview and it was in January 2009 back in The Offside days in a squad list. If you’re an EPL fan, perhaps Noé Pamarot from his Portsmouth and Tottenham days, but that’s not my expertise.
Their forwards: Javier Portillo, Tote, David Trezeguet, Nelson Valdez, Olivier Thomert. Tote and Thomert I haven’t really heard of (Tote I have, but only while looking for information about Hércules and he’s the captain, so that’s not fair), but the others? Portillo, Trezeguet, and Nelson Valdes? Holy crap, I’d recognize them in an airport or mall! Sure, I’d recognize Portillo mostly for the Dingbat Level of crappy hair he’s had over the years, but the others were or are world class strikers. Damn. Also, if you’re badass like El rayo que no cesa, you created Hércules’ 2010-11 season on Wikipedia and have updated it incessantly. See what I did there? And yes, Barça has one too. And no, I’m not involved. For now.
All that said: we’re going to go bonkers on them. It’ll be one of those matches where they’ll hit us on the break once, but for the rest of the time it’ll be one-way traffic with a side of asskicking. Puyol is supposedly coming back from injury earlier than expected, but I don’t think he’ll start simply because it’s an unnecessary risk. Both Piqué and Milito can start in the middle or, if Guardiola is still concerned about that pairing, Piqué and Abidal did a more-than-adequate job against Racing and Abidal’s speed could be very useful once again.
Predicted lineup: Valdes, Alves, Piqué, Milito, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Messi, Pedro.
I realize that Bojan is our new 9 and that Guardiola said he’s steadily improving and will continue to improve, but he simply isn’t ready to start consistently. Mascherano shouldn’t start for the simple reason that he is a backup (which is my problem with his price tag) and, more complicatedlier, because I hate the doble pivote with a burning, burning passion. Iniesta belongs in the midfield, not in the front–and yeah, sure, I heard that Spain did all right in the World Cup this year or something with him up there and that he even did something kinda freakin’ sweet in some game or another–but really it all came down to them not having Lionel Messi while Barça does and thus can use Iniesta more effectively (and note that Iniesta was near the center circle at the beginning of that WC-winning goal).
So anyway, there you have it. Preview City. But here is some important stuff. Do you want to run the liveblog for tomorrow? You do, don’t you. Yes you do. So let me know if you’re up for it and we’ll get you set up. I’ll be at the bar getting snookered at noon, as is par for the course when the hippo-lookin’-feller that is my brother comes to town. He’s fat is what I’m saying. Either email me or leave a comment that says you’re up for it and we’ll get you set up.
Official Prediction: 3-1. Messi (2) and Villa.
Time: 6pm local/Barcelona, 12 noon EST, check your local time here.
TV: This match will be on in the US on GolTV (in HD now!).
Weather: ~76F (~24.5F), partly cloudy, 0% chance of rain. Perfect for some friggin football.