CL Preview: Barça – Panathinaikos, Tuesday 2:45pm EST
My reaction to the Champions League draw a few weeks ago was a lot of cackling. Had I been looking in through the window I would have been struck–other than by the ground 8 floors below, momentarily–with a sense of “I saw this movie when they called it Wizard of Oz…and that green wench dies at the end.” Also, spoiler alert, sorry. Basically, I was happy with our draw and consider it ridiculously easy compared to other draws, but it’s certainly never going to be a cakewalk. If Hércules can beat us at the Camp Nou, then certainly Panathinaikos can too.
A quick run down of who they are, what they want, and how they’re going to try and get it: They’re the reigning Greek double champions, having come in 6 points ahead of runners up Olympiacos in the league and defeated Aris Thessaloniki in the Greek Cup final. They’re captained by Giorgos Karagounis, an able, if aging, attacking midfielder best known for a goal against Portugal in 2004 that kickstarted the Greek run towards the European Championship. The tendency to think of Greek club teams as very similar to the Greek national team–that is, extremely Greek–is usually a bad idea and Panathinaikos is no exception: of their 25-man roster, 11 of them are foreign (Barça has almost the exact same percentage).
Of those foreign players, you’ll recognize at least a few: Jean-Alain Boumsong, Sidney Govou, Sebastián Leto, Luis García, Gilberto Silva, and Djibril Cissé. That last one, Cissé, has been scorching the Greek league since he joined a year ago, scoring 24 goals in 29 appearances (1 in 1 this season). In call competitions last year he went 29 goals in 45 appearances, so he’s obviously enjoying life in front of the net everywhere once again. So he’s dangerous.
And then, of course, there are the Greeks. An aging Kostas Katsouranis is still Kostas Katsouranis, the aforementioned Karagounis can still deliver a tremendous ball, and Alexandros Tzorvas will kick you in the teeth if you get near his goal box. Players I don’t know anything about but are Sotiris Ninis, Antonis Petropoulos, Nikos Spyropoulos–though I feel like I’ve heard the name Spyropoulos simply because he’s made enough appearances. Or it could be that I’m pronouncing it “Syrupolis” in my head and thinking about how that’s probably actually some awesome Canadian city where everyone has cavities.
What Panathinaikos wants is both simple and complicated. On the surface, they want to win. That, of course, is a given. Below the surface, at least according to my obviously reliable sources,* they want to play a high defensive line and get all up in your face ‘n shit. And that, I think, will provide the necessary gaps required by the Guardiola system. Panathinaikos may try to rely on their shamrocks to get through the match, but I’d suggest something else instead, like either beating us outright (something I don’t think is possible for them to do) or play the way Hércules did and look to catch us on the break while keeping your lines tight. Supposedly (according to the ever-reliable Spanish dailies–I forget exactly which one) Esteban Vigo, Hércules’ manager, used footage from Inter’s win against us in the San Siro to hype up his players and get them ready for the game; it doesn’t sound that far-fetched, so perhaps it’s actually true. Either way, I expect Panathinaikos to sit back more than usual and try to play us defensively.
It’s just that it won’t work. Having rested Busi and Puyol for the entire match against Hércules, Pep should be sending out The Terrifying One alongside The Falling One and that should greatly enhance Barça’s attacking prowess. Yup, I said that. A defender and a defensive midfielder will help our attack. I’m so crazy.
So it’s going to be Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Messi, Pedro.
Oh yes, it’s on now.
Official Prediction: 4-0. Messi (2), Villa, Busi. I know it’s crazy to be this optimistic after a loss, but we’re going to have the fire in our eyes now and it’s going to shred the Trifylli like dry corn in a souped up combine. I know this because Guardiola is talking about having confidence in the team and Iniesta is saying they are still hungry and everyone thinks we’re the crappiest team in history because 1 loss is so telling. Because the team hasn’t molested Sevilla 4-0 or anything. And they haven’t had a crap game against Racing and still won 3-0.
*Yeah, you heard that right. I’ve got sources. What of it? It’s not like it’s just Luke’s previous post and an IM conversation with him. Sources, people.