Liga Preview: Atletico Madrid – Barça, Sunday 1pmEST, ESPN2HD/ESPN360
The Manzanares River cuts through Madrid and provides not only a little bit of scenery, but also a historical backdrop for the entire city: it was on the banks of the Manzanares that the Moors built the Magerit fortress and it’s from that name that Madrid–and by extension Atléti–derives a large portion of its story. According to Wikipedia,
The most ancient recorded name of the city Magerit…comes from the name of a fortress built on the Manzanares River in the ninth century A.D., and means “Place of abundant water.” If the form is correct, it could be a Celtic place-name from ritu- ‘ford’ (Old Welsh rit, Welsh rhyd, Old Breton rit, Old Northern French roy) and a first element, that is not clearly identified *mageto derivation of magos ‘field’ ‘plain’ (Old Irish mag ‘field’, Breton ma ‘place’), or matu ‘bear”, that could explain the Latin translation Ursalia.
….In the 7th century the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula saw the name changed to “Mayrit”, from the Arabic term ميرا “Mayra” (referencing water as a “trees” or “giver of life”) and the Ibero-Roman suffix “it” that means “place”. The modern “Madrid” evolved from the Mozarabic “Matrit”, which is still in the Madrilenian gentilic.
So, then, already we’re seeing two symbols of Madrid and Atléti appearing: the bear and the tree. If you haven’t seen Atléti’s symbol, check it out. There is a bear and there is a tree. And there are some other things in the logo, of course, but it’s the bear and the tree that stand out as the oddest part to the casual observer. And yet Atléti is known as los colchoneros (possibly erroneously) and not the Mama Grizzlies or, uh, the Ents. Interesting how that works, eh?
But the Manzanares is more than just a source for the symbols and words, it’s also where the Estadio Vicente Calderón is located in the district of Arganzuela. Having never been to that part of Madrid despite having stayed in nearby Puerta del Sol–and no, I didn’t go to the Bernabeu either–I can’t speak to the nature of that part of town or its beauty or anything like that, but if I understand correctly, it’s a much more working-class neighborhood than that around the Bernabeu. That, supposedly, gives Atléti the base it has, even if the neighborhood itself is changing or has changed.
So it’s the working man’s team from the capital against the self-styled Catalan flagship and, as seems to be the norm now, it’s a big match at an awkward moment. I briefly recapped our difficulties at the Vicente Calderón on Soccernet, so I won’t do it all again, but something I found out while reading up today is that the stadium is slated for destruction in the near future. The team is moving to the Estadio La Peineta, which means if we do have a bogey stadium, it won’t be there for much longer. That’s nice.
The match itself is going to be different from our preparations for the last match with them simply because we are only missing Abidal this time around. Our French greyhound is out for “personal reasons,” which means bad things happened, so my heart goes out to him and his family. It also means that Maxwell will start, which is good for our offense, but bad for our defense. Otherwise, we’re missing Jeffren to injury and that’s it. We should be able to start our best lineup minus Abidal, which is good and, if the Panathinaikos match was any indication, more than a bit scary to opposing defenses.
The squad list is Valdés, Pinto, Maxwell, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Milito, Adriano, Busquets, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago, Keita, Messi, Pedro!, Villa, Bojan.
Atléti, though is no Panathinaikos and they come with massive firepower up front. Diego Forlan is, arguably, having the best run of his career and Kun Aguero, if he’s fit in time, is having a good season as well. Simão is always dangerous and seems to play with chip on his shoulder against his former club and Jose Antonio Reyes can deliver nasty freekicks from time-to-time. If Filipe Luis is healthy, he could make his first appearance for the club, but it might not be quite the right time to take on that risk. Godin is new, but is a solid center back and Ujfalusi will kick you. And then kick you again.
They’ve been playing well of late in La Liga, winning their first 2 Liga matches against Sporting Gijon and at Athletic Bilbao 4-0 and 1-2, respectively. Forlan has 3 goals to his name and will be the obvious danger man that we need to look out for. The thing is, with a nearly full-strength squad and with Aguero potentially below 100%, things could be very different from last year when our starting lineup was Valdés, Milito, Puyol, Maxwell, Jeffrén, Busi, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic, Messi and Keita subbed off for Pedro 7 minutes in with an injury.
Lineup prediction: Valdés, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Maxwell, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Villa, Messi.
The differences in this lineup should help us control the ball more effectively. Instead of two destroyers at CB, Piqué steps in as a creative outlet and Puyol can just kill things as is his wont. I can see Keita starting this match instead of Pedro, making it more of a 4-4-2, but either way, we’re in better shape than last year simply because Jeffren will not be starting at right back. El Mundo Deportivo has an interesting “interview with a Barcelona player” that discusses the tactics of the last match and makes a fair bit of sense when it points out the triple-team in midfield that Atléti was able to put on our midfield after Keita’s injury. That suggests Keita is a very important part of the team, so maybe he will get a start, but I don’t prefer it, personally.
Official prediction: 2-2. We weren’t sharp last week and they were. We were sharp in midweek against Greek opposition and they weren’t (losing to Aris 1-0 in Greece), but they’ve got a serious goal poacher that can step up when needed and rifle one in. Uruguayans know what I’m talking about.
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Time: Sunday, 7pm local/Madrid, 1pm EST. Check your local time here.
TV: Here in the US, the match is on ESPN2.
Weather: Clear skies, ~79F (~26C), 0% chance of rain, 50% humidity. Bring your sweatbands.