Be Sure to Wear Armor: Athletic – Barça

Liga Preview: Athletic Bilbao – Barça Saturday 4pmEST, ESPN Deportes/ESPN 3

“We’re headed to Basque country this weekend.”
“No mamés!”
San Mamés.”

Aw jeez. We’re going north, to the land of screaming Bilboners, where they make bulls run over people before they themselves are slaughtered, and where we don’t always have an easy time of it. We drew with them 1-1 last year in this fixture and this year doesn’t sound any easier: no Lionel Messi.

So, then, how do we approach this? Well, the squad list gives us some clues: Valdés, Pinto, Adriano, Maxwell, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Milito, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Mascherano, Jeffren, Bojan, Pedro, Villa, Keita, Thiago.

My personal preference is that we go with a 4-3-3 that includes Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Pedro, Bojan up front, but the probable physical nature of the match (depending on how referee Mateu Lahoz calls it early) would suggest that Keita should start to provide steel against Athletic’s serious counterattacks. I’ve now seen 3 Athletic matches this year out of 4 and they’re good. They’re not mega good, but they’re good. Like, fast, intelligent, and damn strong. Llorente is going to take up the center a lot and push people around. Except that Pique and Puyol are going to kidney punch him whenever they can. And that’s why Milito and Mascherano shouldn’t start: yellow cards will come thick and fast in this one and we don’t need defensive lynchpins picking up cheapies in the first 10 minutes.

Athletic will not make this easy for us, so do not expect a romp in the park. I think we have our defensive frailties figured out, but Abidal’s continued absence will not be a good thing on their counters.

Official Prediction: 1-1. Goal by Pedro. I know. That sucks. But I don’t have a huge amount of confidence in Maxwell’s defense–his forward runs are better than Abidal, but he is simply not capable of covering ground like the Frenchman and that’s what’s going to be necessary to stop a blitz from Igor Martinez. And don’t forget that they’re going to have Javi Martinez smashing things in the middle of the park. If we can get him an early, early yellow, we have a shot at this one. Otherwise, it’s 9 behind the ball and zippy counters.

Time: 10pm local/Bilbao time, 4pm EST/NY time, check your local time here.
: According to the online guide, ESPN Deportes and ESPN3 will show this match in the US.

Would anyone like to run the liveblog tomorrow? Please let me know if you’re willing via an email or in the comments. Massive apologies for the shortness of this preview, but things spiraled today and yadda yadda you don’t care. I’ll make it up to you on Tuesday with a brilliant beyond belief preview of the trip to Rubin Kazan.

Also, if you’re able to make it, either Monday or Tuesday evening (US time) we’ll be having a Live Chat with the writers of this here blogspace that you won’t want to miss. Hopefully it will work out super well and we’ll make it a regular event. I’ll explain more when we have a concrete time, but basically, start prepping questions for us to answer.

By Isaiah

Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. Queenie, I know you want to be the Queen B around here (and I’m not talking about Blair, people), but Hectoring SoMa ain’t cool! I stand for justice!

    As such, we should win by 3 goals to 1, Bojan, Iniesta, Pique (Oh, yes I did!). Word.

    Euler and Ramzi will blow our minds with The Truth and Logic in a totally awesome way. (Ramzi ain’t part of the Writer’s Crew? Meh. He may have his own blog, but he still owns the tactical comments here.)

  2. Queenie, I know you want to be the Queen B around here (and I’m not talking about Blair, people), but Hectoring SoMa ain’t cool! I stand for justice!

    I second that!

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Hector was still part of the Writers’ Crew? Come back, Hector! Now!

    As for the match, I’m pretty sure the midfield will include Xavi and Busquets. 3rd is likely to be Keita, but Mascherano has a chance. I think Iniesta will play up top with Pedro and Villa.

    Maxwell looked gassed last match. Why not give Adriano a start? He is way more physical than Maxwell and has much more pace, too.

    Hope we win, but I would be happy with a draw as well. I just hope we take our chances. We can’t afford to squander them in these away matches.

    Oh, and like you said Kari, if Thiago gets on, it will be the best day ever (or something like that).

  3. This is going to be a hard match. I’d start Krkic, just becuase he seems to be able to find the net against Bilbao. I’d also start Here Adriano on the left, because of his superior pace compared to Maxwell. Yes, that leaves us with two wing-bombing Brazilians at defensive back. I know, I know. I just think that we’re going to need all our guns, and width, to keep yet another club from funnelling our attack into the middle of the pitch, then holding hands and singing “None shall pass.” It’s worth the risk to have a crosser from both flanks.


    Alves Pique Puyol H.A.
    Xavi Busquets Iniesta
    Pedro! Villa Krkic

    1. maxwell is brazilian, too. I definitely agree with the adriano tactic, though. his speed would definitely help against a fast side and the counter will be their main weapon

    2. I think Abidal will be going on this one, even though Adriano would make sense. Plus is he more accurate in crosses than even Alves? or is it just me?

  4. Llorente speaking to Marca:

    Q: Whose one-on-one marking is more aggressive, that of Piqué/Puyol, or of your girlfriend?

    A: Piqué and Puyol. They’re two of the best central defenders in the world and their marking is aggressive even in the training sessions. That of my girlfriend is a child’s game.

  5. It is shocking to me how much more class Marquez exhibits in the MLS than the players around him. Not to demean the player but I guess I had too high an opinion of the MLS. Marquez is the best passer on the field and has the greatest presence even off the ball. He basically runs NY MF now and plays everything from sweeper to DM to attacking mid.

    1. Good to hear. I wished I could watch some MLS games involving Henry and Marquez. Too bad my ESPN only shows MLB all the f-ing time.

      SoMa’s post was good in the podcast post. Why didn’t anyone reply it? Or was the preview already up by the time she posted it?

      What’s happening with JDS? Is he out of form? Injured? Last season Pep used to call JDS for back-up but now for 2 weeks in a row it’s Thiago.

    2. JDS will get plenty of chances. Against Hercules (I think), he was called up and Thiago wasn’t. Thiago has probably been doing well in training, too.

    3. I am of the belief, and I think others who know more about the players are as well, that Thiago is more advanced in terms of skill at this point than JDS. He plays a number of positions well and can lead an attack like Iniesta when asked to.

      JDS is going to be good soon but he might need one more year of strict lower level development.

    4. Yeah, Thiago is more advanced and more versatile, but JDS will get his call ups this season as well. Thiago only has one more than him, so don’t worry JDS fans, he will get his chance. Besides the skill, I think Thiago’s main advantage over JDS is his confidence.

      Confidence is particularly useful when you’re training with the big boys. I would love it if we could get a glimpse into a training session scrimmage (like the old BarçaTv days) and see how the young kids perform.

      I would also love it if were 3-0 up by halftime, thereby giving Thiago a chance to get some time. Won’t happen, but it’s nice to dream sometimes.

    5. It’s true, Luke. I watch Red Bull matches just to see Rafa and Thierry, they are the only ones who know what to do with the ball at their feet. My team is Toronto FC, and besides DRo, our only decent passers are our Brazilian, Santos, and our Spaniard, Mista. It makes me sad when I see the other guys just welly the ball up the field and hope someone will run onto it. I mean, I don’t expect them to be Barcelona or anything, but please, can’t they just learn how to control the ball better?


  6. Hmmm Mourinho finally kick started his campaign.
    “Jose Mourinho has accused other teams in Spain’s La Liga of making life easy for his club’s big rivals Barcelona by fielding weak sides.”

    1. I am so happy we have a man with the patience of a Jedi managing our club, in a season where that Salacious Crumb character is gonna be playing his silly mind games.

  7. Oye reina se escribe y mas importante se pronuncia “no mames” (con “e” en vez de “é”) y por eso ya no rima con “San Mamés” – the only flaw in a bangin review.

    I hate it when you call anything else than a win because you are pretty good at predicting these god awful draws and losses – let’s hope you’re wrong.

    Me thinks Keiteee is playing and probably Bojan too, but me not Pep and Pep not me.

    1. you’re right Lev if you are using the “tu” form of the imperative, the accent would be on the first syllable, however, if you are in a country where “vos” is used instead of “tu,” then the accent would be on the final syllable, as Isaiah has it.

      of course i have only heard the expression “no mames” in mexico, where they use tu and not vos.

      still, i loved isaiah’s introduction, however we might split the grammatical hairs. it made me chuckle

  8. Have to share this. I Have My IPHONE Jailbroken, and put a Barca theme on it. It is EPIC. Everything BARCA on the iphone, insaneness.

    1. Why do you need to jail break your Iphone? You didn’t buy the phone from an Apple store? Sorry for the weird question. No one that I know uses an Iphone 🙁

  9. What Basque country? We are Basque ourselves.
    We own the ball, the Basqueball. 89-55, eat dust and get lost, Madridistas.

    So, with that Basketball score, I’d say we’ll lose tomorrow.
    (no, no, no…) my heart’s crying, mind splitting, thoughts caught in between. I don’t even know why I have to put those basketball scores and my prediction together… But I am preparing a lost.

    My Line-up prediction(FTW!)

    Alves Pique Puyol Maxwell
    Mascherano (!)
    Busquets Xavi
    Pedro Villa Iniesta

    * Keita won’t start, he was shit. Pep will be fair, if you shit, you sit. Just so that you know you were shit last time. Come on as a sub when Mascherano gets yellow.
    * Not Bojan either, man-sized players throwing him around for nothing good. He will definitely play as a dangerous sub, and WILL BE A KEY to the game. Serious. That way he is more pressure-free, imo.
    * SMa..SMa…SMa…SMASCH! Mascherano to frighten everyone who comes his way. To protect SMasch from cards, Busquets omnipresence mode will automatically turn on and sing the “None Shall Pass” y “We Pass, We Hold, We Slam-Dunk”. Damn, Busquets’ advanced role may not work, I know, but notice how much the midfield line gets pushed up while we also enjoy Xaviniesta up there. A 2-layered defensive Mid: Masergiorano (failed new invention, sorry) will also be there kicking butts.

    No love for Adriano yet. Maxwell imo is still doing an okay job. You don’t try things against strong teams, you try things against weaker underdogs. The team still needs more training sessions, and this is not a training. We go to war fully armored just to win!

    I think if we win this one, the road will be much easier, but still, I prepare a lost! (cry)

    1. I don’t know clivee. To me, Adriano looks stronger defensively.
      Just look at the way Maxwell conceded a cheap yellow card the last time out. Or the stupid penalty a few weeks back. The guy is really weak defensively.
      Adriano is used to La Liga and is far more superior defending. So putting Adriano in for Maxwell is not really an experiment.

  10. I don’t remember the last time when I’ve been so pessimistic about a match. Our performance against Gijon at home was scary to me, and if we don’t improve massively this evening, I foresee a trashing from Bilbao against us (that is, in Barcelona terms, a 0-2 loss).
    I’m even pondering over not watching the match because I expect no joy from it…

    On the other hand, if we somehow manage to get away with all three points from San Mames, the loss against Hercules will be forgotten. 6 Points from Atleti and Bilbao, when was the last time we achieved that???

  11. I’ll only be able to host the liveblog if my router doesn’t act up – which it did twice while I was writing this post.. So count me as a backup in case no one is willing..

    BTW, I hosted the live blog last time we visited San Mamés – 1-1 was the result which Queenie correctly predicted.. Hope there’s no Deja Vu tonight..

  12. Not sure where all the pessimism is coming from atm. If this is just the comments I’d hate to think how pessimistic the Liveblog will be 🙂

    We are going to have the ball for the vast majority of the match and imo our defence has actually improved in recent times. Puyol and Pique have become a fearsome combination. I agree Maxwell’s pace is always suspect but he has been really solid defensively as well as going forward. He also knows the likely issues with both full backs attacking at the same time time. Maxwell will also take a card if the situation demands it. Adriano is still at the wanting to impress stage and may try to get forward too much or too quickly.

    This may be one of those games where Keita has an important role to play. I’m becoming increasingly worried at set pieces by our lack of height ( you, Victor, haven’t helped my state of mind by flapping at cross balls) and he also adds massively to our defensive capabilities. Unlike others I’m not sold on the box to box stuff. I think he had a purple patch a while back and hasn’t really done much offensively since. He also brings our passing game down in the sense that it usually pushes Iniesta forward. However, for later in the season we’re going to have to find a way of playing where the need for defence is even more important than going forward ( think away to Man U/ Chelsea etc.) and its these kind of games he might be suited for.

  13. What a bunch of Negative Nellies you all are. How about a little faith in our team?

    We will win…and we will win…beautifully.

    Prediction: 2-1.

  14. Whether it’s myopia or ignorance, I find myself watching Premiership matches with the sound off. The two calling the Citeh/Chelsea match are rather shocked that David Silva would get the start over some guy who’s been “playing rather well for England.” Ha! Playing well for a middling side isn’t exactly a stirring recommendation.

    They’re also surprised at The Yaya playing attacking midfielder. Don’t even get me started on that one. 😀

    1. (…….)

      On a separate but similar note, I’m watching Arsenal-WBA and Albion (especially the defense) are giving them so much space, I can’t help but wonder what we’d do if teams gave us that much space….

      FK’s from both sides have been poor, straight into the wall (no one wants to try a curler). Still on 13 min. in.

      Quality wise, the match hasn’t been all the great to watch, but Arsenal look real purrty when they go forward.

      ….I’d like just say that WBA are utter utter crap. Arshavin hits the post twice after WBA defense fail to deal with a simple cross. Ayyy

  15. Why hasn’t anyone in the media mentioned Real madrid’s pitch with an accusing finger. Given the Mourinho habit of having a quite word in groundsmen’s/referee’s ears(read build up Barca match at Chelsea, Inter Milan not watering the pitch-hence the sprinklers) its highly likely its happened again. I believe that to be the purpose. Call me paranoid and say ‘well wouldn’t that affect Madrid’s own game?’. I disagree. Beating Barca is the most important thing for Mourinho Furthermore he can use it as an excuse to hide his shit on a stick football. EE are the highest earning club in the world, something doesn’t add up. Pitch repairs should be pocket change for them.
    Thoughts ??????

    1. Our pitch has been crap too , and we are one of the highest earning clubs in the world too.
      Weather and bad maintenance affect the rich clubs too , let alone the rich clubs organize lots of events other than only football related that can turn the pitch into a potato field.

  16. I was suprised myself, dats not to say dat johnson has more quality dan silva but silva has been struggling to adapt to city whiles johnsons been in sum decent form of late.

  17. Just noticed the Arsenal keeper kit has the same god awful zebra stripes things as our keeper kit.

    Who was the dude who thought of that design and why are teams adopting it?

Comments are closed.