Sunday, October 3, 2010 – 19:00 pm Barcelona time / 13:00 pm EST – GolTV & GolTV HD
Good time for Isaiah to leave me in the lurch to write a preview eh? Xavi out. Villa suspended. Messi recovering (hopefully). Coming off a long trip to Russia and a draw. Pep still dressing like a Jehovah’s Witness. Players arguing about their FIFA 11 ratings being far too low (I am looking at you Pique and Busquets). A schizophrenic start to the season. Isaiah being out of town. My inability to wear the awesome new jacket my wife bought me for my birthday because it’s still too hot in this sweaty dungeon in which I live (aka, the American Southeast). As you can see, the team is at a critical juncture in the season already with so many story lines ongoing and we welcome a typically feisty side to the Camp Nou on Sunday without our best midfielder and short on offense. It’s preview time kids, step inside.
Mallorca are an extremely tricky side. In Journada 1, they played Madrid to a draw in Mallorca, the a loss by 2, a win by 3, a loss by 3, and then another win by 2. The draw and 2 wins all came at home, but away the losses have been bad and the Islanders have not looked good in those outings. I don’t know if the changes from last season are contributing to this run of poor form away, or if the trip has something to do with it, but they seem to be off the form that led them to 5th last season. The defense has been suspect away, giving up two easy ones to Gijon and getting thrashed by Bilbao. So there we go, the signs are pointing to an easy win and another 3 points…
Oh, wait, there are problems going in our camp? We’re missing the foremost piece of our puzzle, Mr. Xavi, who is out with tendonitis that has been affecting him for the better part of a month. Great. I am assuming that Iniesta will move back and take to filling in for Xavi, although with Pep making these lineups there is just as good a chance that Thiago starts or that we run with two holders in Mascherano and Busquets. Make no mistake, this is a problem, but not an insurmountable one. Xavi is our most important part as everything flows through him and without creativity or at least solid passing and possession, our game bottlenecks. However, Iniesta is more than capable of standing in for Xavi in a makeshift role. He has done it before. The only other injury concern is Adriano, who is definitely out.
Oh right. Messi. Forgot about him obviously. The world’s greatest Flea (suck it Red Hot Chili Peppers) made his comeback in the second half against Kazan after missing 2 Liga games with a mildly sprained ankle and played fairly well. He wasn’t as industrious as he liked to be, but he did create the most chances on goal after entering at the half. He says he is healed, and let’s hope so, because there is a better than good chance he’s playing the False 9 on Sunday with Pedro and Bojan on the wings. Honestly it seems like he made a good recovery and the cold was not bothering him all that much on Wednesday night. Kazan didn’t really attempt to attack Messi’s ankle and hopefully Mallorca will not target his ankle either.
Segwaying into the Villa scenario, Villa’s out for this one game after receiving a red card last week again Bilbao. It would look like we’re definitely going with the shortest front line running Bojan, Pedro, and Messi across the front since Iniesta will need to deputize the mids with Keita possibly replacing him, or maybe, possibly, hopefully a little Thiago to make things interesting and reward his hard work in practice. Barcastuff reported Nolito is also likely to be in the lineup tomorrow to help fill in for the Villa hole, so good for him as well. Look for the smaller, makeshift lineup to play well. I know Bojan has struggled to a lesser degree this year, but maybe a start and Messi taking it easier will give him the spark he needs. Lest we forget Pedro who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this year either, but he also has a way of showing up when we least expect it, so everyone pretend like you’ve never heard of him again and make fun of the Canary Islands, that will help. With all this focus on the front, I would be remiss if I failed to mention how well the defense has been playing up to this point. Giving up goals happens, especially on the counter, but the defense, outside of Maxwell has been tough. Let us hope it continues.
What does all this mean? Well, your guess is as good as mine. Mallorca has been bad in away efforts, very bad. Yet, we’re missing our link in the midfield (Xavi is now known as the Missing Link, so that settles that argument about evolutionary history), one of our leading scorers in Villa, and have our best player recovering from an injury, all while on a short week coming home from a tough draw in Russia on a long trip. So yeah, the best laid plans of mice and men…
Prediction: 3-0. Goals from Bojan, Messi (x 2). Make no mistake, my caveats here should be seen more as warning caution, not making excuses. A team as talented as our Blaugrana should beat this team even missing a few pieces, and I believe we will. Playing at home against a weaker side should make this one contentious up front, but after gaining a stranglehold on possession, our talent and pace will win out.
Post your predictions in the comments and let me know if someone wants to run the Liveblog tomorrow.
Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images Europe