Liga Preview: Real Zaragoza – Barcelona, Saturday 12 noon EST, GolTV
Spain is nothing if not a hodgepodge of architectural wonder. If you don’t believe me, just visit Toledo, a quick train ride south from Madrid–assuming, of course that RENFE is running on time or at all–and you’ll see a mind-blowingly Medieval town set in the middle of modernity. Kids with cell phones standing next to structures older than their family tree. The Palacio de la Aljafería in Zaragoza sits near a bend in the Ebro, a short distance upstream from where the Huerva River joins up.
Built in the 11th century, with foundations and a tower–the Troubadour Tower–dating back to the 9th century, it’s not a modern marvel, but it is beautiful. Take a tour of it, if you don’t believe me. They have the modern Aragon Corte–or legislature, if I’m not mistake–there, so it’s still of value beyond the historically inclined poeticisms. It sits a short distance from La Romareda, where Real Zaragoza play their home games.
I’ve already covered a bit of the history of the city of Zaragoza, so I won’t go back over that. Let’s talk instead about who Zaragoza is this year.
In my season preview, I went over their credentials and determined that they weren’t going to be very good. Apparently I underestimated their ability to be, uh, suckypoo. In that preview, I wrote:
A large number of changes, but not much difference, really. A €2m investment on a 30-year old defender seems to be misguided at best. The loss of Javi Arizmendi might end up being the biggest problem for them as they’ll struggle all the more to score goals, though, in truth, it was the defensive side of things that kept them from doing anything last year (and thus the investment in Contini). Getting Alex Sánchez from Barça strikes me as a smart move after having watched his U-19 tournament, but we’ll see if he beats out both Doblas and Leo Franco.
Verdict: If you don’t score goals, you’ll struggle. This is as good a time as any to point that out, I suppose. 16th.
They’re currently 20th with 3 points from 7 matches and they’re still struggling defensively. 0-3-4 (6GF, 12GA). Not that they’re lights out on offense or anything. Half of their goals came in the second half of a 3-5 pasting by Malaga, so in 6 matches, they managed just 3 goals, including 2 scoreless draws (one against, predictably, Depor). Of course, nearly half of their goals allowed were in that Malaga match, so they’ve allowed 7 goals in 6 matches otherwise. They were comprehensively destroyed, however, by Athletic Bilbao and only managed a garbage time goal to make it 2-1 when they really deserved a 4-0 thrashing.
Basically: they’re a terrible squad. Their leading scorer is Florent Sinama-Pongolle, with 2. And they have Edmilson. Remember him? I’ll admit I was never a big fan, though he was always better than Thiago Motta. Edmilson started in the 2006 Champions League final for us and played the first half before being replaced by Don Gusiluz himself, El Cerebro Andres Iniesta. He played somewhere around 100 games for us (I can’t find the exact number) between 2004 and 2008 when he left for Villarreal. After that it was Palmeiras and then back to Spain in January of this year to help out Zaragoza. They stayed up, of course, ending 5 points from the relegation zone in 14th and Edmilson got a new contract. Faaaantastic.
It’s because of this that I titled the post Juxtapositions. It’s not quite first versus worst because we’re in 3rd, but it is the opposite end of the table from last week’s opponent. They’re hard up looking for some players capable of helping them out and they’ve resorted to our former scraps (speaking of which, why wasn’t Edmilson loyal to us? Traitor!) while we’re bringing in the players who use to play for them before they got Big Time (Villa, Pique, Milito, though the last one got Bit Time by joining us directly). Interesting.
As for Barça, here’s the squad list: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Adriano, Abidal, Maxwell, Puyol, Piqué, Busquets, Mascherano, Keita, Iniesta, Thiago, Jeffren, Pedro, Messi, Bojan, Villa.
The big news is Xavi exclusion from the list so that he can–maybe–get some rest and heal his injured Achilles. He needs it, after all. Valdes is back after a bout of intestinal flu or whatever he had that caused ouchies in the tummies and also kept him out of the Copenhagen match. Pinto is relegated to the bench again, no doubt, and could be in the sporting docket for his actions in the CL.* Milito continues to be absent, meaning we should see a fairly standard lineup unless Puyol gets a rest and Abidal is pushed into the middle.
Predicted lieup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busi, Keita, Iniesta, Villa, Messi, Pedro.
I just see that happening for some reason.
Official prediction: 0-3. Goals by Messi (2) and Bojan as a sub. Pack ’em deep, pack ’em high, do whatever you want, I think we’re in it to win it and this is going be another Iniestaaaazo of a game.
Time: 6pm local/Zaragoza, 12 noon EST/NYC, check your local time here.
TV: In the US, this match will be on GolTV and GolTVHD.
Weather: ~65F (~18C) at kickoff, falling to around 60F (15.5C), 0% chance of rain.
Photo credit: JWJ
*For my money, I think what Pinto did (fake a whistle to try and get Copenhagen’s Santin to think he was offside) was silly, fairly unsporting, and probably just downright shitty, but it’s a gray area and I’m not sure where I stand on it. I’m a player–if a bad one in a rec league–and as a striker, I’ve come to expect that when I turn on defender, he’ll grab my wrist to hold me back. No ref will call that even though it’s as unsporting as faking a whistle. Our very own Luke says he likes to call out to the other players like he’s on their team so that they’ll mess up or pass the ball to the wrong person. I guess I don’t see anything wrong with those actions–I like to hook elbows under ribs when jostling–so I’m not sure what’s wrong with what Pinto did. It just seems wrong. But if it hadn’t worked (and who knows how often it doesn’t work), would anyone be mad that he’d tried it? Maybe all this just makes me a shitty player, but at least I don’t dive.