I previously covered the entire league in preview format, but what of Barcelona’s particular chances? We’ve got our transfers to fully integrate and our schedule to parse. Because there are enough matches to go around with a small squad (20 first team players as of this writing, but probably going to fall), time on the field will not be a problem for anyone. Anytime there’s an injury, there will be a Copa del Rey match to play in or a league match before a CL match. There are also the canteranos who will step up and the veterans (is Leo a veteran by now? Is Bojan?) who will play as many matches as their bodies will allow.
The league, then, is the priority, as always. I know that some readers will say “No, the Champions League is more important!” but I disagree fully and completely. I love the CL as much as anyone, I think, but La Liga is the title that matters. If I’m going to choose one to win each year, it would, without question, always be La Liga. I would never sacrifice the league in order to win the CL, not once. Sure, it might shut the EPL fanboys up a bit if we did win the CL continuously, but, again, it’s not as important to the identity and history of the club–at least from my perspective. So, because I value the domestic campaign more than the European campaign (attentive readers should go back to my older writings and cherry pick a few choice lines stating the opposite of this, especially when I argued for a Europe-wide league, a true Champions League; I deeply regret anything I said that would remove teams from a domestic league even if it was just for one year), I find it worthwhile to focus on the games themselves.
Our approach is going to be the same, really, as it was last year: play beautifully and dominate possession. We’ll be facing more parked buses and occassionally refs who don’t believe that ankle kicks are fouls (looking at you, Super Copa 2nd leg ref), but that will only give us more possession, which, as Hector has already discussed, is exactly what we want. With our Big Ass Ninja Gangster Swede in the middle, Alves will have a viable target for his crosses — or he can cut the ball back and play the short game with Messi, who, in turn, can reciprocate the pass or he can chip the ball to Ibra…or he can shoot, of course. The possibilities become different and more dynamic, I think, in the box with Ibra, though our spastic movement looks like it will probaly suffer, with Eto’o no longer there to make those hard-pressing diagonal runs all game. But we can pass you to absolute death now, whereas before it was only pretty much absolute death. Whatever that means.
Add Maxwell to the equation on the wing and we’re suddenly able to whip in crosses from both directions — Abidal can now make more forward runs as well, though his close control is not as good as Maxwell’s; his defense, however, is better — which is a scary thought. If we’re playing more Total Football, which I believe we are, then our defenders will move forward more often while our Yaya will slip backwards into almost a CB position to cover (giving Puyol and Pique the necessary width to cover counter attacks that catch the wingbacks out of position) and this, in turn, gives us more dynamism. It relies, of course, on close ball control. This is why, I think, Guardiola was so keen to get Ibrahimovic and also Chygnasty, who not only can cover the CB and DM positions, but can, because of this ability, ostensibly play the Yaya role (or a good approximation of it, says the snobby Yaya Fanboy in me).
I have all the love in the world for Eto’o, but he is not a Total Footballer, so to speak. He’s fantastic in so many ways and I know that we’ll miss him at points, but it is clear that Ibrahimovic has better footskills than Samu and that translates to a greater ability to play back-to-goal and as a playmaker. Rotation at the top is necessary to keep our offense flowing, so mobility and technical ability are paramount. Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that Eto’o provided more mobility and that his technical skill was highly underrated, but I think the point is that Ibra will provide enough mobility and more skill whereas with Eto’o it was the reverse (enough skill and more mobility). Passing ability is paramount in our squad now that we’ve changed our system a little bit and it doesn’t hurt that Ibra is a more physically imposing player than Eto’o, who, despite being muscular and physical, was not a great header of the ball.
So that, in a sense, is a my defense of Ibrahimovic’s signing, though, like with Alves before him, I can only defend the player himself, not the fee paid to get him. The jury is, of course, still out on the whole affair and I think it’ll be that way longer than 12 Angry Men. Whether we’re more financially viable at this point than before is, actually, quite important to me, but I know that in the long run we will be fine so long as Sandro Rossell doesn’t come in and stump €80quintillion for Cesc, Ribery, and the rights to Sergio Aguero’s superbaby. Not that I have anything against Sandro Rossel (I mean, he hasn’t called me yet to chat about things, which I find mystifying, but still), it’s just that I don’t know what he brings to the table other than outlandish promises (I wasn’t in favor of Laporta either because of the Beckham promises, which I think are f-ing stupid election ploys) and a connection to Nike that I don’t think needs to be more engrained in our club. We’re stumping €25m for Chygnasty, but at least we’re getting two freakin’ awesome names to bandy about in Zlatan and our Beast From The East, our Maker of Pain from the Ukraine. And no, I don’t think he’s worth €25m, but who in my world meets that standard? I live in some sort of non-inflationary cave that is connected to a black and white TV that shows The Andy Griffith Show on repeat and I’ve memorized the store’s prices. Gomer, get me a sangwich!
Here is our total gains and losses, player-wise for the offseason:
IN: Henrique, Maxwell, Keirrison, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Dmytro Chygrynskiy.
OUT: Botia (loan), Sylvinho, Eto’o, Hleb (loan), Caceres (loan), Keirrison (loan), VicSan, Jorquera, Henrique (loan), Gudjohnsen.
We start off with Sporting Gijon at the Camp Nou, which sounds like a gimme, but won’t necessarily be so easy because we’ll be missing quite Messi. Alves, perhaps, will have his mind on the same Argentina-Brasil match that has Messi’s panties in such a twist, but it’s not until Saturday (Sept 5), so I don’t really understand Messi’s exclusion on any level other than a favor to the best player on the squad — which is defensible in a sense and not in another (I don’t care about the Argentina-Brasil match, but Argentines proably see it as a wonderful early Christmas gift that Messi gets time off prior to the match). However, we should be able to recover Iniesta for this match, though I don’t know if he’ll be a starter or not. If he can give us 60+ minutes, he should start and be replaced around the hour mark by Keita, Busi, or, if we’re up by a boatload, JDS.
What I’d like to see is this lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Maxwell, Yaya, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Pedro!
I realize that this is a purely attacking lineup, but why not? I’m not the least bit afraid of Sporting, who gave up the most goals in La Liga last year, including a 1-6 drubbing in their house at our hands. If Iniesta has to come on as a sub, Keita has been fantastic so far during preseason and the Super Cups, so I have a ton of faith in him going forward. Not that anyone can just show up and we’ll romp all over this team. No way. But Guardiola will have them prepared to kick some serious ass, even though it’s pretty close after the long Super Cup match. Official prediction: 3-0. Goals by Henry (2) and Xavi. You read that right, suckas.
After that we get a break for the FIFA virus to come get someone. And you know it will get someone in the league. It may not be us (please don’t be us!), but it will get someone and that club is stone-cold earmuffs fucked okay you’re good. I know it’s Argentina-Brasil, but can Alves not tackled Messi really hard if he comes up against him? Please? Pretty please with like 5 hot Argentine and Brazilian chicks on top? Regardless, let’s just have no one come back injured from that. And if we get everyone back, awesome.
Please note that the following does NOT include the Copa del Rey schedule we will have. So it goes.
September, in the matches we’ve got are: @Getafe, @Inter (CL), Atleti, @Racing, @Malaga, Dynamo (CL). In the league, I believe we will earn 10 of the available 12 points. In the CL, we will earn 4 of the possible 6, with a draw at Inter. Not too shabby, to be honest. An extra prediction, as a treat: Ibra will score his first goal for us against Getafe.
Moving on to the greatest month of the year, October, we see that we play only 4 matches: Almeria, @Valencia, Rubin Kazan (CL), Zaragoza. We’ll earn maximum points from this month, despite the trip to the Mestalla. Hell yeah, we’re that good, with or without a FIFA break in the middle disrupting the hell out of the squad (at least Valencia has internationals on their books to even the fatigue).
In November, Barça face: @Osasuna, @Rubin Kazan (CL), Mallorca, @Athletic Bilbao, Inter (CL), Real Madrid. That’s a serious month, there’s no doubt about it. That week where we start away at San Mames and then receive both Inter and Real Madrid is, to be honest, the only question mark, though the trip to Russia in November is no joke either. So, what will happen? Well, my guess is that we’ll pick up 10 of 12 points from the league (drawing at Athletic) and will pick up 4 of 6 in the CL. That’s right, folks, it’s another victory in El Clasico for us, which is always worth its weight in gold.
December is another 4 match month: @Xerez, @Depor, @Dynamo, Espanyol. We’ll earn 6 of 9 points from this month, having to drop all 3 at Depor for our first league loss. So it goes, but we won’t drop any points against Espanyol in the first intracity derby. In the CL, we’ll lose at Dynamo, but we’ll have passage to the second round wrapped up and it won’t really matter. So it goes.
January brings the first half to a close with: Villarreal, @Tenerife, Sevilla, @Valladolid, and then a trip to Gijon for the commencement of the second half. We’ll earn 8 out of 12 on this one, with draws against Villarreal and at Valladolid. This despite having to give up The Yaya and Keita for the month due to African Cup of Nations duty. We’ve got Busi, Marquez, Chygnasty, and the Awesomeness of Xavi to cover that spot. And no, I’m not saying Xavi will be our DM, I’m saying he’s got so much awesomeness that he can cover a spot while his awesomeness covers another.
January’s haul will give us a total of 46 points from the first 57, which is an amazing total, despite it being 4 points lower than last year’s midterm total. Perhaps I’m being optimistic, perhaps pessimistic. Only time will tell, of course, but on the surface, that’s about how many points we should earn with our relative budget and team cohesiveness.
My thoughts for the first half of the year are that it’s not particulary difficult compared to our second half. We’ve got @Real Madrid, @Espanyol, @Villarreal, and @Sevilla as our last away games (Jornadas 31, 33, 35, and 37), which is pretty intense, if you think about it. So our first half will be where we need to gain the most points or face that gauntlet needing to win. Anyway, it’s going to be rough, but we’ll get out of the CL in 1st or 2nd and we’ll get out of the first half in 1st. Call it hubris, if you will.