Liga Preview: Almeria – Barcelona, Saturday 2pm EST, ESPNDeportes/ESPN3.com
You ever had one of those situations where you wake up and you realize you basically missed a day during the week? I did that this morning where I realized that yeah, yesterday was Thursday and no, I didn’t write the post I’d been planning and hey, isn’t it time for a preview so I have to skip that post entirely? That’s what I get for going to an alumni event in the evening, I guess.
On a day when Valencia hosts Villarreal and Real Madrid welcome Athletic Bilbao, beloved Barcelona go to a place where goals are simply not scored in abundance. Only twice this season in 11 league matches has Almeria been involved in a match in which one of the sides scored more than one goal and never once has a team scored 3. They drew 2-2 with Real Sociedad and beat Depor 0-2 at the Riazor for their only win of the season, but other than that they’ve got 4 1-1 draws, a 0-0 draw, and 4 1-0 (or 0-1) losses.
Almeria is really awful. I mean, really awful. They’ve scored a grand total of 8 goals, which is 2 fewer than Messi alone. Sure, they’ve only conceded 10 as well, but they haven’t played anyone currently in the top 5 in the league standings. Still, they drew 1-1 at Atleti so they can’t be taken for granted. That’s the thing, no matter how awful a team is, if you relax, they’ll beat you. Almeria did beat Real Sociedad 3-2 and 2-1 (5-3 aggregate) in the Copa del Rey and now face Mallorca in Barcelona’s half of the draw. So, while they’re awful (lowest goals for total in the league, tied with Depor), their defense is capable of managing matches most of the time.
I’ve spoken of Juan Manuel Lillo before, so there’s no need to delve into his rather random connection with Guardiola (as interesting as it is). He’s been in charge of Almeria since December 2009 when Hugo Sanchez got the boot. Lillo led them to 13th, with a record of 7-8-8 (they already had 13 points when he took over). My fear for Almeria during my season preview was that they weren’t bringing in enough offensive firepower and while I definitely predicted them to finish in 10th, I was at least right in that regard. It’s Uche who leads them with 3 goals, followed by Ullua and Piatti with 2 apiece, and Corona with 1 to round it all out.
Our squad list is: Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Maxwell, Adriano, Andreu Fontàs, Sergi Gómez, Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Busquets, Mascherano, Thiago, Messi, Villa, Bojan, Pedro.
We’re 5-0-0 (13GF, 3GA) away from home, meaning Almeria is probably in for a rough ride. It may be a tight, closed affair, but it won’t be one that Almeria will walk away from with anything but “we tried hard” points. The real points, the ones they put on the table, will all go to Barcelona. Even without Abidal, Milito, and Jeffren (who are all injured) and a recovering group of FIFA players who traveled a fair distance, Barça is simply too good for Almeria right now.
I don’t want to see Pique out there for the simple reason that he’s got 4 yellow cards and a potentially busted hamstring. No reason to lose him when our back line is already wobbly-bobbly thanks to injuries, except that it would require starting Fontas or Sergi Gomez and that’s not necessarily the best idea despite Fontas having had a great couple of Copa games.
Predicted lineup (who I think we’ll see rather than who I want): Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Maxwell, Busi, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Messi.
Official Prediction: 2-0. Goals by Messi and Pedro (sub). We might leave it late, but we won’t leave anything behind.
Would you like to run the liveblog? Sure you would. Let us know in the comments or via email. First come, first serve, of course.