Sunday, 3:00 pm EST – 9:00 pm Barcelona Time, GolTV, GolTV HD
Preview time! Malaga travels to the slipperiest pitch in Europe to face the unstoppable (read: not actually unstoppable) buzzsaw that is the FC Barcelona multi-headed hydra, with Valdes claws, and Pique haunches. In short, it’s mean, probably has bad facial hair, but it’s a damn good passer. As you should be aware, the boys come into this tie off 4-0 and 5-0 victories and is working on a 27-game unbeaten streak in all competitions, stretching all the way back to the times when Jesus rode dinosaurs, er, the September loss to Hercules. I am told by the internet that this ties an FC Barcelona record, I don’t know how reliable that info is, but come on, the tubes never lie right? This match also represents the midway point of the La Liga season. In other words, it’s the most important game ever.
Currently, Malaga sits 17th in the table, 4 points clear of the relegation zone, but they have by no means been anywhere near convincing during the 2010-11 campaign. It does not appear that they have a huge problem scoring goals, as they have only been shutout 5 times during the entire year. The problem is that they hemorrhage goals like Pique hemorrhages dolla dolla bills at the club. Which is to say, they get scored on a lot. They have given up at least 3 goals 8 times this year. Combine that with the most recent offensive outbursts and the fact that only a highly resolute Bilbao side was able to hold us off for a time, I’m thinking this one might get ugly.
But enough of this ‘tactical” analysis, the reason we all look forward to the Malaga game is to see how many times Welington will hack Messi down. The very mention of the defenseman’s name causes Isaiah such fits of rage you’d think he was planning a wedding of some kind. Welington is going to hack and Malaga is going to sit back and dare us to score. Judging from the way our shots have been falling recently, that may be a poor dare on their part. Remember in the Betis game that the score could have been 4-0 at the half except for some excellent glove work by the keeper. Then again, Betis also looked like a team playing to win, which Malaga has not for the most part. Another fun little tidbit here regards the rumors swirling that Gabby Milito will be on his way out at the end of the season, and is possibly headed to Malaga. Perhaps he’s in line for a fitting during the halftime team talks?
Really though, the fact that you’re reading this preview means you don’t really want to know what the actual outcome will be, since I have a horrible streak of not getting anywhere close on the final score prediction. If I say that we will dominate, you can guarantee we give up an early goal and have to fight back for two late ones. Close game? Sure, why not? We’ll win 5-0 with Milito scoring all five. That being said, I can no more offer solid predictions than I can say that “Avatar” was a good film. I can’t, it wasn’t. So instead, I offer some midseason awards.
The Pedro Whirling Dervish Biggest Surprise Award
Javier Mascherano. I have always been a big fan, and I was one who was very excited to see him signed, but he has surpassed even my dreams. In defense he’s fit in well to back up Busquets, and he already had a wordless bond with the MESSIah, but he’s slotted in perfectly when needed. His passing has either improved markedly, or was just completely under utilized at Liverpool, I’m going with the latter. Wonderful sign, just wonderful.
The Busquets I’m Wonderful But Fans Don’t Appreciate How Well I Play Award
David Villa. It goes like this, after every game, I look through Twitter or the Liveblog and the same comments pop up everywhere: “Villa didn’t do anything” “Villa missed shots” “Villa missed his chances” Villa was offside”, etc. ad nauseum. Apparently forgetting all the good he does with solid movement and spacing. Anyway, Villa took a little while to get going this year, but has heretofore been a wonderful addition. Never one to truly hold the ball, and always one to be offside on many occasions, Villa has lately come on strong and has scored 14 goals (and 7 assists) in all competitions this season, meaning he’s 3rd on the team. He’s learned the system, he’s a team player, and he doesn’t bitch when he doesn’t get the ball like some forward we used to have (queue up certain commenters creaming themselves thinking of Ibrahimovic, who, incidentally, only has 13 goals this year).
The Xavi Hernandez Most Valuable Player Award
MESSIah. Usually Xavi is the MVP because he keeps everything moving correctly, but his earlier injuries and summer World Cup meant that his production suffered early in the year, though it was no fault of his own. So the weight fell on the narrow shoulders of little Lionel, and he has performed commendably. His 31 goals in all competitions are tied for tops right now across Europe with C. Ronaldo and his 12 assists in the League (15 overall) lead it by a wide margin. He’s somehow improved in every facet of his game, getting better at spot kicks, passing out of trouble, and passing off to teammates on the break. Godlike.
The Iniestazo Most Important Moment of the Season
Xavi’s 10th Minute Goal Against Real Madrid. Madrid had improved, no doubt. They were leading the League and looking good doing it. Many pundits were predicting a loss or tie for Barça, but the Blaugrana dominated early on, and once Xavi scored, never looked back. It was the beginning of one of the biggest wins in the Clasico ever, and it has set the tone up to now.
Predicted Lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Mascherano, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, Messi, Afellay. Yes, Ibi gets his first start to rest Villa, and hopefully he does well.
Game Prediction: 4-1. Goals by Iniesta, Messi (x 3).
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images Europe