CdR Semifinal Leg 1: Barça – Almería, Wednesday 4pmEST, GolTV
He’s a frightfully dull guy sometimes, you know. He sits up there and he says things like “We have to work hard,” or “We have to work harder,” or even, when he’s feeling a bit spunky, “There is a lot of work to be done.” Once–but just once!–he let loose with a–get this, seriously, I can’t believe he did this–he let loose with a “This is serious business.” I thought I was going to have a heart attack!
And that is why it’s so hard to write these previews: Pep Guardiola gives you nothing. The last time we met up with Almeria was on November 20 and it was a bloodbath. A smackdown of epic proportions: the greatest away victory in the history of La Liga. 0-8. And now we meet them again, this time in the Copa del Rey semifinals and Guardiola goes on and on about how we’re not going to destroy them and how they’re an opponent we have to respect and yadda yadda, more of the right things to say. Ugh.
But it’s Almeria! And indeed it is, but it’s a different one than Jose Manuel Lillo’s side that we shellacked. Their new manager is José Luis Oltra, the man who managed Tenerife to their drop last year, but whose side put in 2 effective performances against us in doing so. Sure, they lost (0-5 and 4-1) and lost big, but they weren’t actually as bad as the scorelines suggested. The 0-5 was especially flattering and now that Almeria has just drawn 1-1 with Real Madrid in the league, they’ll believe in their giant killing abilities all the more. It is, in the end, actually a dangerous couple of matches, especially considering we have Hércules on Saturday and Atlético Madrid the following weekend. The instant you take anything for granted, you lose.
And that, of course, is the genius of Guardiola. He prepares for each match like it’s the Super Bowl, like this is do-or-die, but he does it calmly rather than in the manically intense way Mourinho seems to approach the world. Two different egos and two different personalities, but a similar singularity of focus and desire, I suppose. I wonder sometimes if one isn’t more likely than the other to burn out or, conversely, to burn out their players. They say of Heleno Herrera that he was masterful at controlling his players…for a few years. And then his style grated and the players wanted more control of their own lives. Is the same true of Guardiola or of Mourinho? But I digress.
Almeria rolls in with a mixed bag: Diego Alves (GK), Esteban (GK), Michel, Pellerano, Carlos García, Jakobsen, Luna, Bernardello, M’bami, Fabián Vargas, Corona, Ortiz Bernal, Crusat, Kalu Uche, Ulloa, Goitom, Piatti, Jonathan. This means they’re missing Juanito (a new signing), Juanma Ortiz, Marcelo Silva, Acasiete, and Nieto through injury or illness. That’s a pretty hefty list, but their strike force is still available, which is good news for them.
Argentine striker Leonardo Ulloa (7) has become their main goalscorer while Pablo Piatti (5) and Kalu Uche (4) are the only other players with more than 1 goal to their name. Ulloa is also the co-leading goalscorer in the Copa del Rey with 6. Oddly enough, for a team that play so tightly in La Liga, especially away from home (2-2-6; 8GF, 13GA), they’ve been racking up the big scores throughout the CdR. They defeated Real Sociedad in the Round of 32 5-3 on aggregate, then Mallorca 8-6, and lastly Depor 4-2, including a 3-2 second leg. They’ll score on you if you give them a chance, make no mistake about it.
Still, I don’t expect any goalfests. Their only real hope is to catch us on the break and shoot to kill, which means them sitting back and absorbing a lot of pressure. Obviously a lucky break or a tremendous piece of skill could blow the whole thing open, but they’ll be trying for the 0-0 draw the whole way, I would imagine, unless they learned something from Betis and think they can defeat us that way. And I’m not suggesting they can’t. Because they can. I just don’t think they’ll opt for that style. Hopefully I’m wrong, though, because I love to watch matches that move from one end of the field to the other, rather than sit camped in one end. Come out to play, please!
Barça, quickly: Thanks to Puyol’s injury, Pep will be looking for a replacement CB. I’m thinking Pique partnered by Abidal, but Milito should be given another shot because Puyol will be missing this weekend against Hércules as well and I’d rather save Abidal for that. It’s going to be about strength and energy rather than pace–Crusat and Piatti are quick, but not fast–so I’m going with Gerard and Gabi. Abidal simply doesn’t have an alliterative name partner in central defense, meaning that when either Adrian or Alves are in, Abidal is the obvious choice at LB. This is how you make championship sides.
Dani is questionable, but possible. If he plays, that would be a quick turnaround and really, if he’s not 100%, there’s no reason to risk him. Bojan is doubtful thanks to a stomach bug that has left him unable to train. Nolito has been called up in his stead, which could be a big moral boost for the guy. I’d say youngster instead of guy, but he’s actually 4 years older than Bojan. Pinto also returned to first team training after picking up a slight injury.
Predicted lineup: Pinto, Adriano, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Mascherano, Keita, Xavi, Villa, Messi, Pedro.
Official prediction: 2-0. A hard-fought win, indeed, but an important step towards the final.
And can I say right here that Grant Wahl pointed out in tweets the other day that if both Barça and RM make the CdR final, there will be 2 clásicos within 4 days thanks to our April 17 league date with them and the April 20 scheduled final. And if we draw them in the CL, we could play them 4 times in 2 weeks. I don’t think my heart could take that.
So, instead of leaving you in a cold sweat, here’s something amazing:
Check out more images here“