Liga Preview: Barça-Atleti, Saturday 4pmEST, GolTV(HD)
Ah yes, these guys. They who would be kings but for that whole winning of games thing. Minor issue, really, if you put it into the larger perspective of almost 108 years of existence. No domestic titles since 1995-96 (and that “just” a Copa) kind of reverts that perspective to what we had before, though, doesn’t it? You can spend willy-nilly, but if you don’t build a squad, or rather, if you build a squad around Jose Antonio Reyes’ ankles and thigh muscles, you’re pretty sure to be doomed to midtable finishes and the occasional foray into the Europa League.
They signed Fran Merida in the offseason, prompting guffaws from this blogger, then they jettisoned Simao, brought in Juanfran and Elias, and have a back line composed entirely of hatchet men. They wouldn’t if Filipe Luis were ever playing defense, but he is a shadow of his pre-ankle-injury-self and is rarely “at home.” Godin, Ujfalusi, and Perea alone are worth 7 yellow cards a game. It’s pretty spectacular to watch them assassinate others, what with how recklessly they do it, but when it happens to your own, well, color me livid like everyone else. And that, I think, is what this match will be about. Sure, they have Kun, Forlan, and Reyes, but they’re a defense-first kind of team. It’s a mentality, really, an approach to the game that runs, in so many ways, counter to what Barça does.
And these are the last years for this team, the last hurrah of a team that blew away, well, virtually no one. They won the Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup, but how intense were the celebrations? When Barça won the Super Cup I was thrilled because it was another step towards the 6 trophies and I would never begrudge Atleti supporters their rightful share of happiness and success, but is that an impressive haul? Not to me, having vowed, as I have, never to watch the Europa League if Barça is in it. I won’t watch the NIT if Kansas is in it either, to draw the parallel I believe holds water.
It’s not that I look down on Atleti, but rather that I pity them in so many ways. That’s not very fair, of course, because pity is often worse than hatred, but I can’t help it. They try so very hard, but come up short in every conceivable way; they act the big club, but they play the part of the small club on the field. It’s the Villarreals and the Valencias that round out the top 4 in La Liga for me, despite how many times I’ve fallen prey in my preseason predictions to Atleti’s roster’s possibilities.
But you know Atleti. You know this game. It can be wild, it can be crazy, but of late it’s been predictable. Messi has made a mockery of their defense and so have several others. We beat them at the Calderon this year and if things go according to how they’ve gone the last couple of visits, Atleti will be sent packing with a manita pegged squarely on their mattresses. I’m in a bullish mood, that’s for sure. I’m ready for this. It’ll be a fight, but unless Kun is on fire–and he is their “X factor”–they’ll be taking a knife to a shootout.
Sure, they have Kun, they have that Uruguayan looker, but we’ve got a crazy-toothed hero and his band of merry sidekicks. Give me that attack any day, though I certainly respect their firepower. But Pique and Abidal will do the trick, though Forlan has positional sense not seen since, er, well, last time I looked at Bojan. You do realize, don’t you, that they’re pretty much the same player. You know that, right? Watch them play. Watch the way they make their runs. It’s just that Forlan is bigger, taller. And that, I think, is one of the major differences. Bojan will never be the player Forlan is, I don’t think, because of that size factor, but for if you watch them, they play the same way. Much like I’ll never be Pippo Inzaghi, but I am constantly offside.
Team news, in brief: Puyol and Jeffren will be missing for this match through injury, but everyone else is fit. Iniesta trained normally on Thursday and Friday after suffering a back strain on Monday.
Predicted Lineup: Valdes, Alves, Pique, Abidal, Maxwell, Busi, Keita, Xavi, Villa, Messi, Pedro. Resting Iniesta just makes sense if he’s not 100%.
Official Prediction: 4-1. We let in a goal, but maintain our 7 point lead.