Liga Preview: Sporting Gijon – Barcelona, Saturday 2pmEST,
When you think of Luis Enrique, you probably don’t think of Sporting Gijon. Maybe if you’re considering David Villa you do, but even then, probably not. Maybe you should do so more often. The latter wasn’t born there, but they gave him a chance and up he sprang, a tremendous striker overlooked for his height. The former was born there and grew up in the youth ranks, but only spent 2 years in the first team, leaving in 1991 for darker pastures.
It was at Real Madrid that Luis Enrique became a star and got his first taste of team success. He won the Copa del Rey in 1993 and La Liga in 1995. And then the impossible happened: he moved—for free—to Barça and, even more improbably, became team captain and a fan favorite. Back-to-back Liga titles in 97/98 and 98/99, back-to-back Copa titles in 1997 and 1998, and the 1997 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup certainly loaded his trophy cabinet.
A versatile player, Luis Enrique ended up scoring 109 goals in 300 matches for the blaugrana, though his production fell off in his final years. He retired at the end of the 03/04 season, only months before I started watching matches week-in and week-out, but I’m here now to watch his protégés shoot upwards into the first team and it’s a joy. Or at least it is whenever I get around to finding a stream and making my poor lady suffer through yet another sporting event over the weekend.
The original point, though, is that when you think of Luis Enrique, you should think about Sporting and you should do so with a fair amount of appreciation for what they’ve done. They’ve provided us Quini, Luis Enrique, and David Villa, to name just 3 players. They’ve suffered the consequences of being a small team while we have reaped the rewards of their youth system. I doubt their fans want sympathy or pity and I don’t think they deserve either of those. They deserve respect. And so does their club and their history.
If you follow him on Twitter, Luis Enrique, between random discussions of biking, running, or posting pictures of what he’s eating, obviously retains a massive amount of love for his original club. When they win, he’s ecstatic and makes that known. Sporting de mi vida and the like. Words of encouragement to help them stay up for at least another year. A winning streak must have had him through the roof as they leapt 11th. And then they were hammered 3-0 by Athletic Bilbao. He even claims that he hopes both teams can win tomorrow. Erm, someone should explain–oooh, I get it.
There shouldn’t be any drop in his love for his hometown club, of course, but especially not considering their current manager is a Mustache Hero. Like Tom Selleck before him, Preciado is capable of untold heroic actions thanks to his furry friend. And like the gallant Gordito. Or, if you don’t want to read the whole thing to see him, here he is), he can ride dinosaurs. Mustaches like that don’t just appear. They’re earned. Blood, sweat, often tears (lots and lots of tears), and occasionally sacrifices to obscure regional gods. You’re probably done reading that Dr. McNinja comic by now, so we can continue with our story.
Basically, Manuel Preciado’s mustache was forged in the fires of Mount Doom, but back when it was known as Mount Mustache, before it lost some of its powers and became a sort of a ring factory. Weaksauce, Mount Doom, weaksauce. The mustache can cure cancer except it doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so it can’t do it for our incompetent asses. It has run into the limitations of the human body. And one of those limitations appears to be winning La Liga trophies with mid table clubs. It can only do so much.
Barça beat them 1-0 at the Camp Nou in late September in a match squeezed into a Wednesday between trips to Atleti and Athletic, but it was a match that included something like 34 Sporting youth players on the field, some of whom, if you believe the hyperbole of the Madrid press, were like 5 years old and only had one leg. They played us with crippled children. And we beat them! No mercy! Woooo. [pounds muscle milk and 4 loko cocktail]
This time around, they’ll field their best lineup and they’ll be hoping to continue improving their fortunes at home, which includes 2 wins in a row at El Molinon. They also have 3 clean sheets in their last 4 matches, including an 0-4 thumpaaazo of Mallorca in what last season was an impervious fortress. Not so this year, apparently. Sporting have amassed nearly half of their total points (22) in the last 5 matches: 10 points. They’re on a role, really, even if you include the smashing by Athletic.
Diego Castro is their top scorer with 8, which is just over 1/3 of their total (22), but don’t think that means they’re particularly dependent on him, at least not statistically: Lionel Messi also scores more than 33% of Barça’s total goals (70). But then again, Messi has scored more (24) that all of Sporting combined. But of course 4 of Castro’s goals have been penalties while only 2 of Messi’s have been scored that way–compare that to HeyItsCR9‘s 5 penalties and you can begin to see why Marca is full of bullhooey and has to include a deflected goal to give him the current edge in the Pichichi race. But that’s a story for a different day (and one you’re already aware of, no doubt).
It’s 7 points for us at the top and any slipup can let RM right back into the mix, so while this one is over according to the bookies (I’m assuming) and over according to the stats, it’s far from over on the field and it’s going to be a rough one. We’re missing Puyol and Jeffren through injury, meaning our squad is:
Valdés, Pinto, Alves, Piqué, Milito, Abidal, Maxwell, Adriano, Busi, Mascherano, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pedro, Bojan, Villa, Afellay.
I expect a strong lineup even though we have Arsenal on Wednesday. Milito and Maxwell on the left side, perhaps, to keep Abidal fresh, but otherwise I see this as a regular lineup. Get ready for the long haul, boys, because it doesn’t stop from here on out. It’s pedal to the metal, comb to the mustache. It’s a big week, so let’s come off the stupid, horrible, and completely meaningless FIFA friendly break by beating Sporting. And then I lose my mind because it’s knockout competition time. Aaaaaaaaah.
Also, aaaaaaaah: April 20 at the Mestalla we take on Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final. Aaaaaaah. That means, I think, that the clasico at the Bernabeu will be held Saturday, April 16. Book your tickets now, suckas. Or don’t because RFEF might just go ahead and switch the date to like February 30, 2012 or something. It’s good to know that the match will take place at a neutral venue (though technically closer to Barcelona…I think–Spanish geography is not my strong suit) rather than at The House di Stefano Built (and Florentino Perez turned into a Fortress of Soli(dwaste)tude. Yeah, I just made a poop joke.
Official prediction: 0-3. Goals by Messi (2) and Villa (1, obviously). It won’t be a crushing victory, but it will be 3 points, meaning RM goes to sleep down 10 and has to face what might typically called a tricky away fixture at Espanyol, but is actually going to be a romp through We Give Up State Park. Not that I’m saying they’ll throw the game, but they somehow seem to lose to RM no matter what the situation.
Game of the Week: Atleti-Valencia at noon on Saturday. Runner up based on table position: Espanyol-RM.