Liga Preview: Valencia-Barcelona, Wednesday 4pmEST, GolTV
Let’s start this off with some morbo:
I’m not huge on hate, but after this weekend’s elbowfest against Athletic Bilbao, David Navarro is rightly getting some attention for his dirty play. He may not have gone exactly Elizabeth Lambert on either Llorente or Javi Martinez, but what he did to Messi in the above video is proof enough that he has, at the very least, made mistakes in the past worthy of pre-match warnings and extra in-match scrutiny. That isn’t to say that he’s some sort of a monster whose every move should be documented and every foul rewarded with a yellow card, but he has obviously committed infractions that are outside the bounds of fair play. Naturally, Barça should be held to the same standard and despite my barroom zeal for Milito’s ankle-breaking tackles, the worst possible thing would be for those tackles to become Bruce Bowen-esque attacks away from the ball. Go in hard, but fair. And don’t stomp on Messi’s ankles, you sonofaboudoir!
I’ve just started re-reading The Count of Monte Cristo (in English, before you ask–my Français is worse than my…err…understanding of soccer?) and so revenge is certainly on my mind. Danglars (played by David Navarro) and the treacherous Catalan, Fernand (the convincing Sandro Rosell) will have their evil deeds dearly repaid when the beautiful yet misguided Mercedes (Barça) and her all-conquering hero, Edmond Dantes (Lionel Messi). In what could prove to be a scintillating adaptation of the original, normal director Pep Guardiola (The Dream Team and Triplete) will tomorrow night be replaced by his understudy, Tito Vilanova. The supporting cast would, in any other production, be the superstars, but such is Lionel Messi’s stage presence that even brilliant thespians such as Xavi and Dani Alves–recently returned from hiatuses–is overshadowed by the little Argentine’s masterful oratory.
The final verdict is far from in, however, on this whole production as it gets ready for the second half of its dates. Can everything in this fierce drama be held together or will it lose its luster down the stretch? Dantes must be made to seem human, even fallible, and that, perhaps, is Messi’s only failing: his heroes come off as supermen, such is his confidence on stage. It hardly matters most of the time, though. The whole production brings down the house even when they fluff a few lines.
The full cast: Pinto, Miño, Alves, Adriano, Milito, Piqué, Abidal, Maxwell, Busquets, Mascherano, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta, Afellay, Bojan, Villa, Pedro, Messi.
With Valdes, Puyol, and Jeffren still out, it’s good to see Xavi back and Alves’ suspension over. I have faith in the midfield we put out against Mallorca, but Valencia is not messing around. They haven’t lost in the league since December 4 when they visited the Bernabeu. That’s 11 matches, of which they’ve won 8. They also haven’t lost at home since going down 1-2 to Mallorca on October 23, their only home loss of the year. They have, however, drawn 4 times and have yet to face RM, Villarreal, or, obviously Barça at the Mestalla. Barça, of course, has only drawn once away (Sporting Gijon, 1-1) and won the rest in blistering fashion: 39GF vs 4GA, but they too have not played RM, Villarreal, or, obviously, Valencia away.
So it’s a tricky match for Barça and given the almost certainty of Madrid besting Malaga on Pellegrini’s return to the Bernabeu, getting that psychological boost of stretching the gap between the two clubs (albeit briefly) to 10 points will be important going into the weekend matches and then Arsenal’s visit in midweek.
Oh and David Villa is returning to the Mestalla for the first time as an enemy combatant. That is, in fact, quite interesting, especially given the personal circumstances surrounding his inability to travel with the team. He’s expected in court in Aviles, on the northern coast near Gijon, to contest charges that he owes his ex-agent, José Luis Tamargo, €6m as a part of his transfer from Valencia to Barcelona. Joan Laporta, Txiki, Manuel Llorente (Valencia’s president), and Javier Gómez (Valencia’s VP) will all also be there to give testimony. In order to get Villa to the Mestalla in time for the game (10pm local time), Barça has hired a private plane. I’ll assume that the same people who complained about getting Messi back from the Americas on a private plane will complain about this little sortie as well. Right? Whatever, you can read more about Villa’s situation here and here. Hopefully he’ll be fully ready for the match despite the travel time and possible delays in getting to the stadium and warming up. And it will be a big day for him since he spent a few years at the Mestalla playing some wonderful football. Some of it can be seen here, including a goal he scored against Sporting Gijon while with Los Che.
Anyway, thanks to the aforementioned court case, we could feasibly see a lineup using Busi as a CB; Mascherano, Xavi, and Keita as midfielders; and a front line of Iniesta, Pedro, and Messi. I prefer Iniesta in midfield, so I’d gamble on Maxwell on the left over that, but sky’s the limit for Guardiola’s plans, even if he’s not in the stadium itself. He, of all people, is injured with a back problem. That must be one tremendous back pain to keep Pep away from the sideline.
Official Prediction: 2-2. I think this one will be pretty intense, but they’re on a hot streak (though if they play defense the way they did against Athletic Bilbao, it’s lights out and early) and I can see it being a bit much for us to come away with all 3 points. Guardiola has never won in the Mestalla and Unai Emory has never lost to Barça there, as I understand it, so why would either start now?