Liga Preview: Barcelona – Almeria, Saturday 2pmEST, GolTV(HD)
Last time we met them in the league, we slaughtered them and brought the axe down on Jose Manuel Lillo, Pep’s old friend. Since they’ve earned 17 points from 18 matches and sit dead last. Colistas. And they were bounced from the Copa del Rey in the semis by Barça too. Aggregate? 8-0, of course. They got a new manager just this week, having fired Jose Luis Oltra. More on him in a minute.
And now they return back to the Camp Nou, where they’ve never scored a single goal and where they’ve never managed to earn a point (source). They’re 0-0-3 and from their performances this year, deservedly so. The thing is, if they’re ever going to do damage to us, it’s probably now, when we’re focused on other things and when we’re going to start either Ruben Miño or Oier Olazabal.
Those two youngster goalies get the call up thanks to Valdes being suspended through yellow card accumulation and Pinto being injured. I’m rooting for Oier to get the start, but only because I just added him to my fantasy team, though that was only because Miño, who I expect to start, isn’t included in the game by Yahoo. Ah well.
If you scoff at the idea that Almeria suddenly have a shot at this match because of the goalie, just take your blinders off and check out what was required of Victor Valdes over the last two matches. Without him we’ve got a 5 point league lead and are struggling to come back from down 1-2 in a Champions League quarterfinal first leg. You can also thank Luiz Adriano for forgetting his foot-eye coordination, but mostly I’m going to credit Valdes because that makes me feel better.
A good thing is that we have Pedro back, though it turns out that Bojan has scored 5 of his 25 career league goals against Almeria. That’s the hotness and something that I think we might want to take advantage of if it weren’t for the timing of everything. Do we start a big time lineup and ensure at least an 8 point lead going into the away clásico? Do we rest players now or during the Shakhtar match? Or not at all? We have something like 832 matches before May 4, so there’s no way we can not rest players…right? Ah jeez. Almeria-@Shakhtar-@RM-RM-Osasuna and then maybe 2 more clásicos holy smoking Brock Sampson. And 4 days after the second leg of the CL Semis? Yup: Espanyol.
But back to Almeria, who have appointed Roberto Olabe as their new manager. Olabe is a former goalkeeper, is just 43, and was Almeria’s sporting director in 2006/07 when they got promoted to the first flight for the first time ever (source). He has a tough task in front of him given that neither Lillo nor Oltra were earn more than 1 point per match on average (Lillo earned 11 points in 12 while Oltra earned the ever so slightly better 17 in 18). His strikers aren’t scoring—Ulloa is their joint leading scorer, but hasn’t found the back of the net in over 750 minutes (more than 8 full matches)—his midfielders aren’t midding, and his defense is porous—only Malaga has let in more goals, though Sociedad is tied on 51 with Almeria. The last team the beat was Hercules. Before that it was Espanyol on February 5. They’ve got 5 wins overall, their biggest a 1-3 away win over Sevilla. But they also lost 3-1 at Malaga.
This strikes me as the perfect time to let Messi go absolutely bazonkers on a defense and hopefully he’ll bag 30 and get this Pichichi race over with. No Puyol hurts, but we’ll probably put Milito out there to kick Piatti in his ankles…er in his shins…no, probably in his hip. Cause he’s short. That’s the joke. And then Busi back in midfield for a match, you know, just to mix things up and get some players in their preferred positions. Maybe we’ll even put Iniesta in midfield. How crazy would that be?
Oh wait, he was in midfield against Shakhtar. Anyone who says he wasn’t either forgot to actually watch the match or just assumed that when he disappeared he disappeared up the left wing, which he didn’t. Note the pass to Dani Alves and where he was on that and subsequent passes. And note even from minute 2 how he played through the center. And how on Xavi’s goal he was well behind the play as the deep-lying playmaker. So yeah, maybe we’ll just have Iniesta where Iniesta always plays. Or maybe we’ll have Thiago out there again. Or Bojan starting, which would be awesome because he always scores against them.
Whatever happens, I agree with Guardiola: La Liga is more important. Say what you will about the Champions League, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d choose La Liga every single time. Bar none. Even if the final were in the Camp Nou. On my birthday. So we need to win this match and then focus on other things. The Shakhtar match isn’t over yet, so we better get out there and bust ass, but we also need to go in on a high, which means crushing Almeria.
Lineup prediction: Oier, Alves, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Bojan.
Official Prediction: 8-0. Cause what the hell, right?